Reviews round-up

The critics' verdicts on Dan Brown, Leo Hollis and Jesse Norman.

New Statesman
Dan Brown's Inferno is set to be one of this year's top sellers

Inferno by Dan Brown

Once again Dan Brown does not fail to divide and fire up the critics with his latest story in the Robert Langdon saga, Inferno.

Steven Poole of the Guardian climbs on board the Dan Brown fan train with light-hearted enthusiasm. “The stout book was brilliantly engineered. It made art and poetry seem glamorous, and mixed them with luxury tourism and scenic chases. It spoke with the seductive urgency of a good-looking someone telling you a brainy secret. The pages fly by. Only lunatics would begrudge the blockbusting bard's determination to popularise great Italian poetry.” 

Janet Maslin of The New York Times is less impressed. "The early sections of “Inferno” come so close to self-parody that Mr Brown seems to have lost his bearings. When Robert Langdon of The Da Vinci Code can’t tell what day of the week it is, the whole Dan Brown brainiac franchise appears to be in trouble."

A.N Wilson from The Daily Mail praises Brown’s ability to entertain, but denounces the content as "twaddle" written for the big screen. "But at least it is entertaining twaddle.” Dan Brown claims to have gone into philosophical, theological and literary history in great depth for his books, “but if he has done so, he has left no trace of these in-depth researches in Inferno. Even though I thought it was bilge from beginning to end, I could not stop myself reading it.”

Jake Kerridge, in The Telegraph, gives the most damning appraisal of all. "As a stylist Brown gets better and better: where once he was abysmal he is now just very poor."

 

Cities Are Good For You by Leo Hollis

Leo Hollis’ book is a ramble through the ailing relationship between humanity and the metropolis.

Despite acknowledging some “fascinating and thoroughly researched passages,” Ed Hammond in the Financial Times argues that these sections are undermined by the “jarring changes of direction.”

Joy Di Loco in the Independent is also reserved in praise- “the examples Hollis uses are tired, having been examined countless times by other writers.” Hollis, she argues, is “looking for a magic formula” but “answers aren’t easy to come by.”

Similarly, Jonathan Glancey in The Telegraph sees the question Hollis is asking as “ultimately unanswerable”- “all cities have their highs and lows” and “good cities have never really existed.” Hollis, he argues, is instead looking for us to “settle for little more than a slightly livelier version of Milton Keynes.”

 

Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician, Prophet by Jesse Norman

This new biography of Edmund Burke by Conservative MP Jesse Norman looks to bring the thinkers ideas back into the age of the ‘Big Society’.

Despite viewing Burke as a figure who “won’t help anyone discern the way ahead,” The New Statesman’s John Gray argues that Norman presents an “intruiging and illuminating portrait” of a contradictory thinker.

For Labour Policy Co-ordinator Jon Cruddas, writing in The Independent, Norman’s work is an “immense critique” of the “cold economic rationalism” of the present. In calling for a compassionate conservatism it is a “patriotic tract” and an “act of great leadership.”

To Charles Moore in The Telegraph, “Norman himself…is clear-sighted about Burke’s practical failures. But he is also a subtle historian of ideas. He does an excellent job of extracting from his subject’s speeches and writings why, in his view, Burke is the first and most important conservative thinker.”