Tuesday, June 20, 2023


Edward Dusinberre, Beethoven for a Later Age: Living with the String Quartets (2016)
First violinist of the Takács Quartet describes the nitty-gritty of rehearsing and playing Beethoven's quartets, in the context of his history with the group: young Englishman joining three grizzled Hungarians and playing with them for 20 years, through two subsequent personnel changes. It really helps in reading this book to be familiar with the works and thus know the import of particular movements and passages, and even more to have heard the Takács play and know their amazing ability to listen to each other and unify their sound, and in particular Dusinberre's brilliance at melting lyricism. Because he never feels he's done learning how to play better, so this is a very self-critical book that can make its subjects look like incompetent duffers if you don't know at what a high level their self-criticism is pitched.

Jennet Conant, 109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos (2005)
Social history of the Manhattan Project, focusing both on mundane issues like domestic power outages and useless cooking stoves, and on wild parties and security issues and the baby boom and personnel issues at the lab. Los Alamos was designed as a military camp but it was inhabited by civilians, and there's the main clash right there. Concludes with the long postwar story of Oppenheimer's loss of security clearances. Very little about technical issues; that's covered in other books. The title is the address of the project's office in Santa Fe, where new arrivals had to check in, often not knowing where they were going or what they would find when they got there. The principal character is less Oppenheimer than Dorothy McKibbin, the Santa Fe office manager, who was only occasionally on site in Los Alamos but got to see everybody. Some amusing anecdotes: for security reasons, use of titles like Prof. or Dr. was prohibited, so when a couple scientists sight-seeing in Santa Fe saw a statue and one said, "That's Archbishop Lamy" the other replied, "Shouldn't we say Mr. Lamy?"

J. Anthony Lukas, Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years (1976)
One of the first attempts to tell the full "White House horrors" story, based on a pair of huge New York Times Magazine articles. Excellent, clear, and monumentally detailed - it's a very long book - on the early stuff, but once the Watergate burglars are caught it needs to tell two stories at once - the cover-up and the public unraveling - and it gets clotted. I dug this one up because it was reported as one of the few early sources to finger Mark Felt as Deep Throat, but it only sort of does so. It mentions Deep Throat in passing only once - this is not a history of the journalism - and just says that many people think he was Felt. I don't know who these people were, because although his name did come up, most detailed investigators dismissed him as a possibility until much later on.

David Kaczynski, Every Last Tie: The Story of the Unabomber and His Family (2016)
Brief, painful. Discusses the discovery that his brother was the Unabomber more from an emotional perspective than an event-recounting one. Though it does say that David's wife suspected it before the manifesto was published. Also a lot on his parents, particularly their deaths. David's father committed suicide in the face of incurable cancer. This book was published long before Ted reportedly did the same thing.

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