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Monthly Archives: May 2012

I love a biographer who writes like a novelist. Robert K. Massie builds a compelling story of Catherine’s amazing life using only the facts, which are astounding. Obscure German princess becomes child-wife of the emperor of Russia… and upon his death assumes the throne. Bright, thoughtful, and surprisingly free of the ridiculous egos that most royals succumbed to, Catherine pulled her country into the 20th century and played a full role on the European stage.  Intellectually intimate with Diderot and Voltaire she was a self-educated scholar with an impressive understanding of politics and philosophy. To be perfectly honest, towards the middle of the book when the Russia-Prussia-France squabbles got bogged down with infighting and double-crossing, I got a little bored. Otherwise, I loved the book.

A- (minus for the interminable squabbling)

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Filled with pungent details around what its really like to grow onions and raise pigs in the backyard of an Oakland California tenement, this book reeks of originality and spunk. Some passages, relating to dumpster diving and ‘poultry harvesting,’ are not for the faint of heart, but author Novella Carpenter brings a sense of gritty dignity to her experiment in living off the land in an urban environment. I loved Carpenter’s on-the-fringe neighbors, and I loved imagining what her living room looked like (with bee hives) and smelled like (with rabbit hutches). There’s nothing out there like this book. Breathe deep and enjoy.

A – (minus for occasional ‘narrative meandering’)