Joseph P. Kennedy Presents
by Cari Beauchamp (Knopf, $35)
It turns out there isn’t much proof that Joe Kennedy made his fortune as a bootlegger, said Dennis Drabelle in The Washington Post. In this sloppily written but “fitfully interesting” close-up of the great patriarch’s Hollywood years, readers learn that Kennedy, a Boston bank president by 25, made his real killing by figuring out just when to buy or sell a film company. Aside from that talent, he was apparently a “near-complete bastard.”

Herbert Hoover
by William E. Leuchtenburg (Henry Holt, $22)
The president who sat on his hands at the onset of the Great Depression is painted as a tragic figure in this “meaty little book,” said David Greenberg in Few remember today that Herbert Hoover had won renown during World War I as the hypercompetent administrator of a food assistance program. The scale of the 1930s economic crisis, according to historian William Leuchtenburg, simply exposed his innate disinclination for bold action. The smart moves he did make were “too little too late.”

Samuel Adams
by Ira Stoll (Simon & Schuster, $28)
It’s difficult to enjoy a biography if you can’t pull for the main character,” said Cindy Cloutier in the Charleston, S.C., Post and Courier. Ira Stoll’s “meticulously detailed” portrait of Samuel Adams reminds us how critical the brewing heir’s “fiery rhetoric and religious fervor” were to jump-starting the American Revolution. The author unwittingly reveals, though, that one reason Adams’ reputation has faded is because he was a “religiously intolerant, unlikable rabble-rouser.”

William Hazlitt
by Duncan Wu (Oxford, $45)
Anyone who knows the 19th-century British critic William Hazlitt only through his most “pithy and wise” essays will be surprised by this book, said Michael Dirda in The Washington Post. In 500-plus pages, Duncan Wu paints the timeless stylist as “the great bare-knuckled, no-holds-barred prose fighter of the Romantic era.” Driven mainly by financial insecurity, Hazlitt invented whole new modes of intellectual journalism. His combativeness, though, made him “widely despised” by other literary luminaries.