Books and Arts

Eugene Wigner Joins the Manhattan Project
May 21, 2007

Hatred’s homicidal. Hitler knows. He makes what most men mean by hate a tepid sentiment, though at the time, no one seemed inclined to notice, and I wondered, When will my Hungarians awaken? I waited for the Jews to rouse themselves. But only slowly were they moved to anger; even then most merely said, “depose the madman.” Moderation’s suicide. A whimper while the butcher spreads fresh paper. Even in translation in the Times, he aims his hate at me, my family trapped in Budapest. Our decades-old conversion meaningless.

The Thin Line
May 21, 2007

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil By Philip Zimbardo (Random House, 551 pp., $27.95) WHY DO human beings commit despicable acts? One answer points to individual dispositions; another answer emphasizes situational pressures. In 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stressed the importance of individual dispositions in describing terrorists as “simply evil people who want to kill.” Situationists reject this view. They believe that horrible acts can be committed by perfectly normal people.

Kaddish’s Nose
May 21, 2007

The Ministry of Special CasesBy Nathan Englander (Alfred A. Knopf, 339 pp., $25) IN ONE OF the best-known stories in For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, the collection of short stories that shot Nathan Englander into the literary stratosphere seven years ago, a middle-aged WASP sitting in a taxi cab has the sudden and inexplicable revelation that he is Jewish. The next day he visits a rabbi in Brooklyn, who informs him that he is a gilgul, or reincarnated soul, and sends him off with a copy of The Chosen.

Drink and the Old Devil
May 21, 2007

The Life of Kingsley AmisBy Zachary Leader (Pantheon Books, 996 pp., $39.95) WHAT ESSENTIAL ingredients go to make up a satirist? In particular,what high-octane social gases are needed to fuel, and to spark, his (seldom, till the feminist revolution, her) process of internal combustion? Facit indignatio versum, snarled Juvenal, that poverty-stricken and passé gentleman place-seeker, two millennia ago: it is resentment that drives me to write.

Heavy Thinker
May 21, 2007

Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative DestructionBy Thomas K. McCraw (Harvard University Press, 719 pp., $35) I KNEW Joseph Schumpeter only in the last five years of his life, from 1945 until his death in 1950, at the age of sixty-six. To say that I knew him is actually a bit of an exaggeration. First as a returning undergraduate and then as a doctoral student in economics at Harvard, I attended his courses on advanced economic theory andthe history of economic thought. The theory lectures bordered onincoherent; they alluded to everything but analyzed nothing.

Stanley Kauffmann on Films: People in Shadows
May 21, 2007

AWAY FROM HERLionsgate FRACTURENew Line WHAT A TREAT it is to watch Sarah Polley’s career flourish. First, her acting. A few months ago she was in The Secret Life of Words,where she created a young woman stilled by gross experience. Now, after directing several shorts, Polley has directed her first feature, Away From Her (in which she does not appear).

Foreign Literature
May 07, 2007

Roberto Bola, the Chilean author whose posthumous publications are causing a stir in literary circles, is not the only author who was regarded as something of a sensation in his mother country years before becoming known in the United States. Of all the books published in the United States in 2004, less than 3 percent were translated from other languages--and English-language books make up only 30 percent of literature published worldwide.

A Cigarette and a Window
May 07, 2007

The devastating chronicle of Brooklyn malaise.

Tangled Web
May 03, 2007

Lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, rinse, repeat. Longtime readers may recall that I was not a fan of Spider-Man 2, a movie whose obsessive adherence to formula made it play more like a half-hearted remake of the original than a sequel.

Freaks and Geeks; How Freakonomics is ruining the dismal science.
April 02, 2007

Related Links: Steven Levitt's response to Scheiber's argument, and Scheiber's response to Levitt. One of the few papers I actually read as a grad student was written by a pair of economists named Josh Angrist and Alan Krueger. In the early '90s, Angrist and Krueger set off to resolve a question that had been gnawing at economists for decades: Does going to school increase your future wages? Intuitively, it seemed obvious that it did. When you compared the salaries of, say, Ph.D.s with those of high-school dropouts, the grad-school set almost always did better.