Books

Auto-Emancipation
August 13, 2008

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What It Says About Us) By Tom Vanderbilt (Knopf, 403 pp., $24.95)   Few if any man-made contraptions have shaped America as much as the internal combustion engine. Eighty-seven percent of American workers drive to their jobs, either alone or in a carpool. Eighteen percent of the average American family's spending goes to transportation, mostly for cars and gasoline.

Midnight Feeding
August 13, 2008

The open shed on the lawn's far side stinks of gasfrom the hateful mower that pulls me where it wantswhen I mow, which is seldom. I rip up grass.Humid night's moon's nothing-halo; the lawn pretendsto candy floss. Black-white dud roses dead since June,alive enough to scratch my bare legs. I'm wearing nothingbut underpants, flipflops. Arms full, I stumble out,flashlight in my mouth, turn my head to choosewhat's lit. Inside the dirt-floor shed, I fill bowls:Dry bits, tuna slop.

Truth's Caper
August 13, 2008

Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture By Alan Sokal (Oxford University Press, 465 pp. $34.95) Every reader of this magazine is likely to have heard of the "Sokal hoax," the most celebrated academic escapade of our time.

Frank Kermode
July 30, 2008

How Fiction Works By James Wood (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 208 pp., $24)This admirable book is, among other things, a successful attempt to replace E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel as an accessible guide to the mechanics of fiction.

The Big Picture
July 30, 2008

Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800 By Chris Wickham (Oxford University Press, 990 pp., $50) Origins of the European Economy: Communications and Commerce AD 300-900 By Michael McCormick (Cambridge University Press, 1,130 pp., $72) I. A few years ago, I hitchhiked from the Benedictine monastery of Monte Oliveto, southeast of Siena, across rolling, forested, and sometimes craggy hills to the medieval hamlet of Amorosa, near the railway spur of Sinalunga. Waiting for the few passing cars left ample time to read the landscape all around me.

Low Truths
July 30, 2008

Gorky's Tolstoy and Other Reminiscences: Key Writings By and About Maxim Gorky Translated by Donald Fanger (Yale University Press, 320 pp., $30)   Aleksei Maksimovich Peshkov, the future Maxim Gorky, was born in 1868 in Nizhni Novgorod on the Volga River, and grew up in what he later described in his melancholy, violent autobiography as "that close-knit, suffocating little world of pain and suffering where the ordinary Russian man in the street used to live, and where he lives to this day." It was the world of the provincial petty-bourgeois--neighbors cut the tails off each other's cats and so

Dead Left
July 30, 2008

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism By Naomi Klein (Metropolitan Books, 576 pp., $28) It seems like a very long time—though in truth only a few years have passed—since the most sinister force on the planet that the left could imagine was Nike. In 2001, Time proclaimed that the anti-globalization movement had become the “defining cause” of a new generation, and that the spokesperson for the cause was the Canadian writer and activist Naomi Klein.

Extraordinary Rendition
July 30, 2008

I. I gave you back my claim on the mining townand the rich vein we once worked,the tumble-downfrom a sluice-box that irked you so much, the narrow-gaugethat opened up to one and allwhen it ran out at the landing-stagebeyond the Falls. I gave you back oak tiesbully-flitches, the hand-hewn cross-beamsfrom which hung hard tack in a burlap bag that, I'd surmise,had burst its seamsthe last night we lay by the old spur track. II. You gave me back your frownand the most recent responsibility you'd shirkedalong with something of your renownfor having jumped from a cage just before it jerked to a stand

The Art Of Noticing
July 30, 2008

How Fiction WorksBy James Wood(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 208 pp., $24) This admirable book is, among other things, a successful attempt to replace E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel as an accessible guide to the mechanics of fiction.

Versions of a Miserabilist
July 30, 2008

One thought, from over the river: the mosquitoeslost the smell of blood in me half way across.Old Eden verity--I am no more to blame for my deaththan I was for the sleazy rendezvous of my birth.God alters selfish men--now that they have no face,he has them regard the face, he teaches them howthey should have lived in a universe whose every centre isa little pot of self-regard, a little like yours. * This is the end of money, though we have black fingers;this the seedy afterlife of things.

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