Why Mantegna Matters
December 31, 2008

I. During the last two years I have had the good fortune of visiting no fewer than four exhibitions devoted to the work of the great fifteenth-century painter Andrea Mantegna.

Wartime Lies
December 26, 2008

Update: On Saturday, December 27, Berkley Books announced that it is canceling publication of Angel at the Fence. Click here to read more about it. On February 2, 2007, Herman Rosenblat’s older brother Sam died. When he was on his deathbed, Herman went to visit him in the hospital in Florida. “When Herman tried to talk to Sammy, he looked away,” Sam’s widow Jutta Rosenblat told me on the phone on the afternoon of December 25.

Mein Buch
December 24, 2008

Hitler's Private Library: The Books That Shaped His Life By Timothy W. Ryback ( Knopf, 304 pp., $24.95) Few buildings on Capitol Hill are grander than the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, with its great stairway, pillared façade, and magnificent domed reading room. And few rooms in that building seem more ordinary, even banal, than the rare book storage area where 1,200 books from the collection of Adolf Hitler stand tightly packed on steel shelves.

A Pitbull on a Fire Escape
December 24, 2008

Sometimes the world comes to me. Sometimes it goes away. Today, it's a pitbull on a fire escape; a flayed goat, eyes still in their sockets, hung from a silver hook in the butcher's window; the buzzing of a blue bottle as it enters the flytrap, its azure. Scribble "abundance" and the day will offer you one list. Scribble "elegy" and it will offer you another. In the stationers, I buy magnets and string, thinking of how ravel means the same thing as unravel, how cleave means both to sever and to cling.

December 24, 2008

A Mercy By Toni Morrison (Knopf, 167 pp., $23.95) Last spring, a mysterious object was discovered beneath a street in Annapolis, Maryland. According to The New York Times, the clay "bundle" was about "the size and shape of a football [and] filled with about 300 pieces of metal and a stone axe, whose blade sticks out of the clay, pointing skyward." Anthropologists determined that it was a ritual object, perhaps more than three hundred years old, combining African religious practices with local materials.

Time After Time
December 24, 2008

Rhythms of Life: The Biological Clocks that Control the Daily Lives of Every Living Thing By Russell G. Foster and Leon Kreitzman (Yale University Press, 276 pp., $19) Man has invented many ways to measure physical time, from ancient sundials to water and sand clocks, from the pendulum to the wind-up pocket watch, all the way to the modern atomic clock. An example of this latter-day timekeeper, introduced in 1950, measures a second as 9,192,631,770 cycles in the energy radiation of the Caesium atom.

Exile On Main street
December 24, 2008

A Free Life, which appeared last year, is an epic work, with a panoramic vision whose narrative form resembles a hefty, plot-driven nineteenth-century English novel. Nan Wu, a student who is pursuing graduate work in political science at Brandeis University, and his wife Pingping become disillusioned with the prospect of returning to their homeland in the wake of Tiananmen Square. Nan decides to abandon his studies and instead to nurture his love of poetry, and to this end he takes a series of menial jobs while his wife remains a housekeeper and cook to a wealthy American widow.

After the Rape
December 24, 2008

The stream made a merry little sound as it washed her brain and her britches. She dug deep into her sack of surplus fears. It was the last day.     She died by inches. A doctor in that time was never thought of--he was next to the under- taker--and besides, who had the money?     She was young. She had not been interested in dying. But no one she knew ever went anywhere except to die.

Really, Doctor?
December 03, 2008

Even the advent of a growing scientific basis for medical practice--which we can most accurately date from the middle third of the nineteenth century--has not lessened by an iota the degree to which medical authority has traditionally depended primar

The Best Addresses
December 03, 2008

Who's Your City?: How the Creative Economy is Making Where You Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life By Richard Florida (Basic Books, 374 pp., $26.95)   In 2002, with The Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida launched one of those terms or categories or ideas--there have been many--that try to structure our contemporary societies into something more complicated than the Marxian conflict between the owners of the means of production and those who are exploited as proletarians working on them.