How Lincoln Learned to Read
by Daniel Wolff
Young Abe Lincoln is only one of 12 notable Americans who get a fresh look in this quirky “keyhole view into the country’s first two centuries,” said James Sullivan in The Boston Globe. In examining how self-made luminaries from Ben Franklin to Elvis learned the things they needed to know, author Daniel Wolff illustrates “that the nation’s inherent rebellious streak has served it well.” Teachers may wish that the author had made them seem less dispensable, but all these stories are “worth retelling.”
Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure
by Matthew Algeo
(Chicago Review, $25)
This “light read” from radio journalist Matthew Algeo is “more suitable for an airplane ride” than the sort of three-week road trip that gives the book its title, said Susan Sessions Rugh in The Wall Street Journal. Algeo breezily recounts the jaunt that ex-President Truman and his wife made from 102-degree Missouri to a newly Republican Washington in the summer of 1953. The author’s frequent detours into events of the time can be distracting, but they’re useful in “tempering” the book’s irresistible nostalgia.
Who Is Mark Twain?
by Mark Twain
The 24 stories and essays in this new collection of Mark Twain writings don’t present him at his best, said Jeff Simon in The Buffalo News. But flashes of genius probably grace every one of the half-million-plus pages of unpublished material that America’s “greatest literary celebrity” left behind. This little volume privileges us with various railings and needlings related to “race, religion, dentists, and, of course, himself, who will never stop being one of the great American subjects.”
by Rachel Shteir
The shorter of two new Gypsy Rose Lee biographies “uses the ideas of such theorists as Freud, Roland Barthes, and Susan Sontag to add gravitas” to its sketch of the legendary stripper’s life, said David Kirby in the Houston Chronicle. “It’s hard to tell” who Lee was. She talked to her audience more than she danced, and “whiled away her time between shows” reading Rabelais. Shteir doesn’t lift the veil, but her “engaging” study reminds us why Lee became an icon for women who “liked the idea” that they could be “brainy and sexy at the same time.”