The Song of Achilles: A Novel by Madeline Miller I loved The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller’s brisk, graceful reimagining of the Iliad. The narrator is Achilles's companion Patroclus, a minor character in Homer’s original who makes for a surprisingly appealing protagonist. Miller’s book is a feat of storytelling: her take on the love affair between Achilles and Patroclus gives the epic tale of the Trojan War new emotional specificity.
The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War By Halik Kochanski (Harvard University Press, 734 pp., $35) The Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery By Witold Pilecki translated by Jarek Garliński (Aquila Polonica, 460 pp., $34.95) ONCE, THE Allied history of the Second World War—the Anglo-American history of the Second World War, the Victors’ history of the Second World War—was the only one we thought mattered.
On Compromise and Rotten Compromises By Avishai Margalit (Princeton University Press, 221 pp., $26.95) The Spirit of Compromise: Why Governing Demands It and Campaigning Undermines It By Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson (Princeton University Press, 279 pp., $24.95) “Ideals may tell us something important about what we would like to be,” the political philosopher Avishai Margalit writes.
I commented long ago in The Spine about the courtship between fundamentalist Christianity and Israel. One of the early signs that it was meshing was the meeting between [Israeli Prime Minister Menahem] Begin and the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bailey Smith, who had said that God doesn’t hear the prayers of a Jew. That’s a big theological rift already. But Begin tried to finesse the history.
In The Iron Lady, a figure named Margaret Thatcher orders the sinking of the Argentinean battleship, the Belgrano. She “wins” the war of the Falkland Islands, just as she had won leadership of the Conservative party in Great Britain and had become the nation’s first female prime minister. As such, she imposed austerity cuts; she beat down the trade union movement; she gutted many parts of her country, especially the manufacturing north; and she restored a version of prosperity in the financial services industry that was lifted on the wave of the Internet.
We have been unfair to Mitt Romney. We have depicted him as a man driven to be president, so eager to succeed where his father failed that he has been willing to twist himself into whatever pretzel the moment requires to pass muster with the electorate at hand. But no. Romney actually had no intention of making a second try at the White House after coming up short in 2008.
“September 11,” the voice on the tape said, startling me with an unexpected association. “Evidence of impending invasion has been accumulating all day. More ships moving west down the Channel.” I was visiting Churchill’s war rooms, the basement in Whitehall that served as his command center. The voice on the tape was reading from the diaries of General Alan Brooke, later chief of the Imperial General Staff but in the terrifying days of 1940 commander of the Home Forces, tasked with preparing England, lonely and excruciatingly vulnerable, against a German landing.
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.
Should the United States have gotten involved in the Libyan civil war? The question is beside the point: We’re in it. More interesting is what lessons our experience has to teach us about America’s first major use of force since the decision to invade Iraq in 2003—and about President Obama’s first, albeit reluctant, initiation of conflict as Commander in Chief. War is war—saying otherwise just confuses things.
1. An article by David Kirkpatrick in The New York Times reported that three volumes of Muammar Qaddafi’s heavy thoughts had over the years become mandatory reading for Libyans. I don’t know whether Hitler’s Mein Kampf or Mao Zedong’s Red Book is the more apt analogy for this sort of brain-washing. But I do remember from decades ago when many of my fellow graduate students were reading the Mao bible at least as much to absorb the great ideas as for scholarly purposes. Some of these are now full professors at serious American universities.