Books and Arts

Less Than Zero
April 15, 2004

There are a million stories in the naked city, but there appears to be only one story in Washington, D.C. Have you ever read a book set in the capital that was not related to government? Whereas any romantic entanglement, murderous scheme, or cloying period piece may be set in New York City, a plot set in Washington is by and large one of official intrigue, albeit involving a pretty girl. When was the last time you read a romance set in the cafes of Dupont Circle, with no conspiracy in the background? Washington exists as a literary setting solely to establish a stock scene: politics.

Chop Socky
April 13, 2004

  In an interview following the release of Reservoir Dogs in 1992, Tim Roth ventured that "I honestly think you could take the same script but reshoot it with women and it would work. It would be the most controversial film ever. ... You could call it Reservoir Bitches." It took more than a decade, but with Kill Bill Volume 1 (out on video this week), Quentin Tarantino finally made his Reservoir Bitches. And while it's not the most controversial film ever (nor even of the past twelve months), that was clearly the director's aspiration.

The Shaman
March 22, 2004

ONE EVENING LAST OCTOBER, Mark Fisher, a nineteen-year-old student at Fairfield University in Connecticut, who had gone into Manhattan with friends, met a girl in a bar on First Avenue on the Upper East Side, got separated from his group, and was found dead the next morning on a Brooklyn sidewalk, his body wrapped in a yellow blanket, five gunshot wounds in his chest. According to a long article in The New York Times, Fisher's case remains unsolved mostly because no one who was with him that night seemed to want to tell the police everything that they knew.

Stanley Kauffmann on Films: Gibson's Offering
March 22, 2004

By now everyone in this world, and possibly in other worlds, has heard about Mel Gibson’s new film and has probably read some of the comment. I cannot remember so much prior talk about a film since Gone With the Wind in 1938. The casting of that picture became a subject of national concern; there was even, as I recall, a Broadway play on the subject. But that rumpus could not match the storm around The Passion of the Christ.

March 22, 2004

The Battle for Rome: The Germans, the Allies, the Partisans, and the Pope, September 1943-June 1944 By Robert Katz (Simon and Schuster, 418 pp., $28) Click here to purchase the book. THERE WAS A BRIEF PERIOD  in European history, roughly from the beginning of the eighteenth century to 1941, when it was easy to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants; when wars were fought by soldiers clothed, equipped, and trained by the state; when men trained to be murderers on behalf of the state were severely punished if they tried to use the same methods when not in military service.

Politics by Other Means
March 22, 2004

A History of Modern Palestine:One Land, Two PeoplesBy Ilan Pappe (Cambridge University Press, 333 pp., $22) Ilan Pappe and I walked a stretch together in uneasy companionship, but we have now parted ways. In the late 1980s and early 1990s we belonged to a group dubbed the "New Historians" of Israel, which also included Avi Shlaim and Tom Segev. This group, contrary to the conspiratorial image projected by our critics, was never a close-knit or monolithic school of intellectuals who plotted together around the table at Friday-night meals. Some of us barely knew one another.

Your Money or Your Life
March 15, 2004

Priceless: On Knowing the Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing By Frank Ackerman and Lisa Heinzerling (New Press, 277 pp., $25.95) In protecting the environment, how do America and Europe differ? The standard account is this: Europe follows the precautionary principle; America follows cost-benefit analysis. According to the precautionary principle, it is better to be safe than sorry. Aggressive regulation is justified even in the face of scientific uncertainty--even if it is not yet clear that environmental risks are serious.

Pleasing Decay
February 23, 2004

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.

He Meant What He Said
February 02, 2004

I. Adolf Hitler's so-called second book was not published in his lifetime. Written, as Gerhard Weinberg convincingly speculates, in late June and early July 1928, the book’s publication was postponed because Mein Kampf, Hitler's first massive text, was selling very badly and could hardly stand competition with another publication by the same author. Later, after Hitler was appointed chancellor and Mein Kampf became one of the greatest (and allegedly most unread) best-sellers of all times, the second book was apparently seen as disclosing his foreign policy plans too explicitly to allow publica

Appetite For Life
January 26, 2004

That Man: An Insider's Portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt By Robert H. Jackson Edited and introduced by John Q. Barrett (Oxford University Press, 290 pp., $30) Robert Jackson was one of the greatest Supreme Court justices in the nation's history. Serving on the Court from 1941 until his death in 1954, Jackson wrote many enduring opinions. Of these, the most remarkable is probably his opinion in 1943 invalidating a state law compelling school children to salute the American flag.