Alps

History as Fantasy

Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and NationsBy Norman Davies (Viking, 830 pp., $40)  There is a well-worn story that is told in one form or another in all European history textbooks. In 824, ten years after the death of Charlemagne, Agobard, Archbishop of Lyon, hailed a new Christian imperial ambition to unite all the peoples and lands of the Western Holy Roman Empire by reformulating Galatians 3:28: “There is now neither Gentile nor Jew, Scythian nor Aquitanian, nor Lombard, nor Burgundian, nor Alaman, nor bond, nor free.

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Occupy Davos

The Occupy movement has found, at last, the heart of the beast. The good news is that it's in the Swiss Alps, with some of the finest skiing in all of Europe just a stone's throw away. The bad news is that instead of tents the Occupiers get igloos. Who knew Davos could be a hardship post? Give me Cleveland any day. "To dismiss the Occupy WEF [i.e., World Economic Forum] movement would be a mistake," an anonymous Davos blogger informs us. Do you hear that, plutocrats? The Wall Street Journal reports that there are 70 billionaires among the 2,500 attendees.

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Earlier this month, the European Commission reported that the EU was on track to get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. (Some countries, like Germany and Austria, are flying past their targets; others, like Italy, have lagged behind.) But how much further could Europe go?

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Several Worlds

Ajami Kino International The Last New Yorker Brink Films North Face Music Box Films A Palestinian, Scandar Copti, and an Israeli, Yaron Shani, have co-written, co-directed, and co-edited Ajami. This title is the name of a multi-ethnic district in the city of Jaffa, so it fits the film, not merely in facts but in feeling. Copti and Shani knew what they were doing and why they were doing it. Coincidentally, they prove again that the film medium has made a contribution to social revelation.

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Over a decade ago, I trundled my good-natured family across miles of southern Switzerland to see every building I could by Peter Zumthor, who is this year's winner of the Pritzker Prize. Then as now, most of Zumthor's work was off the beaten track, not only literally but metaphorically, little known to the general public although admired by professionals.

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Make sure you read Michael Scherer's excellent take on the smearing of Zeke Emanuel (including an interview with Zeke from the Italian Alps). I think Scherer gets at something pretty deep in this passage: The attacks on Emanuel are a reminder that there is a narrow slice of Americans who not only don't trust government, but also have come to regard it as a dark conspirator in their lives. This peculiar brand of distrust helps create the conditions for fast-moving fear-mongering, especially on complex and emotionally charged topics like the life and death of the elderly and infirm.

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Giordano Bruno: Philosopher/Heretic By Ingrid D. Rowland (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 352 pp., $29) I. 'To philosophize is to learn to die": seven words, and an epoch in Western thought.

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The Sorrow Reflex

Campo Santo By W.G. Sebald Translated by Anthea Bell (Random House, 221 pp., $24.95) Unrecounted Poems by W.G. Sebald Lithographs by Jan Peter Tripp Translated by Michael Hamburger (New Directions, 109 pp., $22.95)   I. Although he arrived at it relatively late in his senselessly truncated life, once W.G. Sebald found his real voice, it became unmistakable: melancholy, allusive, inward, and elegant, its cadences carried from book to book until each one seemed like another sketch from a single, instantly recognizable personal landscape.

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Pleasing Decay

In Ruins By Christopher Woodward (Pantheon Books, 280 pp., $24) Click here to purchase the book. For travelers who have experienced the grandeur and pathos of ruins that were once the glory of ancient Athens or Rome, it comes as a surprise to learn that what we are seeing today are tidied-up--its critics would say sterile--archaeological sites that are only as old as the last century.

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John Ruskin: The Later Years by Tim Hilton (Yale University Press, 656 pp., $35) In the second volume of John Ruskin's three-volume study The Stones of Venice, which appeared in 1853, there is a chapter titled "The Nature of Gothic." It opens conventionally enough, with Ruskin promising to describe the "characteristic or moral elements" of the Gothic; but readers who were familiar with Ruskin's earlier works, Modern Painters and The Seven Lamps of Architecture, and who had been dazzled by his word-pictures of works of art and scenes of nature, could not possibly have expected a straightforwar

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