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Book Reviews

24 March 2014

There’s something admirable about Krasznahorkai’s willingness to write monstrous misery, and the suffering in his earlier works makes for memorable stories. Nonetheless, that same intransigence ultimately limits his early novels: their ceaseless darkness proves anesthetizing when stretched across hundreds of pages. The technique is as likely to bore as to horrify. More…

18 March 2014

David Owen’s The Man Who Invented Saturday Morning: And Other Adventures in American Enterprise should be way, way more famous than it is. Somebody reissue it. The collection of essays — published in Harper’s and the Atlantic in the 1980s— is about advertising, market research, how to get people to do what you want them to do. Owen goes to Liverpool with a bunch of Beatles fanatics, attends a convention for convention planners, close-reads trade magazines, explains how divorce rates influence the toy industry. More…

16 December 2013

From roughly the mid-1910s until the end of the 1930s, a handful of Russian engineers and artists took it upon themselves to remake the practice of music in the image of a revolutionary utopia. In contrast to the better-remembered Prokofiev and Shostakovich, these inventors were mostly outsiders to formal musical traditions, and they believed that the future of music lay not in new compositional styles, but in new technologies for the production of sound. More…

13 November 2013

In Stockholm, as in New York, life is full of banality; but it’s a different banality, without credit card debt or massive student loans. You spoiled Scandinavian! Do you have any idea how much it costs to have a child—even just one—in New York? But Knausgaard probably doesn’t. Politics are conspicuously absent from the first two volumes of My Struggle, despite its provocative title. More…

30 September 2013

The reader holding Bough Down for the first time will see a collage of text partly blocked by a translucent flap with the texture of thick wax paper on which the title is written in what looks like a scrawny longhand until you notice that the letters look more like wires bent and threaded into shape, or stitches on a wound. More…

15 July 2013

We need better rhetorical, analytic, and imaginative tools for figuring the ruling class as a class, for conceptualizing not how a member feels but how the group acts. Hierarchies, and the preference for psychologizing that travels with them (what an older generation might have called bourgeois humanism), draw us towards character. We need to be thinking about plot. More…

1 May 2013

Cultural resistance to the influence of advertising on popular music may be at a forty-year low, but there is still plenty of music that remains practically if not ideologically detached from “commercial interests.” More…

13 March 2013

Few novelists have monopolized a verbal possibility the way Welsh has “cunt” and its permutations. Writing “cunt” used to get novelists sued, but for Welsh it is metronomic, the rhythm-giving pulse of his style. In Skagboys, “cunt” is said in anger, in joy, in puzzlement, in pain, in sex, at sea, with syringes dangling from arms and teeth from their gums. More…

11 March 2013

“There is no such thing as a complete consciousness,” he writes. “All about us lie the remnants of our recent bicameral past.” He attributes one of the most mysterious mental phenomena—the sense that ideas come to us unbidden, from some external location—to the fact that our brains were once inhabited by gods…It happens in moments of inspiration, late at night, when the writer is all alone. More…

8 March 2013

In its time and for a long time after, the Haitian Revolution was “unthinkable.” By now the Haitian revolution is thinkable. At Haiti-focused gatherings of foreign-aid donors—the same nations that once colonized dark places—the revolution is invoked as testament to an inherent Haitian spirit, or as evidence that Haiti will rise again. It is as though Haiti’s moment of birth were its last triumph. More…

25 February 2013

Joe-1 stands forlornly on empty street corners and in green, empty parks, sometimes casting a shadow, sometimes not. He doesn’t seem like much of a threat. He is in Washington D.C.,—always alone, always in an empty frame. Sometimes he seems to be waiting for someone; but no one ever comes. According to the titles of the photos, he’s cruising. But how can you cruise in an empty city? More…

30 January 2013

Over the course of the trilogy . . . the Great War proceeds senselessly, destroying all in its wake. But a series that begins by being about the ways in which individual psyches experience and process the catastrophic consequences of War, with a capital W, also becomes a study of the more private and idiosyncratic internal wars that arise from the complexities of class, family, and sex. More…

19 November 2012

The Sena represents a new form of collective in the city, but it’s one that has nearly destroyed the progressive groups that left-wing social scientists like Sengupta would like to see. It’s easy for progressives to forget that collectives exist on both the left and the right, and that the decline of left-wing collectives doesn’t necessarily result in the absence of collectives more generally. More…

Originally published in Issue 15: Amnesty

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31 October 2012

Now we’ve burned half the available oil, or close to it, and burning it (along with so much coal) has altered the earth’s equilibrium. Our future, like our past, may be virtually free of oil, and global culture, and many of the social safeguards we enjoy. Thus the novel of future catastrophe threatens to become a version of the historical novel. More…

