Baum on Books

Book Review: BALD

Jul 16, 2021

Here’s a book that’s well named: “Bald.” To emphasize the point, the cover contains an illustration of a man in profile, his pate as smooth as stone, and a back flap front-face photo that shows one hairless Simon Critchley, professor of philosophy, looking a bit perturbed. But not because he’s bald. Critchley announces the fact as his opening sentence: “I’m bald.” The condition started when he was 19 and then, he says, “like the Roman Empire, my hair went into a long and irreversible decline and fall.”

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.