Book Marks by Michael D. Langan

  • A look back at how book reviewing has changed

    How does one write a review? I can only say what I do.
  • Review: What Being Catholic Means To Me

    Pope Francis' recent visit to Ireland prompts this book review, slightly updated.
  • Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns

    This is a beautiful if complex read, if you've missed it.
  • Review: Augustine and The Jews

    Augustine of Hipp is remembered as a theologian and philosopher who developed concepts about what comprise a just war and the nature of original sin.
  • Review: Being Nixon

    Why the interest in Richard Nixon and his decline again?
  • Review: Reading in the Dark

    The novel is in the form of a memoir about growing up in Northern Ireland in the '40s and '50s. It is painfully, beautifully described.
  • Review: The Thing About Thugs

    The book draws us into the false idea that Caucasians are a superior race who have the obligation to convert the rest of the world to its brand of Christianity.
  • Review: Mosaic - A Family Memoir Revisited

    Michael Holroyd's book, "Mosaic", is a largely successful pruning of the author's family tree.
  • Review: V.S. Pritchett - A Working Life

    Pritchett's literary achievement is vast: fiction and nonfiction, autobiography, travel writer, critic, letter writer and diarist. His output was immense.
  • Review: You are not special

    Teenagers graduating from high school this year are ticked if you tell them they're not special.
  • Review: Graham Greene - A life in letters has become a lost art

    Because of the Internet, letter writing is has become a lost art.
  • Review: What England was like when Jane Austen was writing

    What Jane Austen's beloved novels don't say much about is the rougher context of English society during her lifetime.
  • Review: The Lunar Men

    They were all men of the English midlands, amateur experimenters, far from London, for the most part, far from university life.
  • Review: The revolution of RFK

    This is a good time for a biography of Robert Kennedy: after the 100th anniversary of the birth of his brother John F. Kennedy. It's also worthwhile to have a read about the president's brother because of the Netflix series just released.
  • Review: 'Greatest scientist of his age' has a lot to say to ours

    This wonderful book on the life of Alexander von Humboldt, is something you'll prize even if you don't know a weed from a willow.
  • Review: A Legacy of Spies

    John Le Carre's latest spy novel, "A Legacy Of Spies," is a book whose title is chosen carefully.
  • Book Review: Maeve Brennan, Homesick at The New Yorker

    Maeve Brennan, latterly appreciated with the publishing of the short story collection “The Springs of Affection," spent part of her unknown life as a disoriented bag-lady on the streets of New York City.
  • Review: Bio of "Clockwork Orange" Anthony Burgess

    Pray, if you ever become famous, that you do not get a biographer like Roger Lewis.
  • Review: Heaven Lies About Us

    Don’t read 88-year-old, Irish short story writer Edward McCabe’s reflections about Ireland on a rainy day...
  • Review: God's Bestseller

    "God’s Best Seller" is the story of William Tyndale, Thomas More and the writing of the English Bible.
  • Review: 25 years of Irish-Vietnamese identity

    Recently Pope Francis recently spoke about this same overwhelming need for humanity to recognize the needs of the dispossessed and how to help them.
  • Review: "God's Soldiers"

    If you think about how one might write a history of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, founded by Ignatius Loyola in 1540, there are two choices.
  • Review: Mencken - sorely needed as a critic of today's America

    H.L. Mencken was a journalist whose plain-speaking today's America could use.
  • Review: The Teenage Brain

    I suppose the reason most parents or grandparents might pick up “Brainstorm” is that they are puzzled by the hormone-hyped behavior of a child or grandchild.
  • Review: Beautiful Souls

    A few years ago, writer Eyall Press examined what made people say ‘No’ in morally compromising situations.
  • Review: “Birthright: The True Story That Inspired Kidnapped”

    “Birthright” is great work by Virginia Tech professor, A. Roger Ekirch.
  • Review: Portrait of a Novel

    "Finding the soul of the book" should be the goal of any reviewer. It is easy enough to do in Michael Gorra’s tale of the life of a book...
  • Review: The Anatomy Lesson