Originally published in Issue 6: Mainstream

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24 October 2012

This is the odd space these Theory Generation novels inhabit, making them peculiar novels of ideas. Their writers have read enough Theory at a young enough age to be in continued thrall to its power; they do justice to the disorienting shock those texts once had, and perhaps still have. Yet they are old enough to ironize (tenderly or bitterly) that power. More…

24 September 2012

Amis seemingly can’t resist having his characters comment on the state of the language. Throughout his novels, they give impromptu lectures on etymologies and points of usage. His dialogue is autotelic: it tells us how it should be read. But London’s informal accent has changed over the years, and Amis’s ears have not stayed open to it. More…

13 September 2012

The last few years have been good for hip hop nerds, bringing along with the usual mixtapes and albums an unexpected load of books. It began with Jay-Z’s deluxe coffee-table memoir Decoded. Then there was My Infamous Life by Albert Johnson, otherwise known as Prodigy of Mobb Deep, and an autobiography by Common. Ice-T has added to the pile, and Fifty Cent has released a young adult story about bullying. (He’s against it.) More…

6 August 2012

The language has the simplistic truthiness of therapy, rather than the complex precision of poetry. But there is no reason to doubt that Winterson is telling the truth. So why doesn’t Mars-Jones believe Winterson? Because she sounds too self-confident. “Martyrs at the stake have spoken with more diffidence,” he writes. Apparently one can only have a change of heart if shy and uncertain. More…

20 July 2012

A tremendous amount of desire is expressed in The Swerve. It is the desire, first and foremost, to present the modern age as a definitive solution to the human problem. Greenblatt wants Lucretius to be telling us it is OK to love the world and to be engaged with one another in the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. More…

18 July 2012

When ExxonMobil returns to the spotlight, many of the stories are of an organization with the extraordinary political access, security, and legal and financial resources one expects from the world’s largest company. But ExxonMobil in Coll’s portrait just as often ends up far from the transnational, omnipotent force of the popular imagination. More…

12 March 2012

Let’s start this thing how John Sullivan would, if he were writing it. There would be a brisk lede, too conversational to call punchy. The astute reader would already know he was reading someone who has mastered the conventions of magazine journalism so completely that he can’t quite take them seriously. More…

29 February 2012

For all his manifest limitations Houellebecq is a writer who bears thinking about—one of few to have emerged from Europe in the last twenty years with any real claim to importance. It is dispiriting that such a preeminent novelist should also be such a tawdry one, and pointless to deny that much of Houellebecq’s force as a writer derives from his ability to tap into base instincts. Still, he isn’t a fraud. More…

17 February 2012

Adam Gordon, the narrator of Ben Lerner’s debut novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, is in Madrid for a year on a poetry fellowship. He’s there to write a long, research-driven poem on the literary legacy of the Spanish Civil War. That’s the reason he’s memorized, at least: he doesn’t really know Spanish history, nor Spanish literature, nor—or so he insists—Spanish. More…

14 February 2012

Female experience constituted art up until the point it ceased to be identical with male experience. (Flaubert to Colet: “You are a poet shackled to a woman!”) And so to live one’s life as a woman was at odds with living one’s life as if it were a work of art—not just because certain elements particular to female existence tended not to make their way into most novels but because most novels, if they were good, refused to acknowledge that the world maintained such crucial distinctions. There should always and only be the human—and we all wanted to be human. More…

2 February 2012

Even though The Stranger’s Child is less titillating than Hollinghurst’s earlier novels, I don’t think this has anything to do with an ideological softening. In fact, for all the playful narrative possibilities of Hollinghurst’s other books, with their non-traditional, non-futural, anti-marriage-plot-like couplings, I’d venture that The Stranger’s Child is oddly more uncompromising in its vision. More…

20 December 2011

It takes confidence to sit in front of an audience, wearing clothes you may have slept in, using your rubbery face as your primary prop, to discuss warmly but ultimately damningly, for nearly two hours, a man you never met. A man thought of as a rare contemporary hero. A man who died five weeks earlier. What gives Mike Daisey the confidence and endurance is, I suspect, justice. More…

13 October 2011

Born in Rehevot in 1944, Milchan is an eleventh-generation Israeli. Yasser Arafat reportedly told him, “You’re more Palestinian than me.” His “ancestors on one side can be traced back to the great medieval biblical commentator Rashi, and on the other side almost to King David.” This of course would make Milchan “almost” related to Jesus, which would make him—“almost”—related to God. More…

11 October 2011

New York makes so much noise about itself, discusses itself so endlessly on its streets and in its bars, lends its name so freely to magazines and websites and newspapers, that the novelist foolhardy enough to engage with this nonstop tantrum of a place has little choice but to turn himself or herself into a noise-comprehender or a noise-amplifier. I wasn’t aware that a third path exists until I read Teju Cole’s Open City. More…

