Before 2013 begins, catch up on the best of 2012. From now until the New Year, we will be re-posting some of The New Republic’s most thought-provoking pieces of the year. Enjoy. Zona By Geoff Dyer (Pantheon, 228 pp., $24) NEVER MIND the writing, as superb as it so often is: as agile, as subtle, as witty, as funny, as brilliantly insightful. Never mind the breadth—a book about jazz, a book about photography, a book about a film, a book about D.H.
Eisenhower in War and Peace By Jean Edward Smith (Random House, 950 pp., $40) The histories we write say as much about our own times as about those we study. The current polarization in Washington has prompted a nostalgia for parties that were less ideologically uniform and more prone to compromise. Fashionable “pragmatism” has similarly infected thinking about foreign policy, as the fallout from the Iraq war lingers in the air a decade on.
The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1944-1945 By Ian Kershaw (Penguin, 564 pp., $35) It can be harder to lose a war than to win one. Nazi Germany won quick victories in 1939 and 1940 against its eastern and western neighbors, Poland and France. Many Germans who had doubted the wisdom of war came around with enthusiasm to the sound of German boots on the Champs Elysées. Warsaw and Paris fell more quickly and with fewer complications than anticipated. Their conquest convinced many Germans, including army officers, that further campaigns could be won by strokes of genius.
More than a month after my trip to Italy, I keep thinking about one of the books I read there--Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy, by Robert Putnam. A classic text of governance and civics, Putnam's study focuses on a unique experiment begun in 1970 when Italy suddenly transferred the main responsibility for such activities as urban affairs, regional planning, public works, and economic development from a discredited and unpopular national government to a newly created set of elected regional governments. Alert to the potential for a novel study of fundamental issues in ci
The Escorial: Art and Power in the Renaissance By Henry Kamen (Yale University Press, 291 pp., $35) The historian Henry Kamen has spent a distinguished career presenting what he calls a “revisionist” history of early modern Spain.
The Sicilian Girl Music Box Films Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child Arthouse Films Long ago it expanded into other places, but to think of the Mafia is to think first of Sicily. Partly, of course, this is because of the many films about the Sicilian Mafia, so many that they constitute a genre, and none of which, as far as I have seen, has been less than good. Now comes The Sicilian Girl, which sustains the genre in expected and unusual ways. The expected ways, shamefully gripping, are, as always, the threats and businesslike killing.
The Situation (Shadow) Mafioso (Rialto) A few months ago, the American documentarian James Longley gave us Iraq in Fragments, which looked under the big news stories to some strands of Iraqi life, less about the war than about living. Now Philip Haas, the American director of such intelligent fiction films as The Music of Chance and Angels and Insects, has made a sort of companion piece to Longley's film, called THE SITUATION. This is the first picture that, fictional though it is, tries to deal with some realities of the Iraq war itself. Familiarly, the first casualty of war is truth: Haas tr
A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law by Antonin Scalia (Princeton University Press, 159 pp., $19.95) Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution by Jack N. Rakove (Knopf, 420 pp., $35) We are all originalists now. That is to say, most judges and legal scholars who want to remain within the boundaries of respectable constitutional discourse agree that the original meaning of the Constitution and its amendments has some degree of pertinence to the question of what the Constitution means today.
Sappho: A Garland The Poems and Fragments of Sappho Translated by Jim Powell (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 65 pp., $15) The Laughter of Aphrodite: A Novel about Sappho of Lesbos By Peter Green (University of California Press, 274 pp., $22) The "garland" of Jim Powell's felicitous translation of Sappho is a tattered remnant. It might well have been subtitled The Poem and Fragments of Sappho, for there is only one poem in the book that we can be reasonably sure is complete, the playful summons to Aphrodite that stands at its head. There is one other poem—the famous description of the physical