Joan Baum

Joan Baum is a recovering academic from the City University of New York, who spent 25 years teaching literature and writing. Joan has a long career as a critic and reviewer, writing for, among others, WNYC, Newsday, The Christian Science Monitor, MIT's Technology Review, Hadassah Magazine and writing on subjects in her dissertation field, the major English Romantic poets. She covers all areas of cultural history but particularly enjoys books at the nexus of the humanities and the sciences.

With an eye on reviewing fiction and nonfiction that has regional resonance for Connecticut or Long Island – books written by local authors or books set in the area – Joan considers the timeliness and significance of recently published work: what these books have to say to a broad group of readers today and how they say it in a distinctive or unique manner, taking into account style and structure as well as subject matter.

There are books galore about American presidents — biographies, memoirs, analyses by colleagues, family members, scholars, journalists, by presidents themselves — but Gary Ginsberg hits on something new: a close-up look at various presidents through the eyes of their closest companions.

Erik Larson is so good a storyteller that as you read through The Splendid and the Vile, his magnificent saga of Winston Churchill during the bombing of Britain — “the year Churchill became Churchill,” as Larson says — you wonder how it will all turn out! The book is what’s been said of Larson’s earlier works: “addictively readable.”

Though Amagansett-based author Ellen Feldman’s compelling new novel The Living and the Lost is set in Berlin shortly after World War II, with flashbacks to 1938, it resonates today with disturbing themes about the heritage of hatred, and suggests that the title “The Living AND the Lost” may well have been “the Living ARE the Lost.”

A new and expanded edition of a book first published 58 years ago about a man said to have been the world’s greatest conductor shows why the myth took hold and why it remains unchallenged.

Arturo Toscanini was unique. A musician of genius, including a photographic memory, Toscanini could boast – but never did – of having a repertoire of 120 operas and 400 symphonic works he could conduct by heart. God help the musicians trying to follow him.

You know how writers are sometimes asked whom they would like to have over for a small dinner party? Well, historian, biographer and academic Walter Isaacson, out now with another magnificent tome, The Code Breaker, says – with nods to other innovators he’s written about, including Einstein, Steve Jobs and his favorite genius, Leonardo Da Vinci – that his guests would be Benjamin Franklin and Jennifer Doudna.

Franklin, whom Isaacson wrote about in 2003, was a prime exemplar of “curiosity,” the driving force behind inquiries and inventions.

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