This weird biography follows Larry Hillblom, who took a part-time job as a courier in law school, founded DHL (he’s the H), forced out his two partners, got rich, sold his shares, and then quit became “a glorified sex tourist, trolling the dives and brothels of Vietnam and the Philippines for pubescent girls.” Weird, and gross, but sounds like it could make for a good story. Burrough positively gushes over it, saying, “Mr. Scurlock has returned with a story that is everything I enjoy in a book: strange, exotic, inspiring, extensively researched, clearly written and, yeah, sort of creepy.” This despite the fact that Hillblom’s chasing after teenage prostitutes is too distasteful for more than an oblique mention in a family newspaper.
Shadid’s final book, a memoir about his time restoring his grandfather’s house in Lebanon, might not be as important as a lot of his Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting, but it sounds as epic and elegant as such a book could be. Shadid evidently incorporates his family’s history in the Middle East, and his own personal history in war zones, to craft a compelling and impressive narrative. (For more on Shadid, and his death last month by horse allergy while on assignment in Syria, check out this piece by the photographer who accompanied him on that last trip.)
Gessen’s “political history” of the reign of Vladimir Putin (who was elected president of Russia by a suspiciously wide margin last Sunday) sounds fiery and cutting, if perhaps biased. Wood, by contrast, comes off as a Putin apologist, saying that, even if you’d call Russia amoral and destructive, at least Putin has “a coherent long-term strategic vision for his country.” It’s a weak defense, and Wood’s review sounds almost as “furiously accusatory” as he calls Gessen’s book. Still, a profile of a career KGB agent and government manipulator should obviously be taken with a grain of salt, no matter what it says.
Completing the nonfiction quadfecta this week, Taylor’s book is an oral history of London, compiled from five years’ worth of interviews with “subway workers and sex workers; homeless people and millionaires; enthusiasts and malcontents; immigrants and old-timers; the practical and the dreamy; people going and people coming.” Lyall’s verdict finds the result sympathetic, entertaining, and wildly diverse. For more, trying China Mieville’s recent sprawling piece on the same city.
In brief: Slate’s new book section has a lot of promise, even though it has relatively few actual book reviews. Here’s a piece about an existential kids’ book, and here’s one on the horrors of the pregnancy classic, What to Expect When You’re Expecting. … Random House, as it turns out, isn’t as cool as it looked like they might be for a second. … The Lorax, a crassly commercialized adaptation of a classic Dr. Seuss book, rockets to the year’s best opening weekend. Looks like selling out pays. … And the takeaway from this piece is that Amazon is moving away from monopolization. Those boycotts are working.