James Agee

During the George Zimmerman trial, I happened to be reading James Agee's Depression classic, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The book describes the lives of three families of tenant farmers in Alabama, all of them white; poverty, not racism, is Agee's subject. But before he begins writing about the Woods, Gudger, and Ricketts clans, Agee takes care to include an episode that dramatizes the state of race relations in the American South.

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Poverty as Destiny

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai UndercityBy Katherine Boo (Random House, 256 pp., $27) Early in Katherine Boo’s unforgettable book, a boy from Annawadi, a Mumbai slum, rushes into his makeshift school, bleeding. The classroom is nothing more than a single room in a neighbor’s hut, but it is the only place he can go for medical attention after being hit by a car. No sooner has the teacher begun treating his wound than his mother surges into the hut, wielding a large piece of scrap metal and screaming: “No car will kill you! No god will save you!

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The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century By Alan Brinkley (Knopf, 531 pp., $35) I. Sometimes human beings bring sociological theory to life. Consider the career of Henry Luce. A child of Presbyterian missionaries in China, he pursued wealth and power with unremitting zeal, creating the media empire that dominated American journalism for much of the twentieth century: Time, Inc. Yet Luce never lost touch with his didactic origins, never abandoned the conviction that his magazines should teach Americans the right way of thinking about the world.

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Tunnel Vision

Lowboy By John Wray (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 258 pp., $25) Craigslist has a section called "Missed Connections," with posts about exactly that. The settings vary. Connections are missed in line at the drugstore or the bank or the movie theater, in the street, on the bus and the train, at concerts, airports, sporting events, at bars and coffee shops. And a steady undercurrent of these frustrations occurs in the subway.

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Angels and Beards

Tony Kushner's new play, Caroline, or Change is a formal anomaly. It has been hailed as a breakthrough musical created by a confident professional collaborative—vigorous score by Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie), lively choreography by Hope Clarke (Spunk), and dynamic staging by George C. Wolfe (Jelly's Last Jam).

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