Books

The Freedom to Bumble
July 13, 2011

The Free World By David Bezmozgis (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 356 pp., $26) To call a short-story writer Chekhovian is among the worst of the book reviewer’s clichés, a lazy shorthand that no longer means anything other than that the person writes very good short stories. But what is often forgotten amid the contemporary adulation of Chekhov as the master of the form—in fact he was the master only of a certain kind of short tale—is that, after a couple of early attempts, he declined to write novels.

The Libelous Truth
July 13, 2011

Just Words: Lillian Hellman, Mary McCarthy, and the Failure of Public Conversation in America By Alan Ackerman (Yale University Press, 361 pp., $35) Mary McCarthy preferred the old-fashioned way. You might not know this from her three divorces and the anatomical precision of her bedroom scenes, but she had a strong streak of cultural conservatism. She rejected feminism and lamented the disappearance of Latin from the schoolhouse. The modern fascination with technology annoyed her.

The Unrealistic Realist
July 13, 2011

On China By Henry Kissinger (Penguin, 586 pp., $36) Henry Kissinger may be the most influential figure in the making of American foreign policy since the end of World War II, and he is certainly the most prolific. Since stepping down as secretary of state in 1977, Kissinger has written eight books, totaling more than seven thousand pages and several million words. And this is to say nothing of the five books he wrote before attaining high office, and the innumerable articles, essays, and speeches he has produced since.

On the Bum
June 23, 2011

Somebody in Boots, by Nelson Algren. New York: The Vanguard Press. $2.50. Hungry Men, by Edward Anderson. New York: Doubleday, Doran and Company. $2. Both of these books are built around a subject that, once unknown to most of us, is quickly becoming almost as standard in background and situation as the older and more romantic themes of adventure: the life of men who live on the road, on the bum.

The Return of an Illusion
June 23, 2011

Why Marx Was Right By Terry Eagleton (Yale University Press, 258 pp., $25) How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism By Eric Hobsbawm (Yale University Press, 470 pp., $35) An intellectual revival of Marxism is one of the predictable consequences of the financial crisis. In the twenty years before the storm broke, the Marxisant intelligentsia was more marginal in politics and culture than it had ever been.

The Thinking Person’s Summer Reading List
June 21, 2011

With the first day of summer officially upon us, the long, well-marketed season of mindless reading has arrived as well. There’s nothing wrong with summer froth, but, among the dozens (hundreds?) of “Beach Book” guides that have surfaced in the past few weeks, there is little in which to sink your intellectual teeth. Maybe most people don’t see a terry-cloth towel as the ideal perch to peruse Anna Karenina, nor the blistering sun as a welcome companion for a quick study of Heidegger’s Being and Time.

Love and Death
June 09, 2011

The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg Edited by Georg Adler, Peter Hudis, and Annelies Laschitza Translated by George Shriver (Verso, 609 pp., $39.95) Once upon a time there lived a Jewish lady, of modest stature and of a certain age, who walked with a limp and liked to sing to the birds. Through the bars on her window she would treat the titmice to a Mozart aria, and then await their call, the transcription of which she wished, as she wrote to a friend, to be the only adornment on her grave.

We Don’t Need Oprah’s Book Club
May 25, 2011

What does the future hold for Oprah’s Book Club? While the mogul’s final TV episodes—the last of which airs Wednesday—have brimmed with A-list celebrities, and her June magazine cover proclaims (in approximately size 48 font) a fond farewell to “25 years [of] ... the joy, the laughs, the lessons” on-air, the book club has received little attention from Oprah as the clock winds down on her daily talk show. The last selection for the club (Charles Dickens for the holidays) was a relative bust, and there is no reading-based show or segment currently scheduled on the OWN network.

Visionary Materialism
May 19, 2011

Illuminations By Arthur Rimbaud Translated by John Ashbery (W.W. Norton, 167 pp., $24.95) I. Arthur Rimbaud wrote the texts known as Illuminations between around 1873 and 1875. In those years he lived in London, and in Paris, and at home with his mother and sisters in northern France, and in Stuttgart. In London, George Eliot was writing Daniel Deronda; in Paris, Henry James was writing Roderick Hudson. The majestic Nineteenth Century was everywhere.

A Boy’s Own Story
April 07, 2011

Colonel Roosevelt By Edmund Morris (Random House, 766 pp., $35)  I. The reputation of Theodore Roosevelt has become as bloated as the man himself. No one of course can deny his fundamental significance in American history, as a central player in the transitions from republic to empire, laissez-faire to regulated capitalism, congressional government to imperial presidency. It should come as no surprise that professional historians still pay close attention to his career. What is surprising is the cult-like status that Roosevelt enjoys outside the academy, especially in Washington.

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