Books by John Russell

LONDON by John Russell
HISTORY
Released: Nov. 1, 1994

An elegantly idiosyncratic, leisurely and—at its most successful—revealing stroll through London's highways and byways that transcends the coffee-table genre. A long-time art critic for the the New York Times, British- born Russell is an erudite guide to the city he made his home for over 50 years (if one at times rather too fond of the sound of his own voice). He takes the reader on a wholly personal, unsystematic, yet surprisingly thorough ramble through London's long history and its labyrinthine social topographies as well as its protean physical aspect. Though he occasionally lapses into travelogue bromides (``there is no better school of life than the streets of a great city''), more often Russell succeeds in finding neglected perspectives that help us reimagine a city made overfamiliar by mass tourism and media: a history of London's 19th-century salon culture, an explanation of what goes on behind the closed doors of the city through a history of its architecture, and, throughout, a refreshing emphasis on London as the living and working home of millions of ordinary folk rather than a picturesque museum. Having come to know the city in its imperial twilight, Russell does sometimes fall prey to nostalgic Edwardianisms (for instance, in his rose-tinted and pompous descriptions of Parliament); but at his best he combines the historian's long view, the aesthete's appreciative gaze, and the social critic's inquiring eye to paint a bracingly complex picture of a city whose heritage continues to evolve—such as his account of the Docklands transformation from commercial and imperial hub to the sometimes combustible social laboratory of the new London. At its unstuffy best, Russell's ``tour'' is brought to vivid life by his unfailingly apposite selection of paintings, engravings, architects' drawings and photographs, in general excellently reproduced (though on occasion large-scale images have been reduced beyond comfortable scrutiny). Russell for the most part offers the armchair traveler and the inquiring mind alike five-star service. (183 illustrations, 86 in color) (Book-of-the-Month Club dividend selection) Read full book review >
THE FAVORITE SONS by John Russell
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 1, 1992

A murky debut that explores New South politics through the intertwined lives of two ambitious North Carolina men—both from flawed but illustrious families. In old-fashioned prose that harks back to—without equaling- -the convoluted sonority of great southern writers of the past, Russell brings his protagonists together at the University of North Carolina in 1988. Roger Albright is descended from a Civil War hero, as well as from generations unable to hold onto money. Very rich, very poised Worth Patterson, who becomes his best friend, seems to have a strange relationship with Roger's mentor, the brilliant Professor Ogden of the Institute for Progressive Studies. The story follows the two young men through WW II and their subsequent rise to power: Roger (who gives up his Jewish Communist girlfriend to win and marry Worth's nouveau riche girlfriend) as a millionaire industrialist; Worth in Washington politics, with Ogden as a sometimes sinister-seeming Çminence grise. Problems surface by the 70's: domestic discord and Roger's suspicion that his troublemaking son—in love with Worth's daughter—is actually Worth's child. On the political front, Worth is challenged by a fundamentalist Christian-broadcasting demagogue who relies on race- baiting and negative advertising and threatens to expose Patterson family skeletons. Tarheelers may enjoy the detailed and wide-ranging—if almost exclusively white—picture of North Carolina: Chapel Hill traditions, tobacco farming, the textile industry, real-estate development, southern yuppies, and New Right fundamentalist politics. But the barrage of facts and contemporary headlines mixed with portentously oblique family scandals will make this serious but bumpy effort hard going for most readers. Read full book review >