    Go back to the 17th century, 1632 in fact, to Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, and attend the Surgeons’ Guild...
  • Review: Culture and the Death of God

    Terry Eagleton investigates in “Culture and the Death of God” how our supposedly faithless age – threatened by religious fundamentalism after 9/11 - searches for a replacement for God.
  • Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns

    Khaled Hosseini is arguably one of the best storytellers in English since the British writer, Joseph Conrad, whose first language was Polish.
  • Review: More greed than ever

    A fairly recent book, "Age of Greed," shows us that while 'money never sleeps,' it doesn’t care much who it sleeps with.
  • Review: How newspaper work affected the Darnton family

    It is estimated that 183,000 American children lost their fathers in World War II. Pulitzer Prize winner John Darnton, of The New York Times, and his brother Robert were two of those children.
  • Review: An Englishman's View of America

    Think of Terry Eagleton as a tetchy British uncle, appraising your every word.
  • Review: European radicalism & enlightenment, a pathetic fallacy

    If you think about it, the Enlightenment is one of the major forces that have shaped the modern world.
  • Review: A book to read if you think the English are weird

    If you wanted to read the best biographer writing in English today, you very likely would choose Michael Holroyd.
  • Review: A Week in December

    The English writer Sebastian Faulks’ novel gives a view of present-day London lives, at sea with real life and pregnant with technology that doesn’t deliver.
  • Review: Louis Auchincloss, a voice from old New York

    Louis Auchincloss' memoir of his youth makes it clear he was raised lovingly in a sheltered environment.
  • Review: "A Secret Gift" for Christmas

    This is a heartwarming story of discovery told by Ted Gup, a former reporter for the Washington Post, and later professor and chair of the Journalism Department at Emerson College.
  • Review: An ideal book for Christmas

    We think we know who Jesus is. But what does Jay Parini, a novelist, poet and teacher, mean when he says, 'remythologize Jesus?'
  • Review: 'The road not taken' in Vietnam

    Max Boot begins by asking the right question: “What caused the tragedy of the Vietnam War?” I’m not sure such an answer is susceptible to single causality.
  • Review: "A Dead Hand" by Paul Theroux

    We read Paul Theroux because of his eye. He sees everything, wherever he is, in India, London, Hawaii, or Africa.
  • Review: Boy in the Twilight

    The stories in this collection were all written between 1993 and 1998. (This may seem like a long time ago, but it’s yesterday in China’s ancient land.)
  • Review: 'American Romantic' a well-told story

    Ward Just’s eighteenth novel, American Romantic, is about Harry Sanders, who serves as a Foreign Service Officer in 1960s Indochina.
  • Review: 36 Arguments for the Existence of God

    "36 Arguments" takes advantage of the worldwide debate heating up over the merits of faith and reason. The book has its charms, but it is a mixed effort.
  • Review: A Dog Named Cowboy

    This is a great book for Thanksgiving and Christmas giving!  But beware!  It’s not just for animal lovers.
  • A late Autumn harvest of reading you may have missed

    The phrase 'a harvest of books' reminds me of the old American Protestant gospel music verse 'Bringing in the Sheaves,' written in 1874 by Knowles Shaw and inspired by Psalm 126:6. The phrase means 'reaping what you sow.'
  • Review: "God - A human history"

    A human history of God? What other kind could there be, unless God decided to write his own biography?
  • Review: "An Odyssey"

    "An Odyssey" is, all at once, a beautiful personal narrative and literary interpretation by Daniel Mendelsohn, a classicist at Bard College.

  • Review: "Smile"

    “Smile” is Roddy Doyle’s 11th novel.  It’s been a long time since he’s had hits like “The Commitments” and “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha”, which won the Booker Prize.

  • Review: "How To Plan A Crusade"

    Christopher Tyerman, professor of history of the Crusades at Oxford, explores the role of reason in medieval wars in this must-read book for history buffs. 

  • Review: A Legacy of Spies

    John Le Carré's latest spy novel, "A Legacy Of Spies," is a book whose title is chosen carefully.

