For many years, Stein was the humor columnist for Time, where he mastered the shtick (which is an elitist word for what populists call a routine) of acting like Candide in a world besotted with celebrity. He also happened to be a keen-eyed reporter, which is amply demonstrated here as he spends time with populists and elites and those who are one and the same. Time spent with Tucker Carlson may not be your idea of fun; Stein spending time with Tucker is lethally funny without being malicious. That is a shtick worth reading.
If you think Washington memoirs are dull, Rice’s book will give you pause. Yes, there are plenty of self-serving passages about her disastrous Benghazi statements (given the pace of recent news, it is useful to remember that the 2012 fatal attack on a U.S. mission in Libya led to a years-long G.O.P. assault on the Obama administration’s foreign policy), but her account of giving the finger to then U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrooke in front of several other ambassadors and his condescending attitude toward her is worth the price of the book. Who exactly sabotaged her desire to become secretary of state during the second Obama administration (John Kerry got the job and she settled for national-security adviser) is hard to pinpoint, since she lists so many suspects, but she implies that Holbrooke’s ghost (he had died in 2010) in the guise of still-loyal acolytes helped wield the dagger. The Met could do worse than commission Tough Love as an opera.
Is it worth reading a 352-page biography of an actress whose most famous moment rests on singing one song, “I’m Still Here,” from Stephen Sondheim’s Company? Let us put it this way: we could happily read 500 pages if they were written by Alexandra Jacobs. It helps, of course, that Stritch was such a character, that Jacobs was granted access to Stritch’s archives and family, and that candor comes easily to anyone Jacobs interviews. She also masterfully captures the changing world of show business during Stritch’s long career and how difficult it was to navigate those shifts. The theater season has just begun, but Still Here is already the book to beat for Broadway biography of the year.