Book reviews roundup: Flash Boys, Frog Music and War! What Is It Good For?

What the critics thought of Flash Boys by Michael Lewis, Frog Music by Emma Donoghue and War! What Is It Good For? by Ian Morris

"Michael Lewis has a spellbinding talent for finding emotional dramas in complex, highly technical subjects. He did it for the role of left tackle in American football in The Blind Side (2006), and for the science of picking baseball players in Moneyball (2003). In Flash Boys, he turns his gaze on high-frequency computerised trading in US stock markets." John Gapper in the FT argued that "In terms of sheer storytelling technique, Flash Boys is remarkable" and that "Lewis reaches a stark conclusion: US stock markets are now rigged by traders who go to astonishing lengths to gain a millisecond edge over their rivals … But he carries the reader so firmly toward this conclusion that one ends up feeling a bit manipulated". Lewis's book, wrote John Arlidge in the Sunday Times, "contains his most alarming message yet … Flash boys are not braying Gordon 'Greed is good' Gekkos or Jordan 'Wolf of Wall Street' Belforts who work in old-fashioned traders' bear pits. They are computer nerds …" Arlidge was inclined to forgive Lewis for being one-sided: he "thinks flash trading is the next big crisis waiting to happen and must be eradicated". Daniel Finkelstein in the Times wasn't sure whether Lewis's account "will remake the markets" or "whether it even should", but one thing was clear: "like every other book I've read of his, Flash Boys is a great yarn from beginning to end".

In her new novel, Frog Music, Emma Donoghue, author of Room, about a mother and son held captive, "has stuck with a claustrophobic setting", according to Rosamund Urwin in the Evening Standard. But this time it's "a sweltering, smallpox-infested San Francisco in 1876 … The novel is fast-paced, and Donoghue's talent for storytelling shows in her ability to jump around often without ever losing the reader." Urwin's "one complaint" was the writing of the sex scenes. Christina Patterson in the Sunday Times described the book as full of "filthy sex", while Amanda Craig in the Spectator preferred the term "graphic". For Craig, "Frog Music is a roiling, simmering brew of a novel … Donoghue is too eclectic a storyteller to write an uninteresting book, but she can and will do better than this." Patterson wasn't sure about the prose, which is "super-chatty, full of French and English slang and verbless sentences … Donoghue might be wanting us to think 'penny dreadful', but some readers will be thinking 'Man Booker-shortlisted author' and be confused".

"Ian Morris has a big, simple and disturbing idea," noted Dominic Sandbrook in the Sunday Times, reviewing War! What Is It Good For? "'War,' he thinks, 'has made humanity safer and richer'… Morris's book bears many resemblances to – and often openly acknowledges – similar books by writers such as Jared Diamond and Steven Pinker". Fortunately, his study "is in a different league". The Evening Standard's Robert Fox was taken with the argument "that, looking at the broad sweep of the past 10,000 years, war has led to the improvement, security and prosperity of much of mankind. War leads to … stronger communities and societies that have delivered better governance, falling homicide rates, less domestic violence and greater riches." But he felt the approach was too "broad-sweep". David Crane in the Spectator, too, thought striking the notion that the 20th century, which wiped out "perhaps 50 million to 100 million in two world wars", not to mention the gulag, "the Cultural revolution, civil wars , government-orchestrated-famine,… trench-stewed pandemics and any number of genocides", was, "in fact, the safest there has ever been". Morris has written a "terrific book".

The GuardianTramp

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