  • Review: The Great Shift - Encountering God In Biblical Times

    James L. Kugel, an orthodox Jewish Biblical scholar and the Starr Professor Emeritus of Hebrew Literature at Harvard University, raises perhaps the essential question in "The Great Shift" for those who study and revere the Bible. 

  • Review: Hame (Scottish for 'Home')

    What’s it like to be a ‘blow in’ back ‘hame’ in Scotland or Ireland?  If you’re of Irish or Scottish heritage, you probably know what a ‘blow in’ is. It’s someone not born in the immediate surroundings of the home place (Hame), that is, one who has no roots there. 

  • Review: The Last Castle

    "A House Is Not a Home,"  the 1954 lyric by Bert Bacharach and Hal David, makes a good topic sentence for this review of "The Last Castle," by Denise Kiernan. 

  • Review: "Man of the Hour"

    One always wonders about the power of the title of a book and how it is chosen.

  • Review: Former UN Secretary General Hammarskjold’s diary, "Markings"

    Hurricane Irma put me out of books to read from publishers, with the mail not delivered. I turned to one of my favorites on the shelf...

  • Review: 'The Shadow in the Garden'

    "The Shadow in the Garden" spills a biographer’s secrets. 

  • Review: The Emoji Code

    Many people love Emojis, and other folks think they’re a nuisance used by those linguistically challenged. Which are they? Can they be both?

  • Review: "Among the Ruins"

    Despite the claims in "Among The Ruins," the Catholic Church is not dying.

  • Review: The Queen's Closest Confidant

    Abdul was one of two Indians chosen to be servants of the queen, and he was part of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebration sent from India.

  • Review of "Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat Into Victory"

    Michael Korda doesn’t pull any punches in this ripping re-tell of the outbreak of World War II and the events that led to Dunkirk in May of 1940.

  • Review: The secret diary of...

    Think about it: this guy in Amsterdam has written a diary of life as 'an inmate' in a nursing home. It's called a 'page-turner' for readers of any age, an international best seller. Really? What am I missing??

  • Review: Hook, Peter Pan's enemy, spills his guts

    This look-back introduces John Leonard Pielmeirer’s new book, "Hook’s Tale." It’s in the tradition of Gregory Maguire's "Wicked" and John Gardner’s "Grendel;" letting the villain defend himself.

  • Review: Growing up as an untouchable...

    Get away from your troubles for a while.  Read Sujatha Gidla’s wonderful book of what it’s like growing up as an 'untouchable' in India, and how she escaped that damning denomination.

  • Review: The rise and fall...

    What doesn’t exist anymore? Magic - at least in this new novel.

  • Review: A meditation on art and war

    "Draw Your Weapons" is a meditation 'on art and war.'  It’s meant to provoke you by changing the way that you see the world. 

  • Review: Housman Country - Into the Heart of England

    Housman’s little volume is what Peter Parker calls an imaginary figure’s evocation of English character and countryside.  It is more potent by far today than it was more than a century ago.

  • Review: Max Eastman, Radical Activist

    Interested in twentieth-century history and politics, intellectual history, and literature?  If yes, this biography of Max Eastman (1883 - 1969), radical activist and public wise man, may be for you. 

  • Review: Lillian Hellman - An Imperious Life

    If Lillian Hellman was such a pain in the butt, why is she still being written about - including four full-scale biographies - since her death?

  • Review: Robert Kennedy's revolution

    This is a good time for a biography of Robert Kennedy: Right after the 100th anniversary of the birth of his brother John F. Kennedy (1917 - 1963), the 35th President of the United States. 

  • Review: Golden Hill

    Cambridge writer Francis Spufford's new novel "Golden Hill" is the best I’ve read since Colson Whitehead's 2016 Pulitzer Prize winning novel "The Underground Railroad." 

  • Review: An unrepentant rascal faces death

    The cover of Malachy’s "Death Need Not Be Fatal" alone is worth a couple of bucks as a chuckle.

