More than 850 book reviews

Tag Archive for ‘eccentrics’

San Francisco after the Plague

The City, Not Long After, by Pat Murphy @@@@ (4 out of 5) Pat Murphy’s novel, The City, Not Long After, is a puzzling piece of work. With generous helpings of fantasy, it doesn’t quite qualify as science fiction. Sometimes the book is categorized as a dystopian novel. Since the near-future American society Murphy depicts… Read More ›

A whodunit that’s not about a detective

A review of The Crossing Places (Ruth Galloway Mysteries #1), by Elly Griffiths @@@@ (4 out of 5) You might call this book a whodunit, a species of fiction that I tend to shun because I find the circumstances that cast doubt on the innocence of several characters to be contrived and ultimately boring. However,… Read More ›

The true (and surprising) story of the Wright Brothers

The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough @@@@@ (5 out of 5) In a world awash in praise for digital pioneers such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, it’s all too easy to forget some of the extraordinary people who have shaped our world through business. We remember Thomas Edison, of course: the harnessing of electricity is… Read More ›

American history, laughing all the way

The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride @@@@@ (5 out of 5) Scoot yourself over, Huckleberry Finn! Make room! Here comes Henry Shackleford, aka Henrietta, aka Little Onion, with a tall tale ripped and twisted out of the pages of history that’s like to set your britches afire. Yes, here’s The Good Lord Bird, courtesy of… Read More ›

Ten great recent books by Berkeley writers

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think so. So far as I can tell, people living in what has become my home town of Berkeley, California, have been writing an inordinate number of really good books in recent years. That’s probably because the town attracts creative people like . . . well, should I… Read More ›

Was Kim Philby the greatest spy ever?

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, by Ben MacIntyre @@@@@ (5 out of 5) Mention his name in the halls of the CIA or MI6, and you’ll get a decidedly frosty reaction. Your reception at the successor to the KGB will be quite different. You can guess whose side he was… Read More ›

The remarkable man who founded the Mormon Church

American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church, by Alex Beam @@@@@ (5 out of 5) By any measure, he was a remarkable man. At a time in US history when religious passion was seizing hold of the American imagination, he was “the first prophet . . . to… Read More ›

J. K. Rowling’s unlikely second act

A review of The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling) @@@@ (4 out of 5) Consider the challenge facing a writer who sets out to write a series of detective novels. How can he (or she) develop a protagonist who will stand out from all the other fictional detectives, lodge himself (or herself) in… Read More ›

Who has written the most books?

You’re gonna love this. Once upon a time, back in the distant reaches of the twentieth century—well, actually it was 1984—one of my clients assigned me to ghostwrite a fundraising letter that Isaac Asimov had agreed to sign. I approached the task with some trepidation, both because I knew Asimov’s reputation as a prolific author… Read More ›

Unforgettable characters in 19th century San Francisco

Frog Music, by Emma Donoghue @@@@ (4 out of 5) Quick: can you tell me who Emperor Norton was? Time’s up. Emperor Norton was just one of a long line of colorful characters who have helped give San Francisco its distinctive reputation as . . . well, more than a little wacky. He proclaimed himself… Read More ›