"Hitler" by A.N. Wilson
Hitler and Abraham Lincoln. Two very different people with one similarity: Biographers can't get enough of them. To those still eager to glean new meaning out of the men and their movements, there are often two roads to take: There's the counterfactual approach, asking the "what if?" questions that give the writer flexibility to explore new terrain. Then there's the revisionist approach, quibbling with one biographer's interpretation to hopefully add something new to the historical record. A.N. Wilson does neither, and leaves reviewers with mixed feelings. In "Hitler," Wilson steps away from the exhaustive, door-stopping biography in favor of a shorter, digestible 300-page study on the most revolting man of the 20th century.
Nick Cohen of The Guardian is flummoxed by the direction Wilson takes. For such a "sharp" and well-written account, Wilson loses the reader when he begins making absurdist claims about Nazism's ties to the Enlightenment. "A biography that reads so well thus ends with witterings that are so asinine Thought for the Day could broadcast them." Despite the appeal of a short book tackling a big subject, Dagmar Herzog of The New York Times is likewise dismayed by the finished product: "A. N. Wilson’s 'Hitler' ultimately falls short as a satisfactory substitute for something more substantial." Herzog goes on to say that though parts of "Hitler" are "imaginative," it's more often "banal" and "reductive." Despite these shortcomings, Michael Warshaw of The Boston Globe appreciates the "insight" into Hitler's persona, albeit one that isn't as definitive as other texts. "In the end ... he shows us a Hitler who was life-size, but whose actions were monstrous."
"Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks & the Hidden Powers of the Mind" by Alex Stone
Alex Stone didn't use a trap door or some other parlor trick to vanish from the Society of American Magicians. He left by force. After writing an opinion piece for Harper's on the gifted nature of true magicians, he was permanently expelled from the society for revealing the secrets of the trade. This is just one of the many missteps in Stone's clumsy quest to master the magician's craft. Ricky Jay, a sleight-of-hand artist who takes particular issue with Stone's flippant nature, angrily guest reviews for The Wall Street Journal: "Mr. Stone's misrepresentations of the magician's art are infuriating. We are asked to accept the pontifications of a tyro with no credentials, achievements, or noteworthy skills in his chosen hobby..." One is tempted to see Jay's point when Kirkus Reviews notes: "Juicy bits aside, there’s plenty of eye-opening knowledge on display for those inclined to discover what lies behind the curtain." Is Stone misrepresenting himself as a fools-rush-in authority in the world of magic? One wonders. But that being said, Jay seems too jaded by the author to give an accurate assessment of the story itself. Stone's intentions aside, many find the story both funny and "magically engrossing." Though the subject matter "becomes a shade too technical," writes Janet Maslin of The New York Times, "this eclectic book does not march toward a predictable victory. Mr. Stone’s humor stays intact, even when a high school contestant beats him."
Bio-Metric for Magicians: 0/5
Bio-Metric for Muggles: 4/5