A thoroughly researched and frequently enlightening but somewhat ponderous tribute to a beloved classic.




A film scholar explores the legendary history and lasting appeal of Casablanca (1942).

Casablanca remains one of the most memorable films ever produced. A star-making vehicle for its two lead actors, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, it has served as a textbook example of how the studio system, in this case Warner Brothers, applied its best efforts and assets in producing a film of exceptional merit. As Isenberg (Screen Studies/The New School; Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins, 2014, etc.) notes, the film required complex collaborations among several of Warner’s most talented writers, composers, set decorators, and cinematographers, and it featured iconic performances by popular contract players such as Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet. The original source, an unproduced play titled Everyone Comes to Rick’s, didn’t appear destined for greatness when it sold to the studio in late 1941. Yet under the guidance of studio heads Jack Warner and Hal Wallis, and aligning with the timely events of a country about to enter the war, the prescient material would have an urgent appeal. “Thanks not only to the fortuitous timing of its release,” writes the author, “but also to the sly intermingling of history, politics, and fiction, Casablanca gave viewers the chance to reflect on the current state of the world…while also feeding their appetite for entertainment at the movies—larger-than-life characters, exotic backdrops, heart-wrenching romance, and plenty of glimpses of universally identifiable, basic humanity.” Isenberg has scrupulously researched the developmental details of the production, and he offers an interesting dissection of the legendary script contributions and in-depth background histories of the many bit players featured in the film. However, in focusing the latter portion of the book on the film’s continuing impact, he tends to broadly overstate his message, expansively recounting every film revival, TV and theatrical offshoot, parody, and just about every example where there has been occasion for reference over the last several years. These exhaustive details are likely to interest only the most die-hard fans of the film.

A thoroughly researched and frequently enlightening but somewhat ponderous tribute to a beloved classic.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-24312-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.


New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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With this detailed, versatile cookbook, readers can finally make Momofuku Milk Bar’s inventive, decadent desserts at home, or see what they’ve been missing.

In this successor to the Momofuku cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar’s pastry chef hands over the keys to the restaurant group’s snack-food–based treats, which have had people lining up outside the door of the Manhattan bakery since it opened. The James Beard Award–nominated Tosi spares no detail, providing origin stories for her popular cookies, pies and ice-cream flavors. The recipes are meticulously outlined, with added tips on how to experiment with their format. After “understanding how we laid out this cookbook…you will be one of us,” writes the author. Still, it’s a bit more sophisticated than the typical Betty Crocker fare. In addition to a healthy stock of pretzels, cornflakes and, of course, milk powder, some recipes require readers to have feuilletine and citric acid handy, to perfect the art of quenelling. Acolytes should invest in a scale, thanks to Tosi’s preference of grams (“freedom measurements,” as the friendlier cups and spoons are called, are provided, but heavily frowned upon)—though it’s hard to be too pretentious when one of your main ingredients is Fruity Pebbles. A refreshing, youthful cookbook that will have readers happily indulging in a rising pastry-chef star’s widely appealing treats.    


Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-72049-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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