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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Peacock and Vine: On William Morris and Mariano Fortuny’

At the beginning of “Peacock and Vine,” A.S. Byatt describes a visit to the Museo Fortuny in Venice. As she gloried in the watery aquamarine light of the city she writes, “I found I was thinking about the Englishman William Morris. I was using Morris … to understand Fortuny.”

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Underground Airlines’

”If you would write a great novel, choose a great subject,” an old aphorism declares. If you would write a great “what-if,” choose an unspeakable alternative to historical fact. Thus “Underground Airlines” presumes that the Civil War never happened and slavery survives in America now.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Wear and Tear: The Threads of My Life’

If there was a more dysfunctional marriage than the one between British critic and enfant terrible Kenneth Tynan and American writer Elaine Dundy, you wouldn’t want to know about it, let alone be caught up in its maelstrom.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Apache Wars’

On a March day in 1851 after he and friends had spent time trading goods with residents of the Mexican town of Janos, a young Apache warrior named Goyahkla (One Who Yawns) returned to his home in a nearby village. What he discovered would impact American history.

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BOOK REVIEW: 'Right Moves: The Conservative Think Tank in American Political Culture Since 1945'

On Inauguration Day 1981, I attended a brunch gathering on Capitol Hill that University of Minnesota historian Jason Stahl would probably consider proof of the underlying thesis of his book on the impact of conservative think tanks. All of the several dozen guests gathered to view Ronald Reagan's inaugural address over Mimosas, Screwdrivers and Bloody Marys were conservatives -- writers, editors, congressional staffers, scholars, journalists, economists and the like.

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Noise of Time'

In his remarkable new novel, Julian Barnes tells the story of the Russian composer, Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich, and how the "noise of time" surrounding his life, be it the adulation, humiliation, prestige and dishonor heaped upon him, or the pressure of "Power" to write music "for the people," affected him.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Breaking Rockefeller'

The "ambitious rivals" of Peter Doran's subtitle are Marcus Samuels, an East London merchant who built his father's seashell business into Shell Transportation and Trading Company, and in the process developed the first modern oil tanker, capable of navigating the Suez Canal, and Henri Deterding, "a take-no-prisoners oilman" who created Royal Dutch, building on holdings in Dutch colonial outposts.

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Bridge Ladies: A Memoir'

Appealing is the word that kept recurring in my mind as I read literary agent and author Betsy Lerner's memoir of getting to know her mother's circle of contemporaries who have gathered each Monday yea these many long decades for lunch, bridge and much, much more.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Outfoxed: An Andy Carpenter Mystery'

"Your dog helped him escape" is a tempting kickoff for a thriller, especially when a fox terrier called Boomer is then accused of involvement in seven stabbings. It is less credible when Boomer turns out to be one of the animals under the protection of a lawyer called Andy Carpenter who cares more about canines than people.

BOOK REVIEW: 'This Brave New World: India, China and the United States'

On a crisp November morning last year, when Donald Trump's candidacy was little more than a cloud the size of a man's fist -- and the fist of a man with tiny hands, at that -- it occurred to me that if it ever did take off, a lot of its success would be due to his strongly protectionist stance on global trade.

BOOK REVIEW: 'A Just Cause: The Impeachment and Removal of Governor Rod Blagojevich'

In his foreword, former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar writes: "Even in a state stained by corruption at every level of government," where three governors have gone to jail, "none had been impeached until the General Assembly, like a team of surgeons removing a cancer, urgently but methodically excised Rod Blagojevich, the state's fortieth governor."

BOOK REVIEW: 'Madison's Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention'

Pious politicians who anoint themselves as "strict constructionists" of the U.S. Constitution are akin to Christian fundamentalists who assert that the King James Version of the Bible was literally dictated by the Lord Almighty to 47 Church of England scholars during the Creator's spare time between 1604 and 1611. One has to squint very hard to see any truth in divine inspiration for either document.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Authors in Court: Scenes From the Theater of Copyright'

Mark Rose, research professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara, engagingly tells us that he is "a Shakespearean by trade, not a lawyer." He then goes on to confess that "Nonetheless, I have some experience in legal matters, having served as an expert witness in copyright infringement cases for thirty-five years" and that he has lectured and written extensively about copyright and its history.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Ghost Sniper: A Sniper Elite Novel'

With the take-down of Osama bin Laden, the most wanted man in the world, and other bold and brave military actions, the U.S. Navy SEALs and other special operations groups are respected and admired greatly. Although the elite special operators perform in a high state of operational security and secrecy, much has been written about them, as the public is very interested in these seemingly larger-than-life military men.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Fall of Man in Wilmslow'

"Fall of Man in Wilmslow" is about the English mathematician Alan Turing, whose decryption of the German Enigma code is credited with shortening World War II and helping found computing as the science we know today. Mr. Turing's role in this endeavor was long shrouded in official secrecy, made all the more byzantine after he was convicted of homosexuality in 1952, when it was still a crime in Britain.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Blood, Bone and Marrow: A Biography of Harry Crews'

Reading the novels of Harry Crews is akin to walking into the freak show at a third-tier Southern carnival. The author (who died at the age of 76 in 2012) had the knack of taking human sub-normality to unbelievable lows, making one wonder whether such persons actually exist outside the tortured bounds of his mind.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Spanish-Israeli Relations, 1956-1992'

This is one of those books that not only sheds light on a too-much-ignored, perhaps even hidden, chapter in postwar international relations, but also on larger issues. The immediate question behind this intensively researched and analytical book is why it took nearly four decades after the establishment of the State of Israel for it to achieve full diplomatic relations with Spain -- in 1986.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Crisis of Character'

Despite its being ignored by the mainstream media, "Crisis of Character" is already a best-seller, driven by interviews and coverage in conservative outlets with the author relating his distressing experiences while serving in the Clinton White House as a U.S. Secret Service officer.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Mothering Sunday: A Romance'

Mothering Sunday is an ancient Church celebration that falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent. By that time in England, the daffodils are nodding and with a little luck the sun is shining, as they are in Graham Swift's latest novel, named after this holiday.

New book examines end of Soviet era -- and future

"Freedom had materialized out of thin air," writes Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich of the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. "Everyone was intoxicated by it, but no one had really been prepared . We'd be just like everyone else. We thought that this time, we'd finally get it right."

Dramatizing the grind of being Samuel Beckett

Living in Paris in the 1930s Samuel Beckett was not yet the author of 20th-century classics such as "Waiting for Godot" and "Krapp's Last Tape." He was assistant to James Joyce, whose wide learning he shared. But though he had published his novel "Murphy" (1938) as well as poems, short stories, and essays, he remained unknown beyond a narrow literary circle until the 1950s and '60s, when the success of his plays and later publications won him the 1969 Nobel Prize for Literature.