The folks at The New York Times Book Review would like you to believe they are the nation’s premier evaluators of books, fiction and nonfiction. But the evidence shows the Times evaluates political books with a reliably partisan rancor or rapture, depending on which party it is.
Take nonfiction book critic Jennifer Szalai’s takedown of the new Ron DeSantis book The Courage to Be Free, headlined “Preaching Freedom, Ron DeSantis Leads By Cracking Down.”
Szalai began by painting DeSantis as an insincere chameleon:
[T]he overall sense you get from reading his new memoir is that of the mechanical try-hard — someone who has expended a lot of effort studying which way the wind is blowing in the Republican Party and is learning how to comport himself accordingly.
Not that he admits any of this, peppering The Courage to Be Free with frequent eruptions about “the legacy media” and “runaway wokeness.” But all the culture war Mad Libs can’t distract from the dull coldness at this book’s core.
Szalai can’t separate the politician from his “thought policing” policies as she spits on the idea DeSantis advocates for freedom:
What this has meant in practice looks an awful lot like thought policing: outlawing classroom discussion of sexual orientation through the third grade; rejecting math textbooks that run afoul of Florida’s opaque review process; forbidding teachers and companies to discuss race and gender in a way that might make anyone feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress.” Florida also has a ban on abortion after 15 weeks — which DeSantis has indicated he would be willing to tighten to six weeks — with no exceptions for rape and incest.
The review also mocked DeSantis for its lack of literary merit: “For the most part, The Courage to Be Free is courageously free of anything that resembles charisma, or a discernible sense of humor. While his first book was weird and esoteric enough to have obviously been written by a human, this one reads like a politician’s memoir churned out by ChatGPT.”
This is a pattern at the eagerly partisan Times. Szalai wasn’t any nicer with Mike Pence’s memoir: “if anybody has had the miraculous experience of failing upward, it’s Pence.”
You might loathe politician memoirs in general, but the Times gushed over Barack and Michelle Obama’s memoirs, but Times book reviewer Dwight Garner shredded Jared Kushner’s White House memoir, Breaking History. It was “earnest and soulless—Kushner looks like a mannequin, and he writes like one.” Garner sneered in print: “Reading this book reminded me of watching a cat lick a dog’s eye goo.”
When Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump, assembled a motivational book, Women Who Work, The Times assigned the review to Jessa Crispin, who wrote: “It reads more like the scrambled Tumblr feed of a demented 12-year-old who just checked out a copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations from the library.”
Or look at Hunter Biden’s 2021 addict memoir Beautiful Things. Its Amazon page has two blurbs from The New York Times. The very first one is “The book is equal parts family saga, grief narrative and addict’s howl.” Then there’s praise from Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who called it “ineffably sad and beautifully written, tears the tabloid face off the story about an American family that has experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.”
One side gets oozy honors, the other side gets lacerating contempt.