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Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion review – a masterclass in minimalism

These remarkable essays from the writer’s early years highlight her search for truth and attention to detail

Except for Joan Didion, the New Journalists of the 1960s were a self-dramatising gang, determined to upstage the stories they reported. Norman Mailer brawled, Hunter S Thompson raged; less loudly macho, Tom Wolfe preened and Truman Capote whispered sedition. When Didion calls writing “an aggressive, even a hostile act” or “the tactic of a secret bully”, she might be defining this bumptious fraternity.

Didion’s own tactics, sampled here in a smattering of uncollected articles, are more covert, perhaps even passive-aggressive. In an essay celebrating the scruffy underground press of the hippie era, she proclaims the ideology that underlay the new procedures: on guard against the respectable broadsheets and their “factitious ‘objectivity’”, journalists needed to risk “the act of saying I”. For Didion, however, that was easier said than done. Tentative, tremulous, she initially resisted employing the first-person pronoun, which belonged to her male colleagues by egotistical right.

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America in Retreat by Michael Pembroke review – grisly history of a bully-boy nation

An account of covert coups and diplomatic bluster through the decades reveals a country in paranoid ...

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A Promised Land by Barack Obama review – behind the power and the pomp

America’s former commander-in-chief shares his character flaws and fears for the presidency in this...

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Joe Biden: American Dreamer by Evan Osnos review – enter the sympathiser-in-chief

This portrait of the president-elect reveals Biden’s flaws but also the compassion and courage need...

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Oh Happy Day by Carmen Callil review – tearful compassion and eloquent rage

The Virago Press founder unearths the remarkable tale of her ancestors down under, drawing chilling ...

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What Were We Thinking by Carlos Lozada review – the American dream turned nightmare

This fair, funny and sobering analysis of books written about the Trump era calls for a day of recko...

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Rage by Bob Woodward review – Trump unleashed

In Bob Woodward’s interviews, this self-obsessed blabbermouth of a president blows the whistle on h...

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