Beautiful as He Did It
December 20, 2004

ELECTED FRIENDS: ROBERT FROST AND EDWARD THOMAS TO ONE ANOTHER Edited and with an introduction by Matthew Spencer (Handsel Books, 216 pp., $24) I. I. For two poets, two facial expressions. One is simple enough: the blankness with which I, as a graduate student, and every one of the thousand or so graduate students I have taught, first received the words "Edward Thomas." Since this is wrong, and dismaying, I try to have some fun with it.

The End of an Elite
June 07, 2004

The Guardians: Kingman Brewster, His Circle, and the Rise of the Liberal Establishment By Geoffrey Kabaservice (Henry Holt, 573 pp., $30)   The commitment of America's great universities to admitting students on the basis of merit rather than lineage--whether or not that commitment is wholly observed in practice--is today virtually uncontested. Similarly, the belief in the value of diversity, while under assault in courts and legislatures, is a core conviction of almost all educators.

The Details of Greatness
March 29, 2004

"Negro President": Jefferson and the Slave PowerBy Garry Wills(Houghton Mifflin, 274 pp., $25)An Imperfect God:George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of AmericaBy Henry Wiencek(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 404 pp., $26)In 1839, Thomas Morris, a radical Jacksonian senator from Ohio, took aim at John C. Calhoun, the Southern slaveocracy, and their timid Northern appeasers from both national parties, and coined a new phrase. "The slave power of the South and the banking power of the North ... are now uniting to rule the country," Morris told the Senate.

Black Coffee
May 05, 2003

Silence on the Mountain: Stories of Terror, Betrayal, and Forgetting in Guatemala By Daniel Wilkinson (Houghton Mifflin, 373 pp., $24) In September, a Guatemalan court convicted an army colonel of ordering the assassination of one of my colleagues, the anthropologist Myrna Mack. Mack had been interviewing victims of counterinsurgency operations when she was knifed to death on a busy afternoon street in Guatemala City. Colonel Juan Valencia Osorio worked for the presidential security staff.

Poor Cricket
April 21, 2003

The Victorians By A.N.Wilson (W.W. Norton, 544 pp., $35) A.N. Wilson is a clever and versatile man. He is the author of a dozen novels, variable in quality, the best of which are amusing and skillfully constructed, but with an undertone of moral seriousness, lightly camp but oddly touching. He is a prolific newspaper columnist in Britain.

The Rejection
April 21, 2003

The Palestinian People: A History By Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S.

God's Pragmatist
June 24, 2002

Varieties of Religion Today: William James Revisited by Charles Taylor (Harvard University Press, 127 pp., $19.95) The recent blizzard of pragmatism has produced many discussions about William James, but there is one side of James that has been almost programmatically neglected. It is a side of James that James himself cherished, and it provides the great reason for so much of what he wrote, for so much of his philosophical pluralism, and for his campaign against idealism.

A Paler Shade of White
June 24, 2002

Colored White: Transcending the Racial Past by David R. Roediger (University of California Press, 323 pp., $29.95) "What is a White Man?" asked Charles Chesnutt in the pages of the Independent, a mass-circulation weekly, in 1889. This was no mere academic question.

February 11, 2002

The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa translated by Edith Grossman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 404 pp., $25) "There are no limits to deterioration: it can always be worse." This observation by Alejandro Mayta, the disenchanted guerrilla fighter of Mario Vargas Llosa's novel The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta, who returns to his birthplace after many years, freed of ghosts but devoid of hope, came to mind in March, 1990.

Thorny of Thornies
February 04, 2002

Divided Jerusalem: The Struggle for the Holy Cityby Bernard Wasserstein(Yale University Press, 412 pp., $29.95)The Rock: A Tale of Seventh-Century Jerusalemby Kanan Makiya(Pantheon, 349 pp., $26)It is often said that, of the many problems standing in the way of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, Jerusalem is the most intractable. Such issues as the 1967 borders, the future of the Jewish settlements, the fate of the Palestinian refugees, Palestinian demilitarization, economic relations, water rights, and so on are all justly held to be thorny.