03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Book Review Roundup

As it gets closer to Christmas, book review sites start looking back over the year, and reviewing fewer new books, but there are still some out there this week, compiled here in your weekly book review roundup:

"On Thin Ice: The Changing World of the Polar Bear", Richard Ellis
The New York Times

Ellis is a master amasser. "On Thin Ice," like a number of his books, includes excerpt-stuffed sections that ride the line between history and anthology. One gets the sense that he starts each new project by gathering everything ever written about, say, polar bears, stacking the volumes in great piles, and consuming them in marathon pipe-and-slippers sessions. If you seek moments of poetic observation à la Barry Lopez, Ellis is not your guy. But if you're looking for a complete digest of the history of human-polar bear relations, there's nobody better.

"Literary Life", Larry McMurtry
The New York Times

"Literary Life" isn't going to win Mr. McMurtry new converts. It's as slack and distracted a memoir as I've read in years, packed with scenes and observations that are repeated nearly verbatim from his last memoir, "Books" (2008). It skims the surface of Mr. McMurtry's life; few moments seem genuinely honest or painful or revealing.

"Abigail Adams", Woody Holton
The New York Times

Though the book's narrative structure often compels the reader to excavate its dominant theme from a welter of biographical detail, the invigorating impact of the Revolution on Adams's personality and actions is unmistakable. Holton, a professor of history at the University of Richmond, provides a fresh perspective that invites readers to do more than just remember this remarkable lady.

"Too Much Money", Dominick Dunne
The Los Angeles Times

The writing lacks the wit that Dunne was known for. Instead, it reads like an episode of "Knot's Landing," repeating information for readers who might have not been paying enough attention between paragraphs, as if they were separated by commercial breaks. Characters get the same description each time they come up, no matter the context.

"Generation A", Douglas Coupland
The San Francisco Chronicle

It all sounds terrifying and yet very funny. Or, rather, it would if the world envisioned in the flabby "Generation A" read like the dystopian satire Coupland is aiming for. The problem, though, is that the book chooses the easiest possible targets, wasting its time with send-ups meant to warn us against the dangers of apathy, celebrity culture and the quick fixes promised by pharmaceuticals.

"Manhood: The Rise and Fall of the Penis", Mels van Driel
The Guardian

[E]ven when one has finished the task of absolving him and his translator from their many sins of style and punctuation, Van Driel's book remains, by any normal measure, a botched job. "I lay absolutely no claim to completeness or scholarly rigour," he announces at the outset, though most readers could have worked this out for themselves.

"The Value of Nothing", Raj Patel
The Guardian

Patel fails to confront the most fundamental contemporary fact, which is that the majority of people in every country clearly want a type of economy - the sort that rich countries have enjoyed in the recent past - that the planet cannot sustain. A passionate activist, he believes problems of resource scarcity are man-made and can always be solved by fairer distribution. However, the growth-oriented lifestyle of rich countries is not unsustainable because it is unjust; it is unsustainable because the Earth's resources are unalterably finite.