Editors' Picks: Best Books of 2010
December 22, 2010
The Bars of Atlantis: Selected Essays by Durs Grünbein Reviewing this collection of essays by Germany's pre-eminent contemporary poet, Helen Vendler wrote that "If Yeats’s aim was to hold in a single thought reality and justice, then Grünbein’s is to hold in a single thought poetry and philosophy." This book contains my favorite quote of the year.
Mayhem in Minsk
December 21, 2010
Minsk, Belarus—On Sunday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was reelected to five more years in office. He garnered 80 percent of the vote, according to official numbers. In past elections, Lukashenko, often called “Europe’s last dictator,” all but prevented anyone from directly challenging him. But, this year, he earned widespread recognition for orchestrating an election that was “much freer than the past,” featuring all the trappings of an open and fair process.
Back to Normalcy
December 21, 2010
Where on earth is the United States headed? Has it lost its way? Is the Obama effect, which initially promised to halt the souring of its global image, over? More seriously, is it in some sort of terminal decline? Has it joined the long historical list of number one powers that rose to the top, and then, as Rudyard Kipling outlined it, just slowly fell downhill: “Lo, all our pomp of yesterday / At one with Nineveh and Tyre”? Has it met its match in Afghanistan?
Perles Of Wisdom
December 20, 2010
Uber-hawk Richard Perle opposes the Start Treaty, which, he argues, is a pale imitation of the great Ronald Reagan's INF Treaty: Ronald Reagan knew that in arms control, the United States should play to win. To do that, it had to be prepared to reject an inadequate deal until a useful one could be achieved. The contrast between his negotiating approach and the current administration’s approach to New START could not be more striking. Ratified in the spring of 1988, the INF Treaty was a watershed: the first accord to actually reduce nuclear arms.
December 20, 2010
What can you say about a problem like Richard Holbrooke? You either loved him or hated him or both. Myself, I loved him. Most of the press did. There is no embarrassment in this. He took us seriously and we took him seriously. We knew how much he valued the platform that we gave to him, but we were not fools and he was not a knave: He plainly wanted the platform just as much, or most of all, not for himself but for his mission.
December 17, 2010
On December 19, citizens in the former Soviet republic of Belarus will head to polls to vote in the country’s presidential election, the fourth since 1994. But Belarusians don’t have any real hope of unseating incumbent Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since winning the presidency 16 years ago. Widely known as “Europe’s Last Dictator,” Lukashenko has cracked down on independent media, routinely broken up public protests, and “disappeared” prominent opposition leaders.
December 16, 2010
For a born diplomat, Richard Holbrooke was often lost in translation. Too blunt, too impatient, too American, too driven, too much. That was what his critics would say— within the United States and around the world. And yet rarely was a man of such fierce and noble attachments—to family, to friends, to country and cause—so easily and persistently misunderstood. The paradox of Richard Holbrooke was that there was no paradox—what you saw was what you got.
Which Languages Should Liberal Arts Be About in 2010?
December 13, 2010
We are to bemoan that universities across the country are eliminating or scaling back their foreign language departments. Or, what seems to arouse critics most is the disappearance of French, German, and Italian departments—what with Goethe, Balzac and Dante being pillars of a liberal arts education and so on. Yet, former French major and great fan of foreign language learning as I am, I’m not feeling as bad about this new trend as I am supposed to. I have as deep-seated a sense as anyone that an educated person is supposed to be able to at least fake a conversation in French.
Being Winston Churchill
December 08, 2010
Seventy years ago, in the summer and fall of 1940, Western civilization teetered in the balance as Britain stood alone against Nazi-controlled Europe. Other major world powers did not lend aid; Russia supported Germany, and the United States remained neutral. After Britain resisted the assault of Nazi bombers, in what was dubbed the “Battle of Britain,” the country was saved and German momentum stymied. The whole course of the war then radically shifted.
The Charnel Continent
December 02, 2010
Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler And Stalin By Timothy Snyder (Basic Books, 524 pp., $29.95) ‘Now we will live!’... the hungry little boy liked to say ... but the food that he saw was only in his imagination.” So the little boy died, together with three million fellow Ukrainians, in the mass starvation that Stalin created in 1933. “I will meet her ... under the ground,” a young Soviet man said about his wife. Both were shot in the course of Stalin’s Great Terror of 1937 and 1938, which claimed 700,000 victims.