Jeff B's Book Reviews

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

You already know much of what Kolbert presents here. Life is both tenacious and tenuous. At least five times in the last half-billion years much of Earth’s life has been wiped out by a change in global conditions, the most recent probably caused by an asteroid impact during the Late Cretaceous epoch. Die-offs cascade as […]


Masters of the Games and Wind Sprints by Joseph Epstein

Masters of the Games and Wind Sprints by Joseph Epstein

Here at the EPL Reader’s Services desk, a good day might include cheerful exchanges with patrons buoyed by a Cubs victory. A very good day requires only a visit from Joe Epstein. When Mr. Epstein approaches the desk, you’re in for an amusing story or three. The humor is wry, the manner puckish, the delivery […]


The Defender by Ethan Michaeli

The Defender by Ethan Michaeli

  I knew The Defender was highly influential in Chicago, especially on the south side, but I didn’t know about its national reach. For much of the 20th century the newspaper was near the epicenter of the nation’s social and political turbulence. It swayed the elections of Chicago mayors, of course, but also the elections […]


King of the World by David Remnick

King of the World by David Remnick

Remnick opens the story on February 25, 1964, when Muhammad Ali was twenty-two and about to face the fierce heavyweight champion Sonny Liston: “for the first and last time in his life, [Ali] was afraid.” It’s a shrewd distillation of a historic moment. Not many expected Ali to win–just as not many expected him to […]


“Most Blessed of Patriarchs” by Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf.

“Most Blessed of Patriarchs” by Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf.

When I was growing up my politically centrist parents sometimes called me Jefferson. They idolized him as a broad-minded small-government hero and wanted me to do likewise. So I did, having no idea what that meant. Decades later I’m less a fan of his politics–for the moment I’m in the corner of his rival, Alexander […]


Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

When I first heard about the show I didn’t pay attention. A hip-hop musical about the American Revolution and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton? Not for me, I thought. That initial reaction embarrasses me now. The musical is one of the top artistic achievements ever, and this book gives the back story. Critic and artist McCarter […]


The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel by  Cary Nelson and Gabriel Noah Brahm, eds.

The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel by Cary Nelson and Gabriel Noah Brahm, eds.

Should defenders of Palestinian Arab rights boycott Israeli universities and instructors?  Is this an appropriate intellectual weapon?  And does the “BDS” movement [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] aim principally to improve Israeli policies?  The authors of the thirty essays in this collection argue that the answers are No, and are linked by antisemitism.  The initial arguments are […]


A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Paris’s literary scene in the 1920s was partly an American phenomenon with such luminaries as Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, and Gertrude Stein at the center.  On the periphery were writers a generation younger, such as Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald.  In this posthumously-published memoir, re-edited and introduced by Hemingway’s grandson, the twentysomething Hem is honing […]


Augustine’s Confessions: A Biography by Garry Wills

Augustine’s Confessions: A Biography by Garry Wills

There’s much to say about Confessions, Augustine’s great work of self-study composed as a 13-volume soliloquy to God. Wills manages to say plenty in just 148 pages in this contribution to the “Lives of Great Religious Books” series (from Princeton University Press). We get not only a close reading, but also the inside story of […]


The Jewish State by Theodor Herzl

The Jewish State by Theodor Herzl

At age thirty-five, nine years before he died in his native Austro-Hungary, Theodor Herzl published this nationalist manifesto. Though he judged his own arguments “ancient,” the book generated immediate acclaim and controversy.  His last decade was spent traveling from capital to capital to build support. Arguing that Jews possessed a nationality, and that they could […]


Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.