Rational Unexuberance
December 31, 2007

The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World By Alan Greenspan (Penguin Press, 531 pp., $35) Alan Greenspan's book--part autobiography, part narrative of his eighteen years as chairman of the Federal Reserve, and part oracular survey of various Big Questions--has been on the New York Times best-seller list for many weeks as I write. But it has evoked only minor response, in spite of its author's fame and importance. The substance is complex, Greenspan is not exactly terse, and the prose plods.

Sound and vision
December 31, 2007

The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century By Alex Ross (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 624 pp., $30) 'I hate 'classical music,'" cries one of its most influential proponents, Alex Ross, in an autobiographical essay, "Listen to This," lodged appropriately in The New Yorker under "Onward and Upward With the Arts": not the thing but the name. It traps a tenaciously living art in a theme- park of the past. It cancels out the possibility that music in the spirit of Beethoven could still be created today.

December 31, 2007

New disasters join us to the old chaos. The hardware of pain. The torturer's chain. Flashlight, the dog. There are no cloisters left to pray for us. Astrologers help out the little they can. By their customary indirection: Luna is with Antares. A violent fixed star, next to the malefics. Mars is in Aries in his eighth house. And his Midheaven progresses to the grill's sizzle. Testicular electrodes. The sun is a merciless engine, rubbing its hands. By Robert Bense

The World Writing
December 31, 2007

War and PeaceBy Leo TolstoyTranslated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky(Alfred A. Knopf, 1,296 pp., $37)War and Peace: Original VersionBy Leo TolstoyTranslated by Andrew Bromfield(Ecco, 885 pp., $34.95) I.In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway recalled sitting at the Café Lilas with the poet Evan Shipman and discussing the Constance Garnett translation of War and Peace. "They say it can be improved on.... I'm sure it can although I don't know Russian," Shipman said. "But we both know translations.

Imperial Illusions
December 31, 2007

I. As I entered secondary school in the mid-1940s in what was still British India, I remember thinking that, despite our irritation with the British, it was rather agreeable that the favorite military music of the British Army was "Beating the Retreat." There was little sign in 1944 that the British were about to evacuate the country, despite the swelling torrent of the Indian national movement led by Gandhi and other political leaders; but the decisive moment was not far off.

The Judge
December 10, 2007

Literary Essays and Reviews of the 1920s and 1930s: The Shores of Light, Axel's Castle, Uncollected Reviews By Edmund Wilson Edited by Lewis Dabney (The Library of America, 958 pp., $40) Literary Essays and Reviews of the 1930s and 1940s: The Triple Thinkers, The Wound and the Bow, Classics and Commercials, Uncollected Reviews By Edmund Wilson Edited by Lewis Dabney (The Library of America, 979 pp., $40) Edmund Wilson, a man of idiosyncratic temperament and unpredictable taste, has solidified in retrospect into a marmoreal figure, a sort of jowly Supreme Court justice of the literary imaginati

December 10, 2007

My Grandfather's Son: A MemoirBy Clarence Thomas(Harper, 289 pp., $26.95)Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence ThomasBy Kevin Merida and Michael A. Fletcher(Doubleday, 422 pp., $26.95)A society overwhelmed by the culture of celebrity will not suffer from a surfeit of reverence for authority. Authority, after all, requires a mystique, even and perhaps especially in a democracy, where the leveling impulse that is a feature of egalitarian politics can spill over into something ugly, into a cynical, envious, or voyeuristic appetite for the degradation of leaders.

December 10, 2007

The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary Translated by Robert Alter (W.W. Norton, 518 pp., $35) "Whatever David says in his book pertains to himself, to all Israel, and to all times," declares Midrash Tehillim, the early rabbinic commentary on the Book of Psalms. If the rabbis erred, it was not on the side of exaggeration. It is not just Israel that placed the Book of Psalms, traditionally but falsely ascribed to King David, at the center of its spiritual vocabulary.

Nice Genes
December 03, 2007

The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origin of GoodnessBy Lee Alan Dugatkin(Princeton University Press, 188 pp., $24.95)I.The saga of man's quest to crack the mystery of altruism is a weird, uplifting, and sometimes tragic affair.

Get Serious
November 29, 2007

Containment: Rebuilding a Strategy Against Global TerrorBy Ian Shapiro(Princeton University Press, 208 pp., $24.95)The effects of the Iraq war upon the discussion of American foreign policy have come in waves. The first wave was all about competence. In book after book, in article after article, the bungling of the war by the Bush administration has been made outrageously clear.