Love and Death
June 09, 2011

The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg Edited by Georg Adler, Peter Hudis, and Annelies Laschitza Translated by George Shriver (Verso, 609 pp., $39.95) Once upon a time there lived a Jewish lady, of modest stature and of a certain age, who walked with a limp and liked to sing to the birds. Through the bars on her window she would treat the titmice to a Mozart aria, and then await their call, the transcription of which she wished, as she wrote to a friend, to be the only adornment on her grave.

The Freedom of the Café
June 09, 2011

Literary Passports: The Making of Modernist Hebrew Fiction in Europe By Shachar M. Pinsker (Stanford University Press, 487 pp., $60) Elias Canetti, the German-language writer, born to a Bulgarian Sephardic family, who won the Nobel Prize in 1981, tells in his memoirs of his daily meetings in a Viennese café during the 1920s with a certain Dr. Sonne. A man of broad culture who radiated a quietly powerful sense of authority, Dr. Sonne was known by Canetti, somewhat to his perplexity, to be a Hebrew poet.

The Humanist
May 05, 2011

The Fear of Barbarians By Tzvetan Todorov translated by Andrew Brown (University of Chicago Press, 233 pp., $27.50) Torture and the War on Terror By Tzvetan Todorov translated by Gila Walker (Seagull Books, 68 pp., $8.50) Duties and Delights: The Life of a Go-Between By Tzvetan Todorov translated by Gila Walker (Seagull Books, 412 pp., $39.95) I. According to French intellectual lore, Tzvetan Todorov, upon alighting in France from Bulgaria in 1963 at the age of twenty-four, headed directly for the Sorbonne.

Swan Song
April 15, 2011

From the moment the Soviet Union collapsed, NATO’s future was in question. While it had been the most successful multinational alliance in history, partnerships of that sort seldom survive once their enemies are gone. As the Berlin Wall came down and Stalin’s empire shattered, NATO’s clock was ticking. Amazingly, though, the Alliance persisted, largely by transforming itself. It staved off a challenge from a proposed European Union Defense Force, which might have supplanted it; provided an institutional framework for continued U.S.

A Room of One’s Own
April 13, 2011

Has an exhibition ever been more purely enchanting than “Rooms With a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art? From your first moment in the galleries, you are plunged into an early-nineteenth-century European world that is both intimate and expansive. The intimacy is in the tranquil beauty of the interiors, so lovingly rendered in these generally small paintings and graphic works. And that intimacy is underscored in the many instances where the interior is the artist’s own studio, with furnishings suggesting an austerely classical taste.

Obama and American Power
March 28, 2011

Presidents and secretaries of state have not always come entirely clean in explaining why they were doing things, especially military actions. They tend to leave out key motives: Think of Ronald Reagan invading Grenada in 1982 to save medical students who unaccountably found themselves in danger; George H.W. Bush conjuring up Iraqi atrocities in Kuwait, but not mentioning Iraqi control of global oil; or George W.

Big Picture
March 26, 2011

When the inspiring images of hundreds of thousands of Egyptian men and women demanding their freedom at enormous personal risk first appeared and everybody was talking about whether that revolution would spark similar revolutions in nearby countries, I found myself saying to friends, "What about here? Maybe the example of their courageous actions will shake the American people out of their long apathetic stupor." Inevitably I was met with laughter. Sometimes I felt a friend's laughter was conspiratorial—the exhilaration of imagining together that things could be different from what they are.

Berlin Ghosts
March 24, 2011

It may have come as a surprise to many people that Germany—the lynchpin of the NATO alliance on the European continent and a close ally of the United States since 1949—voted to abstain from the U.N. resolution authorizing force against Muammar Qaddafi. The country was a staunch advocate of humanitarian intervention in the Balkans, and it is most definitely not led by a government of leftists who are given to denunciations of American imperialism.

Total Recall In Wisconsin
March 03, 2011

The interesting question that's hung over the Cheddar Revolution is what the endgame is. Democrats is the State Senate can't stay away forever. Governor Scott Walker seems implacably hostile to compromise. (Listen to his conversation with pretend David Koch, and his invocations of Ronald Reagan and the Berlin Wall suggest a man whose entire political identity rests upon a refusal to compromise.) One possibility is that a handful of Republicans in the Senate will force his hand.

Learning and Pleasure
March 03, 2011

History and the Enlightenment By Hugh Trevor-Roper (Yale University Press, 314 pp., $40) Letters from Oxford: Hugh Trevor-Roper to Bernard Berenson Edited by Richard Davenport-Hines (Orion Publishing, 326 pp., $25) Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography By Adam Sisman (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 598 pp., £25) At the beginning of July 1973, my wife and I arrived in London from Chicago to spend a year doing research in the British Library.