book is merely factual) the controversial
and steadfast William Mulholland, who
developed and oversaw the seemingly
impossible construction of an aqueduct
from Owens Valley to Los Angeles in the
early 20th century. The development of a
Los Angeles water system that enabled
and responded to the city’s quick growth
is deeply entwined with the politics of the
era and allegations of corruption, though
this book does not do the topic justice.
Standiford admits this is “not a work of
traditional scholarship,” but something
he chose to do for the sake of the general
reader. Yet the book is confusingly organized, with a tangential, but attention-grabbing, first chapter (which features a
dam that broke, flooding a valley and killing
hundreds at the end of Mulholland’s
career); unusual juxtaposition of anecdotes;
and an overall conflict in its premise—is it
a biography of Mulholland or the story of
the aqueduct? Pacing is also unfortunate,
as the book lags in its unnecessarily long
description of the building of the aqueduct and doesn’t pick up again until the
end. What could have been an intensely
interesting affair unfortunately lacks
detail richness and fails to cohere. (Mar.)
Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll
Be: An Antidote to the College
Frank Bruni. Grand Central, $25 (224p) ISBN
With great energy and enthusiasm, New
York Times columnist Bruni takes a pin to
“our society’s warped obsession with elite
colleges” and provides a commonsense
check to the yearly “admissions mania” of
students competing for coveted slots at top
schools. In taking apart the “largely subjective” and “fatally flawed” rankings of
U.S. News & World Report and reviewing
the dearth of class diversity and “lack of
imagination” at the pinnacle of higher
education, Bruni tosses a rock through the
undeserved “veneration of elite schools”
and celebrates the democratic insistence
that a “good student can get a good education just about anywhere.” He fills the book
with profiles of successful CEOs, politicians,
entrepreneurs, and other known names to
illustrate how self-starters turned their
default school into a stepladder to success.
Bruni’s quick wit and slick style nimbly
glosses over the systemic problems with
sively shows that the legacies of even the
most gifted authors rest on factors largely
extraneous to the actual works, including
later advocacy, being suitable for multiple
audiences, symbolic value, and being
selected for biographies, anthologies, and
translations. In this reading, Keats, for
instance, ultimately outstripped his rivals
in part by dying young. Thoroughly
researched, dense, and judicious, Jackson’s
study should renew interest in the Romantic
period and its writers—the famous and
forgotten alike. (Mar.)
Travels in Vermeer: A Memoir
Michael White. Persea (Norton, dist.), $17.95
trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-0-89255-437-9
A poet by trade, White (Vermeer in
Hell), confronts ideas about love and loss
after being awestruck by Vermeer’s Milkmaid
in the Rijksmuseum, in Amsterdam. Thus
begins a personal quest to visit most of the
Vermeer paintings in the world and see
how they affect him—or not. In the course
of this raw memoir, White travels to The
Hague, Washington D.C., New York, and
London to study Vermeer’s paintings up
close and in detail. His readings of the paintings are insightful and reflect his emotion
at experiencing firsthand the capability of
Vermeer’s genius. Through his eyes, readers
see why The Guitar Player is “disconcerting”
but The Music Lesson is “intoxicating.”
Between museum visits, White explains
how his divorce, the death of his first wife,
and his history as a recovering alcoholic
inform his ideas about eternity and the
focus of love. We follow him along on several dates and see how his personal experience with romance and love influences his
vulnerability to art. Although there are no
illustrations in the book, White’s extensive
descriptions will inspire readers to seek
out the paintings to further study Vermeer’s
motifs and technique. Through his obsession with Vermeer, White has crafted a
powerful and affecting memoir that reminds
us how art can be salvation. (Mar.)
Water to the Angels:
William Mulholland, His
and the Rise of Los Angeles
Les Standiford. Ecco, $28.99 (336p) ISBN
Standiford (Last Train to Paradise) takes
on and defends (despite claims that the
Courtship: A Novel of Life, Love, and the
Law RL Sommer. Ankerwycke, Mar.
The Darkside War Zachary Brown. S&S/Saga,
Heartbreak Cove Lily Everett. St. Martin’s,
The Illuminations Andrew O’Hagan. Farrar,
Straus and Giroux, Mar.
Quicksand: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt
Mystery Gigi Pandian. Henery (henerypress.
The Washington Lawyer Allan Topol.
Adventures in Immediate Irreality Max
Blecher, trans. from the Romanian by Michael
Henry Heim. New Directions, Feb.
All Things Tending Towards the Eternal
Kathleen Lee. Triquarterly Books, Feb.
Death by Roses Vivian B. Probst. SelectBooks,
My Sunshine Away M. O. Walsh. Putnam, Feb.
Shame and the Captives Thomas Keneally.
Tell Frances Itani. Grove/Black Cat, Jan.
Into the Nest: Intimate Views of the Courting, Parenting and Family Lives of Birds
Laura Erickson and Marie Read. Storey, Mar.
Toronto: Biography of a City Allan Levine.
Douglas & McIntyre (PGW, U.S. dist.; Harper-CollinsCanada, Canadian dist.), Mar.
; Our Only World: Ten Essays Wendell Berry.
Counterpoint (PG W, dist.), Feb.
Black Cat 2–1: The True Story of a Vietnam
Helicopter Pilot and His Crew Bob Ford.
Brown (Ingram, dist.), Jan.
; Crucible of Command: Ulysses S. Grant
and Robert E. Lee—The War They Fought,
the Peace They Forged William C. Davis.
Da Capo, Jan.
Eat, Drink & Be Wary: How Unsafe Is Our
Food? Charles M. Duncan. Rowman & Littlefield,
Gut Gastronomy: Revolutionise Your Eating
to Create Great Health Vicki Edgson and
Adam Palmer. Quarto, Jan.
The Last Warrior: Andrew Marshall and
the Shaping of Modern American Defense
Strategy Andrew Krepinevich and Barry Watts.