ADVERTISEMENT

,

,

THE BROWSER: A quick look at recent books

  • April 8, 2013 - 8:17 AM

THOMAS JEFFERSON: THE ART OF POWER

By Jon Meacham (Random House, 720 pages, $35)

Those who know the third president only as the cover boy on the nickel may not want to start their education with Meacham’s exhaustive and often exhausting tome. The Pulitzer-winning author has certainly done his homework, with more than 210 pages of notes and references, but ample research does not always lead to great storytelling. Despite the meticulous details, Jefferson still comes across as stiff. Meacham keeps telling us how colorful and personable his subject is, but there’s little to suggest we’d want to party with him at Monticello. We never really feel his pain from losing so many loved ones, his enthusiasm over securing the Louisiana Purchase, his mixed emotions about his rocky relationship with John Adams or his passion for slave Sally Hemings, who bore several of his children. Scholars will delight in the minutiae, but casual historians may want to search for something lighter, both in weight and in tone.

NEAL JUSTIN, TV critic

 

BACK OF THE HOUSE: THE SECRET LIFE OF A RESTAURANT

By Scott Haas (Berkley, 302 pages, $16)

We love the chance to pull aside the veil, and foodies especially like peeking into restaurant kitchens, whether through a chef’s memoir, a line cook’s journey or a baker’s trials. Scott Haas peers through the veil of being a clinical psychologist, as well as a fan of food, specifically the dishes emerging from Tony Maws’ restaurant, Craigie on Main, in Cambridge, Mass. Yet Haas’ attention is directed less to food prep and more to the chefs’ and cooks’ behavior. Why is Maws so angry? Why do his cooks lack confidence? Why do people melt down in the middle of service? Most of all, did Maws know what he was doing, to open himself so fully to Haas? “Back of the House” is, at times, so raw that it’s hard to read — not so much a veil pulled aside as a tablecloth snatched, either deftly or with crashing results. But it’s a refreshing change from others’ more usual “and then I became a success” accounts.

Kim Ode, Staff writer

© 2014 Star Tribune