Supposedly about the Inquisition and its influence today, this book is peppered with inane references to American pop culture and weak travelogue descriptions, and it manages to be less informative than the Wikipedia entries on the subject.
For all the ungainly prose, there is something of a parable about the current American condition in this book, represented by an aging, indebted IT salesman coming to terms with a world and a life he cannot control.
A very readable tour of the history of the papacy---far more entertaining than that sounds. The book drags somewhat once it hits the sixteenth, seventeen, and eighteen centuries, and the format it settles into (a brief description of the earlier life of the next pope on the list, a brief description of his approach to the papacy, whether he was liked or not, wise or not, etc.) gets tiresome and misses a sense of the progress of civilization and of the subtle transformation that that progress must have effected on the papacy. Still, informative and a very good read.
While Mann's is an interesting and accessible compilation of prehispanic history in the American continent, I found the novelty spin in most of his stories problematic. Perhaps in the United States prehispanic history has been fully neglected until recently, but most of the findings Mann reports (on the extent of the Mexica and Inca civilizations, especially) are very old news, and very unsurprising, elsewhere.
As an account of the artistic paralysis and self-consciousness that attacks writers, Lerner's "Leaving the Atocha Station" is a more satisfying and fleshed-out work. Heti often strives for a harmony between the grandiose and the vulgar, and it does not always work well. This is still, however, a very readable and often insightful novel.