Books

Slay Them Not
March 18, 2009

Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism By Paula Fredriksen (Doubleday, 512 pp., $35)   I. 'Why and how did relations between Christians and Jews ever become so terrible in the first place?" Medieval Christian theologians thought that the answer to this question, posed in the prologue to Paula Fredriksen's remarkable book, was to be found at the dawn of time. Cain murdered Abel, jealous that his earthly sacrifices were rejected by God in favor of his younger brother's more spiritual ones.

A More Perfect Monument
March 18, 2009

Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens By Josiah Ober (Princeton University Press, 362 pp., $29.95)   How does one learn to construct and to lead a republic? Monarchies do not provoke this question, or at least not with the same urgency. When King George III took the throne in Britain in 1760, he had some thirty-three predecessors in England alone, if one goes back only to William the Conqueror, and fifty-odd predecessors if one goes back to Egbert, the first "King of All England," in the ninth century.

Wasting Away in Hooverville
March 18, 2009

The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression By Amity Shlaes (HarperCollins, 464 pp., $26.95) Herbert Hoover By William E. Leuchtenburg (Times Books, 208 pp., $22) Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days that Created Modern America By Adam Cohen (Penguin Press, 372 pp., $29.95) A generation ago, the total dismissal of the New Deal remained a marginal sentiment in American politics. Ronald Reagan boasted of having voted for Franklin Roosevelt. Neoconservatives long maintained that American liberalism had gone wrong only in the 1960s.

Government Center
March 18, 2009

All of the old buildings that surround itwith their embellishments,their frills, their flauntings,have turned away, embarrassedby how nakedlyoutside       outside is here.At night especially,nothing is not exposedto whatever it isthat's looking outfrom within the rising of the set backor jutting, many angledbrick and concrete largeto small to smaller openingsthat swallowwhatever light they cast.At Washington and State,the wide brick stairs lead up to wide brick stairsup to the brickedexpanse, the brick field of the benchless plazaedged here and there by lampposts whose lightspotlights the litt

The Progress of Our Arms
March 18, 2009

Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in ChiefBy James M. McPherson(Penguin Press, 384 pp., $35)In his remarkable Personal Memoirs, written in 1885 when he was dying of throat cancer, Ulysses Grant recalled his first encounter with Abraham Lincoln. In March 1864, Grant had come to Washington to be commissioned lieutenant general and to assume command of Union armies that had struggled for three years without effective military leadership.

When You Return
March 18, 2009

Fallen leaves will climb back into trees.Shards of the shattered vase will riseand reassemble on the table.Plastic raincoats will refoldinto their flat envelopes. The egg,bald yolk and its transparent halo,slide back in the thin, calcium shell.Curses will pour back into mouths,letters un-write themselves, wordssiphoned up into the pen. My gray hairwill darken and become the feathersof a black swan. Bullets will snapback into their chambers, the powdertamped tight in brass casings. Borderswill disappear from maps. Rustrevert to oxygen and time.

Ancient Evenings
March 04, 2009

Sex and Sensuality in the Ancient World By Giulia Sissa Translated by George Staunton (Yale University Press, 224 pp., $38) Perhaps the most interesting finding of the two Kinsey reports on sexual behavior published in 1948 and 1953, and thus early harbingers of the mid-century revolution, was the enormous gap it revealed between accepted social and religious norms and what actually went on behind closed doors. There was much talk of hypocrisy, but this missed the point.

In the Word-Hoard
March 04, 2009

Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus HeaneyBy Dennis O'Driscoll(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 522 pp., $32)"Remote on the one hand from the banal, on the other from the eccentric, his genius was calculated to win at once the adhesion of the general public and the admiration, both sympathetic and stimulating, of the connoisseur." So writes Thomas Mann about Gustav von Aschenbach, great writer and national institution, in Death in Venice; and the description applies unexpectedly well to Seamus Heaney.

Hardy's Sky
March 04, 2009

A sky out of Thomas Hardy: bleak, cloud-broken, swollen withwind-shiver, grey-gold with touches of crucifixion and apocalypse,everything a flight, a fugue, so the small voices of these slate juncosmake music a huddle of refugees might make--bedraggled, bentunder tattered loads, feeling the weather change, the air harden,the taste of things grow harsh and crude on their forced marchtowards haggard light, towards some poor haven, this endless trekagainst weather, fires blossoming from the sky ceiling, the ferociousthump of air waves pushing them, staggering ear drums, pure dreadbursting in scatt

D.C. Confidential
March 04, 2009

The Rules of the Game By Leonard Downie Jr. (Alfred A. Knopf, 319 pp., $26.95) I have this idea for a great Washington novel. A new president takes office, having prevailed in a gruesomely divisive election. He is muddling through his first few months in office when suddenly a great national calamity strikes. He had theretofore shown few signs that he had it in him to rise to this solemn occasion, but he meets with some initial success.

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