Monday, October 25, 2010

Recent Reads - October 2010

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

A large part of this biography of Lincoln deals with the run up to the 1860 Republican presidential nomination and the stories of the three men who were his rivals: Senator William H. Seward, governor Salmon P. Chase and William Bates. We get loads of domestic and period detail - so much so that the actual nomination battle comes as an anti-climax. Lincoln comes across as a likable character, clumsy and folksy with a common touch and a talent for anecdotes, but a shrewd operator. And a man of principle - an attribute common to a lot of the politicians in those days. The roles these erstwhile rivals came to play on his new administration is the main theme of the book. Enda Kenny please take note.

Jim Thompson - the Unsolved Mystery by William Warren

He went out for a walk in the Malaysian jungle and never came back. This book tries to weave a mystery out of the Thai silk magnates disappearance but fails because there isn't a single clue to go on. The banal truth is that he probably fell down one of the innumerable ravines and the disorganised searches never found him.

Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens

Petty, point-scoring and self-aggrandising confection from the debased currency that is Hitchens. It veers from fawning adoration (Amis, Fenton et al) to blinkered hatred (Clinton, Ted Kennedy et al). Yet for all that it's an entertaining read. The section on Edward Said shows an interesting ambivalence and the early chapter on his mother (who committed suicide) is quite touching.

Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace

I've long wanted to tackle David Foster Wallace but was loth to embark on a 900 page novel so I thought a book of his essays might be a good starting point. And, despite the tricksy typography and the rampant footnotage, I wasn't disappointed. Here's a writer who can move from porn conventions to English usage, from shock jocks to Dostoyevsky, from lobster abuse to radio hosts and retain his dry, lucid and sardonic tone. There are elements of gonzo journalism here but he is a finer phrase maker than Hunter S. Thompson and has a more intellectual bent.