  • Review: Exile, grief and forgiveness out of Ireland

    It’s a victory of sensibility, style, and forgiveness between sisters in the end, cautiously told. 

  • Review: Michael Crichton's "Dragon Teeth"

    Best-selling author Michael Crichton had at least one last, great story left in his gunnysack before he died: “Dragon Teeth.” It’s a historically accurate account of the real-life rivalry of paleontology giants Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope.

  • Review: Democracy - dig it or bury it

    Condoleezza Rice’s uplifting message in this book is about what she hopes will be the survival of human rights.  Her view is that democracy can be revived where it is suffering.

  • Review: 'Ernest Hemingway, A Biography'

    'In life one must [first of all] endure,' Hemingway (1899 - 1961) said.

  • Review: Churchill and Orwell - The Fight for Freedom

    Never having met wasn’t necessary for these two. It was their joint dedication to individual freedom that held the West together in the face of Hitler and Mussolini’s totalitarianism.

  • Review: 'A tour d'horizon' of Christianity, a miracle of endurance

    Diarmaid MacCulloch, the author of “Christianity, The First Three Thousand Years”, has written a masterpiece of exposition, overview and analysis of what emanates from Christ’s command.

  • Review: An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind

    Everywhere you look, the world is out of kilter.  It is like a top that has lost its energy, its spin slowing down and jittery, moving toward the edge of the universe and off. 

  • Review: The Delight of Being Ordinary

    'What happens when the Pope and the Dalai Lama decide they need an undercover vacation together?' This is the lead question that is answered by Roland Merullo’s charming make-believe novel.

  • Review: Confused by life? Don't read this review

    Some fiction writers, perhaps the stronger ones, admit that their stories or novels are disguised versions of their own lives or those of their friends. 

  • Review: 'Tough enough for the French Foreign Legion?'

    “Blood, bullets, bayonets, and women in an Arab land: How and why did the Legion come to exert such a mysterious attraction, embodying both the violence of war and the lure of exoticism?  Who were these men, and how did these “dogs of war” fight so efficiently?”

  • Review: The House of Memory

    The author, whose new book is 'The House of Memory,' lived through hard times in America during the Depression. Because of their poverty, he and his mother shuffled back to Ireland twice - the result of his father not finding regular work in New York City.

  • Review: The storied typewriter of Henry James

    Before reading the novel "The Typewriter’s Tale" by South African Michiel Heyns, it would be helpful to remember Henry James.

  • Review: Still working while death approaches

    Postponing death’s inevitability is futile. But making life comfortable for those in the "under 6 checkout line" in the interval is a good idea.

  • Review: "Number 11" is more than an English politico's address

    “Number 11” is Jonathan Coe's 11th novel, but is that what the title means? Maybe; but if you watch the BBC news, you have a clue to more, much more.

  • A recent book review: 'Crimes against children'

    “A History of Loneliness” is Irish writer John Boyne’s novel about Father Odran Yates, an Irish priest and apparent model of probity.  Odran’s been chaplain of a boys’ school, Terenure College, for thirty years. 

  • Review: Snobbery, a mug's game

    The philosopher Santayana wrote, "Snobbery haunts those who are not reconciled with themselves."  He asks, 'why not be who you are?' 

  • Commentary/Review: A book about laughing gas

    I’m always interested in new books, and this one caught my attention.  Its title is "Oh Excellent Air Bag."  I thought immediately of a particular politician.

  • Review from the archives: The case against God

    The authors have done a useful thing in picking apart the arguments of the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins’ found  in his book, "The God Delusion."

  • Review from the archive: A Dead Hand

    We read Paul Theroux because of his eye. He sees everything, wherever he is, in India, London, Hawaii, or Africa. He has a greed for experience. 

  • 'We had no belongings except our stories'

    The author dedicates this book of short stories to “all refugees, everywhere.”  And for good reason: our brothers and sisters are in need of validation.

  • A good book you may have missed: Expo 58

    "Expos 58" is called a comic spy caper and an international love story. Having capered around the edges of government spying activity for part of my life, I’m hesitant to think of anything having to do with spying as ‘comic.'

