The Restless Medium
October 21, 2009
Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before By Michael Fried (Yale University Press, 409 pp., $55) I. Michael Fried,who shot to intellectual stardom in 1967 with an essay in Artforum called "Art and Objecthood," is an intimidating writer. He looks very closely. He has passionate feelings about what he sees. And he shapes his impressions into a theory that fits snugly with all the other theories he has ever had. Whatever his chosen subject--Diderot, Courbet, Manet, Kenneth Noland--he comes up with an interpretation that is as smoothly and tightly constructed as a stainless-steel box.
September 16, 2009
In 1943, the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, who was living in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, wrote “Campo dei Fiori,” his great poem about the coexistence of normality and atrocity. The Campo dei Fiori is the plaza in Rome where, in the year 1600, the heretical philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned alive by the Catholic Church; “before the flames had died,” Milosz writes, “the taverns were full again.” The same willed blindness could be noted in Warsaw, the poem declares.
Now We Know
June 17, 2009
Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America By John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev (Yale University Press, 637 pp., $35) If one were trying to define the lowest point in the long and venerable tradition of American anti-communism, surely it came in 2003, with the publication of Ann Coulter's Treason.
Time After Time
December 24, 2008
Rhythms of Life: The Biological Clocks that Control the Daily Lives of Every Living Thing By Russell G. Foster and Leon Kreitzman (Yale University Press, 276 pp., $19) Man has invented many ways to measure physical time, from ancient sundials to water and sand clocks, from the pendulum to the wind-up pocket watch, all the way to the modern atomic clock. An example of this latter-day timekeeper, introduced in 1950, measures a second as 9,192,631,770 cycles in the energy radiation of the Caesium atom.
Homage to Caledonia
December 03, 2008
The Invention of Scotland: Myth and History By Hugh Trevor-Roper (Yale University Press, 282 pp., $30) Hugh Trevor-Roper seemed to be an Oxford don supplied by central casting. An erect Northumbrian with a distinctly patrician air, he commanded a grandee position impregnably within the Establishment.
Paste and Future
November 19, 2008
Scrapbooks: An American HistoryBy Jessica Helfand (Yale University Press, 244 pp., $45) Mark Twain had one. So did Anne Sexton, Lillian Hellman, Harry Wolfson of Harvard, and little Hattie Briggs of rural Michigan. I also had one, and I suspect that you did, too. I am referring to the scrapbook--that odd assemblage of memorabilia and mucilage that once ruled the roost when it came to recording the details of one's life and one's sentimental education.
The Troubadour Intellectual
March 26, 2008
Alfred Kazin: A Biography By Richard M. Cook (Yale University Press, 452 pp., $35) I. Alfred Kazin had one great, abiding subject. He wanted to tell the world what it felt like to become a writer in mid-century America. In three autobiographical volumes published over a period of a quartercentury, he dug so deep into his own life story, which had begun in hardscrabble Brooklyn and climaxed in the glamorous Manhattan of the 1960s, that he managed to tell the story of an entire generation.
February 27, 2008
The Origins of Reasonable Doubt: Theological Roots of the Criminal Trial By James Q. Whitman (Yale University Press, 276 pp., $40) I. To be convicted of a crime in our courts, a defendant must be proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This rule is both fundamental to the criminal justice system of the United States and uncontroversial.
October 11, 2007
James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years By Wayne Franklin (Yale University Press, 705 pp., $40) Click here to purchase the book. Like Poe, Stowe, and Longfellow, James Fenimore Cooper--"Fenimore" to his friends--is a giant of world literature with a sharply diminished stature at home.
April 23, 2007
The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace By Ali A. Allawi (Yale University Press, 518 pp., $28) Say what you will about the American experience in Vietnam, that war was well written. A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan had a character who could have stepped out of the pages of Graham Greene. John Paul Vann was an even more arresting figure than Alden Pyle in The Quiet American. "The odds, he said, did not apply to him," Sheehan wrote of the unforgettable man who embodied the war'shubris and the war's undoing.