Tag: Books & The Arts

The Art of the Unspeakable

In 1971, the artist Suzanne Lacy was taking classes with Judy Chicago at the California Institute of the Arts, and she had an idea: What if they created a performance that involved an audience listening to recordings of women telling their stories of rape? It sounds simple now but it wasn’t then, because those kinds […]

Read More

Olga Tokarczuk’s Gripping Eco-Mystery

Murder mysteries, however else they might differ, rely on one major, shared belief: that murder matters, and is worth looking into. Whoever did the killing, whoever was killed, the investigation moves forward because the people inside the story and those outside of it, following along as the clues unfold, agree that the murder has moral […]

Read More

The Shrinking Legacy of a Supreme Court Justice

Once upon a time, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was the great modern American jurist. The “Yankee from Olympus,” as Catherine Drinker Bowen’s 1944 biography called Holmes, was the first celebrity justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, as popular then as the Notorious RBG is now. Nearly a century ago, the Columbia Broadcasting System delivered a […]

Read More

The Failed Political Promise of Silicon Valley

July 1945, the engineer Vannevar Bush—one of the founders of the Raytheon electronics corporation, and director of the federal Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II—published a meditative essay in The Atlantic. The scientific community had mobilized during the war to develop the atomic bomb. Now, he urged, it should turn itself […]

Read More

The MAGA Plot

Ben Lerner writes novels about Ben Lerner. This sentence might have once sounded like a criticism. But since writing that collapses the distance between fiction and author—so-called autofiction—is au courant, it is nearer an endorsement. The hero of Lerner’s debut novel, 2011’s Leaving the Atocha Station, is a poet named Adam Gordon. He’s anxiety-ridden, callow, and […]

Read More

Paolo Sorrentino’s Loro Will Make You Feel Complicit

How a political film should aim to make you feel is a tricky question. There’s the Ken Loach approach, worthy and moving but, in this overcrowded landscape, arguably not fashioned to persuade (or even attract) those viewers not already on-side, and there’s the fast-paced Armando Iannucci satire, in which hypocrisies are gleefully punctured and the […]

Read More

The Fall of the Meritocracy

In 1958, sociologist Michael Young wrote a dark satire called The Rise of the Meritocracy. The term “meritocracy” was Young’s own coining, and he chose it to denote a new aristocracy based on expertise and test-taking instead of breeding and titles. In Young’s book, set in 2034, Britain is forced to evolve by international economic […]

Read More

The Fog of Intervention

Let’s say it’s January 2021, and President Bernie Sanders has just assumed office. On his second day as commander-in-chief of the most powerful military in world history, Bernie and his foreign policy team are ushered into the White House Situation Room. After being seated at a long wooden table, a group of diplomats and military […]

Read More

Vasily Grossman’s Lost Epic

In the Soviet Union, every literary work was a political statement, whether the writer liked it or not. Soviet censorship allowed some room for negotiation, but outside the USSR, official and dissident literature were perceived as polar opposites. This stark distinction imbued Soviet-era literature with a gratifyingly Manichaean quality, and Western readers became enamored of […]

Read More

Democratic Rot and the Origins of American Conspiracism

At the end of 2016, in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, The Oxford English Dictionary made “post-truth” its word of the year, Merriam-Webster picked “surreal,” and Dictionary.com chose “xenophobia.” Loath to put too fine a point on it, the American Dialect Society went with “dumpster fire.” At least in recent times, official words of […]

Read More

How John Hersey Bore Witness

Some writers are known for their oeuvre. Some are known for their personality. John Hersey, as the subtitle of Jeremy Treglown’s biography attests, is known as the “author of Hiroshima.” Taking up most of the August 31, 1946, issue of The New Yorker, Hersey’s article was a media sensation, selling out that issue of the magazine, and […]

Read More

All Over the Map

Jared Diamond doesn’t use a computer. He relies “completely” on his secretary and on his wife for “anything” requiring one, as he puts it. Diamond also confesses that he lacks the ability to turn on his “home television set” and can “do only the simplest things” with his newly acquired iPhone. “Whenever friends have shown […]

Read More

The Impossibility of Impeachment

Polling outfits routinely ask historians and political scientists to rate the presidents from worst to best. It’s an inherently frustrating exercise. Does “greatness” depend on what a chief executive accomplished or instead on his ability to bend Congress to his will and influence his successors? How should we evaluate a president like Lyndon Johnson, who […]

Read More