Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli writes for The New York TimesBarron’s, eBay, Media Village, SierraAutoweek, National Public Radio’s Car Talk, and others. He is author or editor of nine books, including Forward Drive: The Race to Build Clean Cars for the FutureHigh VoltageThe Fast Track to Plug in the Auto IndustryGreen Living and Feeling the Heat: Dispatches from the Frontlines of Climate Change and Naked in the Woods: Joseph Knowles and the History of Frontier Fakery.

His book The Real Dirt on America’s Frontier Legends, was published August 2019 by Gibbs Smith. Its sequel, The Real Dirt on America’s Frontier Outlaws, was published in April of 2020.

He is also a contributor to the Environmental Defense Fund publications, and to the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Mr. Motavalli hosts a radio program on WPKN-FM in Connecticut, and lectures widely

Book Reviews by Jim Motavalli

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Between Two Trailers will keep you reading, just as Hillbilly Elegy and The Glass Castle did. The author has quite the story to tell . . .”

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This is, depending on how you look at the oeuvre, Patti Davis’ fifth book about her parents, the Reagans, though you only learn about one of the others from the “Also by Patti Dav

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“an intimate novel, closely and brilliantly observed . . .”

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The fathers and mothers who came home from World War II suffered from some reentry problems (see the 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives) but for the most part these members of the Great

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“engrossing . . .”

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“Herold really goes to town reporting, and it’s an impressive book that deserves your attention.”

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There’s absolutely no doubt that African Americans played a huge role in the creation of what we now know as country music, and that this history has been largely whitewashed.

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This book answers its own question pretty early on.

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James Kaplan’s jazz book explores the lives, separately and then together, of three important figures in modern jazz: Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (saxophone), and Bill Evans (piano).

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Mistress of Life and Death is a very upsetting account, but a necessary one. As the author writes . . .

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Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars young adult novels were on the New York Times bestseller list for 62 weeks, and those books and the Lying Game volumes became televisio

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Author Dan Callahan specializes in big biographies of stars such as Barbara Stanwyck and Vanessa Redgrave. He profiled Alfred Hitchcock, looked at the art of screen acting, and wrote a novel, too.

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The ability to fill arenas is always there, even in his starkest songs, and when combined with extreme emotional honesty the effect is devastating.

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The Velvet Underground, playing music far ahead of its time in mid-60s New York, has always been more written about than actually heard.

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“The reader will get an education in the formative years of a rock band, the grotty clubs, the vans, the marginal pay.”

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In the popular imagination, the phrase “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” is attributed to the Revolutionary War Battle of Bunker Hill and to Colonel Israel Putnam of Connecticut,

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Probably the best photograph that actor Dennis Hopper, a talented amateur, ever took is called “Double Standard.” It depicts a Los Angeles streetcorner from the front seat of a convertible.

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Now here’s an interesting premise for a book: Jason Thomas Gordon, lead singer and drummer of the LA-based rock group Kingsize, interviews dozens of vocalists, some of them very prominent, about .

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"The turnabout in Dubus’ new book is a realization by Lowe that the pit is of his own making, and he has to climb out of it himself—via acts of kindness and consideration."

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The relationship between journalist and subject is an ancient one, and the ice is frequently broken with the hoisting of a glass . . . or two.

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It’s all that ripe information on the dim early days that really makes Let’s Do It an essential part of any music library.”

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Fact: Global warming will cause rising temperatures and sea levels, stronger storms, desertification, water shortages, heat waves, flooding and more, creating innumerable “climate refugees.” Since

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Alice McDermott’s first novel, A Bigamist’s Daughter, was published in 1982, when the Village Voice praised it for avoiding the fantasy that “growth is everyone’s birthright, and

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“funny, well-written and an absolute blast to plow through.”

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It’s nice when writers find their niche.

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It all adds up to a slightly nasty book whose pages turn easily . . .”

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“Murphy is plain-spoken, a man of faith and modesty, and the ideal person to write this World War II memoir. One hopes the television series will be half as good.”

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a short book but a visceral one.”

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“The book, told in . . . first person, is heavily plotted and—like the house—full of secret passageways and red herrings.”

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It’s not about the cars, and it’s not about the coffee.

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Don’t Know Tough is southern gothic turned up to 11, written by a first-time author who knows the territory. Like . . .

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Nicholas Dawidoff set out to tell the story of a tragic miscarriage of justice in a small New England city.

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It’s interesting that the title of Ian McEwan’s wide-angle and engrossing family history is Lessons, because his protagonist, Roland Baines, is inclined to abandon his teachers.

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“There have been other books about the polygamist Mormons in Mexico, some of them first-hand accounts.

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Music memoirs come in many different forms, but Three Pianos by Andrew McMahon is in a small sub-genre: the self-loathing confessional.

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It’s not surprising that there are several books called Survival of the Richest—it’s rather an obvious title—and it’s also not surprising that Naomi Klein calls this one “a vital, lucid, a

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The stories in Maggie Shipstead’s You Have a Friend in 10A were published in literary journals between 2009 and 2017.

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“You learn a lot, change a few long-held assumptions.

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If all you know about stewardesses (make that flight attendants) is based on the bestseller Coffee, Tea or Me, a salacious tell-all 1967 memoir by Trudy Baker and Rachel Jones, then you’re

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Tracy Flick Can’t Win is a deeply humanist work by a master of observation.”

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The author of this book, veteran terrorism expert Nelly Lahoud of the New America Security Program, sifted through 96,000 declassified files (and 6,000 Arabic pages) seized from Osama bin Laden’s c

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We’ve all encountered the stories of people who experienced childhood trauma, only to have it blight their later lives until a final reckoning.

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There are celebrity autobiographies that put the author in the best possible light, with every awkward moment surgically excised.

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Anyone with a drug or alcohol dependency problem will, at least some of the time, feel that nobody knows their pain.

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On the cold night of January 8, 2014, 22-year-old Kait Leddy walked onto the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia.

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“This is Joella’s first novel, and it’s an assured performance, full of nicely observed detail. It may not have a Big Theme, but it has lots and lots of heart.”

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Britain’s Desert Island Discs has been on the BBC since 1942. They don’t have to choose records on that mythical patch of sand with a lone palm tree for company, but many do.

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It’s nice to know where we come from. Some folks are still taking it hard that we descended from apes, but there are new discoveries all the time.

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“there are a lot of contradictions in modern Iran, and reading this book will give you many valuable insights into how the country functions—with repression and tolerance going hand in hand

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“England sleeps still from valley to hill.” That’s a line from a song by Amazing Blondel, a British group that imagined an Arcadian rural past.

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Tiger in the Sea is ultimately an inspiring, uplifting book, with multiple heroes.”

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“Berger does a great job here of not only profiling SpaceX, but also capturing the total brinksmanship of its swashbuckling founder.”

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It’s not surprising that the jacket blurb compares this new memoir to Patti Smith’s Just Kids. Besides being a terrific book, that one sold really well.

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The short stories in Mary-Beth Hughes’ collection The Ocean House are linked, not by the titular manse—the last of the great seafront houses in Long Branch, New Jersey, its property covete

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Let’s face it, a book centered around the wretched child abuse of a large family at the hands of a demented religious fanatic has some inherent drama to it.

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In 2012, a Damascus, Oregon woman named Julie Keith tore open a package of inexpensive Halloween decorations—fake tombstones—and out fell a piece of paper.

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Michael Oberman was the music columnist at the daily Washington Star, taking over from his older brother, Ron, from February 1967 to March 1973.

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So this is the new “book” by the great singer-songwriter David Byrne, with illustrations by Maira Kalman.