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By Michael D. Langan


By Michael D. Langan

Sun, Jun 24, 2012

Michael Frayn, sometimes called the farceur "by whom all others must be measured," doesn't breast the tape a winner in "Skios," his race-to-the-bottom Greek comedy. Instead he's tripped himself up along the way with a stale plot of mistaken identities festooned with so many improbabilities that it's tough to suspend one's disbelief.Readers may remember the success of Fra…

By Michael D. Langan

Sun, Jun 17, 2012

"Istanbul Passage" takes place in that perennial city of intrigue on the cusp of Europe and Asia. It was founded as Byzantium in 660 B.C.; renamed Constantinople in 330 A.D. and Turkish authorities retitled it Istanbul in the 1930s."Passage" by Joseph Kanon is a first-rate spy novel whose layers of deception remind me of Graham Greene's 1939 novel, "The Confidential Agent"…

By Michael D. Langan

Sun, Jun 10, 2012

Gordon Bowker's new life of James Joyce (1882–1941), according to his publisher, is the first in more than 50 years. First published in Great Britain last year, it is based, we are told, "on new material that has recently come to light." Bowker says his book is an "exploration of the inner landscape" of that extraordinary life.I'm not sure that this explanation is complete…

By Michael D. Langan

Sun, Jun 3, 2012

Nobel Prize-winning South African author Nadine Gordimer has written a post-apartheid novel, "No Time Like The Present," at the age of 88. She sticks with what she knows best: an explanation of the links between her country, culture and its people.Gordimer's style is piercingly simple, her observations complex. In this, she is at one with her characters, Steve and Jabulile…

By Michael D. Langan

Sun, May 6, 2012

"The Passage of Power," the in-depth telling of Lyndon Johnson's seven-week transition that led to the presidency, is a magisterial reading of political power -- its loss and acquisition -- that rivals Machiavelli's "The Prince.""Passage" is the latest of four volumes of Lyndon Johnson's rise to political power by Robert A. Caro. The book assesses Lyndon Johnson …

By Michael D. Langan

Thu, Apr 26, 2012

The Secret Service scandal reminds us that, with so much testosterone and flabby willpower on display, a little character-maintenance within the Service is in order.The embarrassment in Cartagena is more than a temporary falling off. It is a blot on the character of the good men and women in the service. It is a disappointment to me, as well.In my experience in fed…

By Michael D. Langan

Sun, Apr 15, 2012

English writer A.N. Wilson has written a brief biography of a lonely, lazy youth with few skills, a youth who bullied others and threw tantrums when he didn't get his way.This indolent art student and Austrian army draft dodger's name was alternately spelled: "Hiedler/Huttler/Hitler, all variations of the same name, which means "one who lives in a hut" and who e…

By Michael D. Langan

Sun, Mar 25, 2012

In a first novel of mixed merit, John Donatich, director of Yale University Press, adds to a long list of Roman Catholic priests with good hearts and bad habits with his Father Dominic in "The Variations."Perhaps the gentlest writer in this priestly genre was J.F. Powers (1917-1999), who wrote a number of novels and short stories about priests and the Catholic Ch…

By Michael D. Langan

Sun, Mar 18, 2012

Mark K. Updegrove, the director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum in Austin, Texas, has written a clever book that LBJ himself -- his Machiavellian subject -- would have enjoyed."Indomitable Will" is also a great read for those who enjoy an articulate description of how American politics shape-shifts into history over time.With his …

By Michael D. Langan

Sat, Mar 3, 2012

In his new book, "Beautiful Souls," Eyal Press, a writer for the Nation, the New York Times magazine and the New York Review of Books, examines what makes people say "no" in morally compromising situations.Press asks why, "even in situations of seemingly total conformity, there are always some people who refuse to go along." Paradoxically, those who say "no" are …

By Michael D. Langan

Sat, Feb 4, 2012

With unending stories of child abuse described in the media, "Childism" is a timely book. The title is a shorthand for all kinds of abuse of children, an ugly word. It's been around since 1970 and means more broadly, "prejudice against children."The author, Elizabeth Young-Bruehl, knows the word is a hard one to accept. Isn't it just another "ism," she asks? She sa…

By Michael D. Langan

Sat, Jan 14, 2012

In the squib by his publisher, Michel Houellebecq is touted as "the most celebrated and controversial French novelist of our time." French literature has had its share of celebrated and controversial writers. Some were sham intellectuals and others piercing thinkers.To highlight the difference, one of Houellebecq's characters says, "All the theories of freedom, fro…

By Michael D. Langan

Sat, Dec 31, 2011

Over the past 10 years, we have seen a revolution in the book publishing industry as significant as the Gutenberg press in the 15th century. Digital publishing is threatening to be the new normal. This breakthrough and the digital reader have hit the staid book publishing industry like an earthquake. Aftershocks throughout the book business are still taking place…

By Michael D. Langan

Sat, Dec 17, 2011

Longtime NBC commentator Tom Brokaw's new book is a steam engine for getting America back on track. In his westerner with a world-of-experience way, he tells us what questions people asked him as he traveled around America.At the top of the list, "What has happened to us? Have we lost our way?"Things are tough. Listen to what Dan Loper of New Vienna, Ohio, told B…

By Michael D. Langan

Sun, Oct 2, 2011

The British writer David Lodge writes a kind of fiction at times that can raise one's hackles. In "A Man Of Parts," he takes the facts of an earlier British writer's life, H.G. Wells (1866-1946), and ruminates upon them, creating a novel out of known information, particularly his love life with two wives and many mistresses.As Blake Morrison of the Guardian put it,…