  • A book you may have missed: H.G. Wells dressed down

    The British writer David Lodge writes a kind of fiction at times that can raise one's hackles. 

  • Review: The Signal Flame

    In the small town of Dardan in northwestern Pennsylvania, Hannah and her son Bo are the only ones left at home in an immigrant family scarred by deaths of their menfolk in successive wars.  It is 1972.

  • Review: Encounters with the Islamic State

    What’s the big deal about this book? There are at least two important reasons for reading it....

  • Review: Dorothy Day's spiritual journey

    Dorothy Day once said, "Don’t call me a saint; I don’t want to be dismissed that easily." Latterly, it appears that the Vatican doesn't completely agree with her request.

  • A good book you may have missed: 'The Life of Artie Shaw'

    Artie Shaw, a consummate artist, was bedeviled by personal imperfections.  He pushed away fans and admirers as they reached out to him.  No matter what Shaw accomplished, he wasn’t satisfied. 

  • Review: Somewhere in France - a story of WWI

    “Somewhere” is the one-hundred-year-old story of Frederick A. Kittleman of Olean, New York,  a kid who was thrust into war by world events of which he had little understanding in February 1918.  

  • A good book from the past: A Secret Gift

    “A Secret Gift” is a book about his Jewish grandfather, Sam Stone, alias “B. Virdot” and what he did anonymously to help neighbors and strangers in Canton, Ohio have a joyful Christmas during the Depression.

  • A good book from the past: The Skeptic

    Who was this Mencken, the no-nonsense, plain-speaking fellow of skeptical mind, who trusted only what he could see and explain?  Being so skeptical was a blessing and a curse. 

  • A good book from the recent past: "Great Fortune, The Epic of Rock Center"

    Daniel Okrent, a former senior editorial executive of Time Magazine, knows words. One must assume that he chose ‘epic’ carefully in this rendering of the history of Rock Center, as New Yorkers call the place.

  • Fictional Arguments for the Existence of God

    “36 Arguments” takes advantage of the worldwide debate heating up over the merits of faith and reason. The book has its charms, but it is a mixed effort.

  • Review: A long view of nature

    Had I seen this book earlier in 2016, I should have recommended it as my 'best read' of the year. It's for everyone who ever had dirt under their fingernails.

  • Review: Hemingway at War

    Terry Mort is a fine writer who has put his finger on an element in Hemingway’s career that hasn’t been broadly considered: his adventures as a World War II Correspondent.

  • Review: From the battlefield, a flight of fancy

    Michael D. Langan's review of Birdsong, a book released two decades ago but worth a look if you've never read it.

  • Review: A good book from the recent past

    This is a surprisingly good novel, leaning heavily on newspaper headlines for background, about an apple-pie dumb American kid, John Jude Parish, who succumbs to Sufism.

  • Review: "The Eastern Shore"

    Ward Just’s new novel, "The Eastern Shore," is, among other things, a look back at the newspaper industry’s importance and its long and now precipitous decline.

  • In Memoriam: Australian-American writer Shirley Hazzard, 'The Great Fire'

    Shirley Hazzard, an Australian-American writer of fiction and non-fiction, died this week. Her novel, "The Great Fire," published in 2003, won the National Book Award for Fiction.

  • Review: The Caribbean - Island people and the world

    Pick this book up as an unusual challenge and opportunity.  It’s both a travel and history guide of the Caribbean, written with rare authority by a writer you likely don’t know, but soon will.

  • Review: Settle for More – Intrinsically motivated

    What motivates you? External or internal forces?  After reading Megyn Kelly’s “Settle for More” memoir, it’s highly likely she would answer this question by saying internally.

  • Review: The law of lateness leads to 'food for thought'

    Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas L. Friedman 2005 best- seller, "The World Is Flat," was an examination of globalization in the early 21st century. His new book, "Thank You for Being Late," is an even more important achievement.

  • Review: Our Souls at Night

    "Our Souls" is a reminder of how joyous and tortuous life can be, especially for people in their advanced years. 

