Books

Night Song of a Wandering Shepherd in Asia
March 12, 2008

What are you doing, moon, up in the sky;what are you doing, tell me, silent moon?You rise at night and go,observing the deserts. Then you set.Aren't you ever tiredof plying the eternal byways?Don't you get bored? Do you still wantto look down on these valleys?The shepherd's lifeis like your life.He rises at first light,moves his flock across the fields, and seessheep, springs, and grass,then, weary, rests at evening,and hopes for nothing more.Tell me, moon, what goodis the shepherd's life to himor yours to you?

Discipline and Decline
March 12, 2008

Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 By Christopher Clark (Harvard University Press, 776 pp., $35) On his way back from self-imposed exile in Paris, in 1844, Heinrich Heine caught a first glimpse of Prussian soldiers in Aachen, a city in the far west corner of Germany: I wandered about in this dull little nest For about an hour or more Saw Prussian military once again They looked much the same as before. [ ...

Howl, Howl, Howl!
March 12, 2008

The Jewish King Lear: A Comedy in America By Jacob Gordin Translated by Ruth Gay (Yale University Press, 192 pp., $32.50) I. For as long as I remember, my father took a lively interest in how many people showed up at the funerals of his friends and acquaintances, most of them members of the synagogue where he served as president or of the many Jewish organizations with which he ceaselessly busied himself. "Mollie," he would say with excitement when he returned from the funeral parlor, "you should have seen Stanetsky's this afternoon.

The Mythmaker
March 12, 2008

Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in LettersBy Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower, and Charles Foley(Penguin Press, 706 pp., $37.95)   This is a book devoted to a versatile and almost entirely forgotten writer. He wrote lively historical novels set in the middle ages, or in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He wrote plays and poems and at least one novel of modern life that was thought somewhat risque. He also wrote light sketches about three children called (alas) Laddie, Dimples, and Baby.

Apparition
March 12, 2008

I saw a white angel passing over my head;Its dazzling flight pacified the stormAnd lulled from a distance the noisy sea."What have you come to do, angel, in this night?"I asked. It answered, "I come to take your soul."And I was afraid, because I saw it was a woman;And I said, trembling and holding out my arms,"What will be left of me? Because you will fly away."The angel did not respond. The shadow-besieged skyWas turning dark. "If you take my soul," I cried,"Where will you take it? Show me in what place."Still there was silence. "O traveler of the blue sky,Are you death?" I said.

Jackboots and Whole Foods
March 12, 2008

Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning By Jonah Goldberg (Doubleday, 496 pp., $27.95) In graduate school I had a professor, a famous Marxist, who devoted a significant portion of a lecture to the subject of artifacts.

A Close Shave
February 27, 2008

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (DreamWorks) Foreigners By Caryl Phillips (Knopf, 235 pp., $24.95)Records of Shelley, Byron, and the Author By Edward John Trelawny (New York Review Books, 308 pp., $12.95) I. As Sweeney Todd croons to his razor, "My friend, my faithful friend," more in love with its sharp blade than with Mrs. Lovett, his partner in crime, you may find yourself wondering what it is about opera and its ubiquitous vengeful barbers.

The Pleasures of Reaction
February 27, 2008

They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons By Jacob Heilbrunn (Doubleday, 320 pp., $26) Can I get a show of hands?

I
February 27, 2008

Ortega y Gasset makes much fuss somewhere speculating that Goethe, glorious Goethe, mismanaged the project of realizing his selfhood, that he was one of those "I"'s who aren't truly at one with themselves, who in construing themselves betray the "I" they could/should have been.     This is as I recall it, though possibly I, who for the greater part of my life have been involved in an adversarial relation with myself, berating, accusing, demanding I be someone I'm not, shouldn't be wholly trusted in this: Ortega may well have meant something entirely else (what, though?).     Anyway, put things

Behind the Veil
February 27, 2008

Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy By John Rawls Edited by Samuel Freeman (Harvard University Press, 476 pp., $35)   Ever since ancient times, philosophers have sought to define the proper goals of political life. Yet in the age of modern democracy, when citizens themselves are held to decide through the various institutions of government the laws and the norms under which they will live together, political philosophy can look profoundly undemocratic.

Pages