Stoicism and Us
March 17, 2010

Marcus Aurelius: A Life By Frank McLynn (Da Capo Press, 684 pp., $30) A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy By William B. Irvine (Oxford University Press, 314 pp., $19.95)   Barbara Ehrenreich’s latest book, Bright-Sided, offers a damning indictment of the ideology of positive thinking, which she sees as the fundamental flaw in American life.

From Italy
March 17, 2010

Vincere IFC Films Mid-August Lunch Zeitgeist Films Here, remarkably and remarkable, is a new film by Marco Bellocchio, a survivor of the Italian post-World War II directing galaxy. His first two films, Fist in His Pocket (1965) and China Is Near (1967), announced the arrival of a talented troublemaker. His subject was the bourgeois family in relation to a changing society--“the connection between the family and the wider political universe,” the film historian Peter Bondanella said.

March 17, 2010

In the past few days I’ve been reading the letters that Henry James wrote to the young sculptor Hendrik Andersen in the early years of the twentieth century. What fascinates me are the things that James has to say about the act of creation. He is begging his young friend to sacrifice the general to the specific, to express the boldest emotions through the subtlest formal calculations.

A Responding Sensibility
March 03, 2010

Meyer Schapiro Abroad: Letters to Lillian and Travel Notebooks Edited by Daniel Esterman (Getty Research Institute, 243 pp., $39.95)   I. Meyer Schapiro Abroad is an astonishing book. It consists of seemingly commonplace materials--the love letters that a graduate student wrote while traveling to work on his dissertation, plus a selection of sheets from his research notebooks. Yet taken together these pages present something extraordinary and nearly unique: an intensely evocative account of the process and the experience of historical discovery.

The Talker
March 03, 2010

The details of his story aren’t the point, nor is the listener, who looked as bored as we, two accidental eavesdroppers in a London restaurant. The point is, well, his point, which after ten long minutes he came to abruptly, and with a flourish, saying slowly and in perfect seriousness, “All we are is dust in the wind. All we are. Is dust.

Obama Is A Masochist: He Is Courting Another Disenchantment, This Time In Syria
February 19, 2010

Really, I don’t care if there is an American ambassador in Damascus. It’s true, given the environment, that he might be shot by terrorists. But, otherwise, why not? We had U.S. diplomats in Tokyo, Berlin and Rome until just after Pearl Harbor. Of course, they did no good. But probably, they also did no harm—except prolonging the illusion that America was at peace with the host countries.  Why doesn't the administration just say that we are returning to our embassy in Syria because Syria is a player in the Middle East?

Saint and Sinner
February 08, 2010

Bitter Spring: A Life of Ignazio Silone By Stanislao Pugliese (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 426 pp., $35) In June 1950, Ignazio Silone and Arthur Koestler, two of the most prominent anti-communist writers of that era, attended a convivial dinner party in West Berlin. They had gathered with several other intellectuals to celebrate the founding conference of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, an American-sponsored riposte to the Soviet Cominform’s “peace conferences” of the preceding year.

Back From Rome
February 06, 2010

First, I'm back. And back from Rome, at that. I'm not sure that modern Romans actually appreciate the antiquity amidst which they live, an antiquity that goes back eight centuries before the birth of Christianity. Which means that the Etruscans, the Greeks, and the Jews were there before, well before the Romans.

The Right and the GOP: Pushing On An Open Door
February 04, 2010

In any highly fluid political situation, you will always find some observers determined to argue that it's not fluid at all--that underneath the surface, the status quo prevails, and anyone thinking otherwise is naive or poorly informed. Tuesday night, you just knew that Mark Kirk's U.S. Senate primary victory in Illinois would be interpreted in some circles as proving that the much-discussed rightward trend in the Republican Party, sped along by pressure from the Tea Party Movement, was actually a mirage.

Leave The Pope Alone
December 24, 2009

On September 3, 2000, Pope John Paul II, the Vicar of Christ beloved even by Jews, beatified Pius IX, one of his predecessors who reigned from 1846-1878. He was a nasty anti-Semite who re-established the ghetto in Rome and was instrumental in the kidnapping of a six-year old Jew boy who had been forcibly converted to Catholicism and whom the church itself kept in the Vatican away from his parents. These are not the least of his sins; nor are they the worst. But they contribute richly to his biography as a Jew-hater.