  • An appreciation of Irish writer William Trevor, 1928-2016

    Irish novelist, playwright and short story writer William Trevor has died at the age of 88. Culture Critic Michael D. Langan remembers the author.

  • Review: Who's a freak?

    Book critic Michael D. Langan takes a look at "Orphans Of The Carnival," about a woman who was a carnival performer and fluent in English, French and Spanish - and was labeled a "freak" from birth.

  • Review: Swing Time - An unnamed character's life in shadows

    Author Zadie Smith’s fifth novel, “Swing Time,” follows one unnamed character’s path from childhood into adulthood.

  • Movie review: Arrival

    Amy Adams stars in the science fiction movie, “Arrival,” directed by Dennis Villeneuve, which is in theaters now.

  • Movie review: Almost Christmas

    Danny Glover stars as Walter Meyers, a widowed patriarch spending the holidays with his four adult children and their families. 

  • Review: The epic story of the Indian Wars

    The American West was a place of conflict as early as the 1600s.  That was the time when White settlement of eastern North America jolted some Indian tribes into their own westward exodus. 

  • Review: The Mothers - Church gossip spreading past holy walls

    Women always get blamed for gossiping too much.  

  • Review: Casanova defines the word "seductive"

    Casanova... was an outcast. In his early years, he was mostly mute - some even thought him an imbecile.

  • Review: Lightning strikes - the genius of Nicola Tesla

    The Serbian-American inventor was an electrical, mechanical engineer, a physicist, and futurist, best known for designing the alternating current (AC) electricity supply system. But he did so much more.

  • Review: Stalin's Englishman - spying out of choice

    It is more than half a century since Cambridge Spy Ring members Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean fled to the Soviet Union in 1951. Even now the Cambridge traitors' activity remains a bit of a puzzle to many in England and in America. 

  • Review: Beauty and truth meet the law

    I remember sitting in the Irish Embassy in Washington, D.C. on the evening of June 16, in the early 1990s with a crowd of invitees - mostly Irish, they seemed - for a reading of a chapter of Joyce's "Ulysses."

  • Review: Perils of a reporter

    Ha Jin’s new novel, "The Boat Rocker," is about an investigative Chinese reporter, Feng Danlin, the narrator.  He works for a Chinese news agency, the Global News Agency, in New York.

  • Review: A subtle Victorian crime novel

    At its best, "By Gaslight" will remind you of the work of Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Conan Doyle.  It exudes an abundance of atmospherics mixed with indirection and subtle plot lines. 

  • Review: The Underground Railroad - escape from slavery

    The railroad in this book isn't the one we usually think of for slaves going north, that is, the historical route comprised of a series of safe houses and intricate physical routes to avoid detection.

  • Review: The Castle of Kings

    The book combines historical fiction and mystery, and is “a tale of murder, treachery, bravery, and love,” the usual suspects, as they are described by the author’s publisher.

  • Review: A Victorian 'whydunit'

    Kate Summerscale, formerly the literary editor of the Daily Telegraph in London, has written a terrific 'whydunit' - instead of the usual whodunit - in "The Wicked Boy." 

  • Review: "On Friendship"

    So, in the age of Facebook, where many are 'friended' but most are nothing but transient cosmic acquaintances, how does one become a real friend?  

  • Review: Is white Christian America dead?

    The title of this book is freighted with fear. Is it legitimate?

  • Review: Donald Trump - You are a total loser

    David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker Magazine and Mark Singer, a writer who’s been with that magazine since 1974, have just pulled off a wonderfully readable and profitable joke on Donald Trump.

  • Review: Bobby Kennedy - A Final Assessment?

    Robert F. Kennedyhas so many legends misting about him, tough guy, mean son-of-a-bitch, kindly liberal, that it's been hard until now to know who he really was, or at least who he ended up being. 

  • Review: The innocent have plenty to fear

    This novel is supposed to be a dark comedy, a summer read from a veteran political insider. It’s occasionally funny. The novel has mixed value.