Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937–1948 By Madeleine Albright with Bill Woodward (Harper Collins, 467 pp., $29.99) MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, née Korbel, is the first woman and the second foreign-born person to have attained to the highest-ranking Cabinet position in the American government, that of secretary of state. She is also the first East European to have served in any Cabinet position.
Whether or not Mitt Romney’s multiple gaffes in London end up hurting his presidential campaign, they’re a good opportunity to remember that political skirmishes have always been part of the world’s premier international sporting event. Which should come as no surprise: Given that the athletics are themselves considered displays of national prowess, it’s only natural that they become proxies for grander geopolitical struggles. But which events would compete for the gold (so to speak) for most outlandish Olympics political conflict ever?
Across the Land and the Water: Selected Poems, 1964–2001 By W.G. Sebald Translated by Iain Galbraith (Random House, 166 pp., $25) THE REPUTATION OF an important writer will continue to swell in his or her absence, nourished by the unceasing attentions of friends, scholars, and devoted readers unwilling to forget an artist who changed the way they perceive the world. And so it is with W.G. Sebald.
In April 2007, Czech artist David Hons replaced the human silhouettes in 48 Prague crosswalk signals with figures engaged in decidedly less pedestrian activities. One signal depicted a man urinating; another had a bottle raised to his mouth. A man squatted to defecate; another appeared to be falling down drunk. “I wanted to show people, they don’t have to walk or stand when the system says so,” Hons wrote on his website. A Prague municipal court found Hons guilty of vandalism, fined him $3,750, and ordered that he come up with an additional $5,000 to repair the signals.
The Village Voice gives out theater awards called the Obies (for Off-Broadway), and during the 1980s the Voice’s theater department voted to bestow one of those prizes on the distinguished absurdist Václav Havel, who dwelled in the faraway absurdistan known as the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. In their New York productions, Havel’s plays ran at the Public Theater, and everyone who kept up with the downtown scene knew them well. The plays were splendidly mordant.
The following essay is based on the laudatio given by Jacques Rupnik in October 2009 on the occasion of the awarding to Václav Havel of an honorary doctorate from Sciences Po. The text, which originally appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of Commentaire, was translated from the French by Catherine Temerson. It is a great honor and deeply gratifying to be speaking here in praise of President Václav Havel. It is a privilege that is not without hidden difficulties, however.
George F. Kennan: An American Life By John Lewis Gaddis (Penguin, 784 pp., $39.95) I. George F. Keenan, who was born in 1904 and died in 2005, and served under presidents from Calvin Coolidge to John F. Kennedy, left as deep an imprint on American geopolitics as any intellectual of the twentieth century. But the exact nature of his achievement continues to elude full or even coherent description. One reason is that most of his very long life was spent in comparative obscurity.
The Prague Cemetery By Umberto Eco (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 445 pp., $27) Barack Obama is a Kenyan-born communist jihadist. The Mossad staged the attacks of September 11. Vince Foster was murdered on the orders of his lover, the notorious lesbian Hillary Clinton. The United States government is concealing the wreckage of an alien spacecraft that crashed in New Mexico in 1947. A secret society named the Priory of Sion protects the living descendants of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. It is tempting to think that we are living in a golden age of conspiracy theories.
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern By Stephen Greenblatt (W.W. Norton, 356 pp., $26.95) Midway through the greatest literary work of the Italian Renaissance, the paladin Orlando, the hero of Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando Furioso, which appeared in 1516, goes crazy with unrequited love and jealousy. His poet creator is in no better shape: he is writing, he winkingly tells us, in a “lucid interval” of his own lovesickness.
One of the consistent features of the gay rights movement over the past five decades has been a belief in progress: Members of the gay community and their allies have insisted that, over time, attitudes about homosexuality will only change for the better. In part, this conviction is based on the power of moral suasion, but it also relies on sheer demographics: Younger people tend to be more supportive of gay rights.