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Exploring the word

Our 2002 collection of book reviews

(Page 2 of 8)

With emotional accuracy and gymnastic irony, Phillips follows five friends through Hungary in 1990. The novel focuses on a sensitive, principled young American named John, who's arrived in Budapest in a futile attempt to bond with his older brother. The story moves fluidly through John's experience in a culture that's swirling with nostalgia, deception, and promise. Phillips holds a precarious balance, satirizing the rituals of modern culture while cradling John's desperate search for a worthy life. The result is a sophisticated and profound debut novel - a witty, humane tale of a generation stumbling in a dim glow that could be dawn or twilight. (June 20)

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THE AGE OF GOLD, by H.W. Brands, Doubleday, $29.95

For Brands, the California Gold Rush was an accumulation of "hundreds of thousands of small stories of the men and women who traveled to California in pursuit of their common dream." This bestselling author has now assembled those stories in a dazzling setting that conveys the world-changing effects of the era. Most of the people he describes are unknown, like Vicente Per├ęz Rosales, who came from Chile with four brothers, a brother-in-law, and two trusted servants. Others are still famous, like Samuel Clemens, who "lit out for the territories in 1861." Brands's well-documented study presents a compelling argument that those small stories record "a seminal event in history, one of those rare moments that divide human existence into before and after." (Aug. 22)

CHARLES DARWIN, by Janet Browne, Knopf, $37.50

Darwin spent 20 years working out evidence to support his theory of natural selection, secure in the knowledge that his idea was too radical and the details too arcane for anyone else to have discovered. Then one morning in 1858, he received a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace, laying out the theory in words that could have been Darwin's own. So opens the second book of Browne's riveting two-volume biography. In the entire range of intellectual history, it's doubtful there's a moment that tops the Darwin-Wallace collision for human drama. Over the course of these two volumes, we come to intimately understand Darwin - a very unmodern man who brought modernity to science. (Sept. 26)


This third volume in Caro's award-winning biography chronicles more of Johnson's ruthlessness, which dominated the second volume. But it also marks a return to what Caro terms the "bright thread" of Johnson's life: the public-policy changes he helped bring about during his two terms in the US Senate, especially the civil rights improvements. Caro also calls attention to Johnson's genius as a political organizer. Nobody, he argues, has ever wielded legislative power more skillfully. Though the previous two volumes are superb, a newcomer won't be lost by jumping into this painstakingly researched, beautifully written installment. National Book Award nominee. (May 2)

ABRAHAM, by Bruce Feiler, William Morrow, $23.95