01/25/2011 03:06 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Book Review Roundup: In Case You Missed Them

"Examined Lives" by James Miller

New York Times

Few readers will be astounded to learn that philosophers make as much of a mess of their lives as anyone else. But Miller, a professor of politics at the New School and author of a biography of Michel Foucault, among other books, does not rest with digging out petty failings or moments of hypocrisy. He shows us philosophers becoming ever more inclined to reflect on these failings, and suggests that this makes their lives more rather than less worth studying.

"J.D. Salinger: A Life" by Kenneth Slawenski

Los Angeles Times

While Kenneth Slawenski's "J.D.Salinger: A Life" is the first comprehensive biography of the reclusive author, it does little to resolve the issue of Salinger's legacy. Instead, it is more an extended letter from a fan.

"Reality is Broken" by Jane McGonigal


McGonigal's project is to explain why games have this tractor-beam-like hold on our attention, and to suggest how we might harness this energy for real-world good. In this way, her book represents a new wedge into the video game argument. Nongamers are too quick to write them off as addictive--on par with drugs--while gamers oversell games as some kind of new art form. McGonigal asks us to look objectively at the "genuine human needs" that games satisfy. To do this, she turns to the field of positive psychology. In her view, the best games are like portable mini-generators of happiness.

"You Know When the Men Are Gone" by Siobhan Fallon

The New Yorker

Fallon explores with great subtlety the rich inner lives of soldiers at various stages of service, as well as those of the families who await them at home. At her best, as in a story about a soldier who uses his leave to stalk the wife he believes is cheating on him, Fallon chronicles confrontations of self that rival the intensity of those of the front line.

"The Humbling" by Philip Roth

Seattle PI

The Humbling is a book about a tired man, but it is not a tired book. In many ways it is a powerful demonstration that it is never too late to seek a newer world. You may not be able to find it, but you can try. Like the books of his earlier years, The Humbling plumbs the depths of passions that never quite dry up as we grow older.

"Widow: Stories" by Michelle Latiolais

San Francisco Chronicle

Many of the narrators in "Widow" are widows, but even those who aren't carry a loneliness reminiscent of widowhood. Although the stories move from jungles to gynecologists' offices to strip clubs, they share a narrative voice at once intricate and breathless, dense with introspection.

"Heartstone" by C.J. Sansom

Washington Post

Sansom, who is himself a lawyer, has won praise in England for his microscopic knowledge of 16th-century life. Certainly, one of the novel's glories is his ability to bring alive all levels of English society, from cutthroats and common soldiers to the king and queen themselves.