06/20/2011 01:06 pm ET | Updated Aug 20, 2011

Book Review Roundup: A Portrait Of India And A Dissection Of A Novel That Changed The Course Of History

"The Secret Knowledge On the Dismantling of American Culture" by David Mamet

New York Times

This is an extraordinarily irritating book, written by one of those people who smugly believe that, having lost their faith, they must ipso facto have found their reason.

"Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America" by David S. Reynolds

Seattle PI

Stowe claimed the novel came to her in a vision and God was its true author. Accordingly, her book is weighted with religious symbolism, which Reynolds interprets with typical English professor's zeal. He also examines its impacts not just on public attitudes toward slavery, but on women's rights, temperance, capitalism, minstrel shows, sexual customs and other aspects of mid-19th century American life.

"You Think That's Bad" by Jim Shepard


To make sure his prose accurately reflects his subject matter, Shepard immerses himself in primary documents and consults with scholars on the campus of Williams College, where he teaches. But sometimes — as in the story "The Netherlands Lives With Water," which is set in 2030 — he simply uses background research to help further his imagination.

"Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance" by Richard Francis

Slate magazine

Though the genetic catalog is now largely complete, we still await many of the anticipated insights, and in Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance, Richard Francis, a writer with a biology Ph.D., traces the emergence of a different genetic paradigm. Our DNA shapes who we are, Francis reports from the research forefront, but it is far from a static plan or an inflexible oracle; DNA gets shaped, too. For good or ill, the forces that determine our fate can't be captured by anything so neat as a blueprint.

"Pulse" by Julian Barnes

Los Angeles Times

His stories tend to be quietly observational, rather traditional in manner, and his characters are never tragic. They are inhabitants of a gray-scale world, plugging on through life chastened by the experiences Barnes recounts, but not devastated by them. That may be why we identify with them so easily, so instructively.

"India: A Portrait" by Patrick French

Los Angeles Times

French divides his book into three sections — "Rashtra," dealing with the evolution of national politics, "Lakshmi" (economics) and "Samaj" (society and religion). This sounds schematic, but in each case French relies on sketches of individuals to carry his arguments about how India has arrived where it is today. These sketches are always swift and vivid, if sometimes familiar.

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