7 October 2011

He lambasted an essay’s “methane” and praised another for its “sheer sphincter-shattering beauty.” Writing a short essay to render something you loved endlessly was “trying to blow a watermelon through a straw.” Most writing was “written half-asleep and read half-asleep,” whereas he was immaculately alive, which made you terribly eager to show that you were all there as well. More…

6 October 2011

The Alcove One boys had little to do with what neoconservatism ultimately became. More importantly, the “conversion” narrative—in which erstwhile leftists or liberals saw the light after being, in Kristol’s infamous phrase, “mugged by reality”—mischaracterizes the neocons’ intellectual development, which was hawkishly anti-communist almost from the very beginning. More…

4 October 2011

“Books aren’t about ‘real life,’” a minor character says early on in Jeffrey Eugenides’s new novel. “Books are about other books.” In a clever literalization, The Marriage Plot is very much about other books. Eugenides announces this on the first page, in an inventory of Madeleine’s bookshelf, and as the novel progresses and the books mentioned or quoted or discussed pile up, the book’s bookishness is only confirmed. More…

3 October 2011

The novels Schryer selects chart the fleeting period when “social trustee professionals”—“professionals who combine specialized expertise with a commitment to public service”—were not only the principal purveyors but also the major subject of American fiction. The postwar period saw a glut of novels about professors and their ilk, the students and writers floating about their periphery. More…

14 September 2011

I remember the first time I ordered cable television on my own behalf, how the company representative, a faceless woman with a practiced monotone, prattled on over the phone, reciting the prices and programming details of the various packages she could offer me, until at last, confounded, I broke in: “Look,” I said. “The only thing I care about is ESPN.” More…

22 June 2011

“Luc Boltanski’s On Critique: A Sociology of Emancipation, published in French in 2009, has just come out in translation from Polity, and I’m really learning from it.” “Fatale by Jean-Patrick Manchette is a creepy exciting little French book.” Our summer reading recommendations keep coming, with more thrillers, biographies, and Kathleen Hanna. More…

21 June 2011

“I’ve been reading Houellebecq’s new novel The Map and the Territory. As of about halfway through, I can report no sex.” “I’d like to propose that all American teenagers give their copies of Please Kill Me and Letters to a Young Poet a rest and instead read Alice Echols’s impressive history of American radical feminism.” Editors and contributors share their favorite memoirs, novels, and philosophical treatises for the summer. More…

20 June 2011

But what if the intern’s gift sucks? It’s better—less thorny—to be paid a salary and maintain the distinct distance commerce imposes. In fact, the word “professional” as we tend to use it refers to exactly this personal remove. (Phoning your boyfriend from the office: unprofessional.) Then employers don’t have to pretend to compensate in attention or favors, nor can they resent such compensations. More…

14 June 2011

Levé is hardly the only contemporary writer who seeks to rescue spontaneous engagement with one’s surroundings from the rush and emotional sterility of most daily communication. But while writers like Michel Houellebecq and Gary Shteyngart express contemporary disconnectedness through characters and plots that embody alienation and competition, Levé is concerned only with the way it feels to be bombarded by discrete facts. More…

10 June 2011

Cercas explains that he tried for two years to write the story of the events of 23 February as fiction, as an experimental version of The Three Musketeers, but that he foundered against the fact that the reality itself had become fictional: this was an event that everyone had listened to live on the radio, and later seen on television, and saw again each subsequent year on television. More…

8 June 2011

For Rodgers, words and ideas really are tools: not only do they help us make sense of the world, but they also help us remake the world. Of course, anyone who has been put to work in an industrial factory or at an internet terminal might reasonably quarrel with that view: those material conditions seem to be the main things shaping our world, giving us a sense of constraint or possibility. More…

7 June 2011

When Marie NDiaye won the Prix Goncourt in November 2009, the event incited two discrete histoires scandaleuses in France. The first, decidedly smaller in magnitude, was that NDiaye refused to accept the title of “first black woman to win the prize.” “I don’t represent anything or anyone,” she told Agence France-Presse. “I grew up in a world that was 100 percent French.” More…

6 June 2011

As a novelty, coffee was initially the object of some suspicion, as Nabil Matar shows in an inspired chapter of his Islam in Britain. While some claimed miraculous benefits from it, among its feared consequences were that it “causeth vertiginous headheach, and maketh lean much, occasioneth waking, and the Emirods, and asswages lust, and sometimes breeds melancholly.” More…

20 April 2011

In L. J. Davis’s excellent A Meaningful Life, published a year after Desperate Characters, Lowell Lake, married managing editor of “a second-rate plumbing-trade weekly,” impulsively purchases a brownstone in Fort Greene. Once home to an industrial baron, it is now a half-decayed rooming house. The novel is dense with details of Lowell’s labor: by its final third, neither he nor the narrative leaves the house. More…

27 January 2011

“Between Camus, Sartre, and Genet, Americans rarely escape the educational system without some exposure to French postwar fiction. But when it comes to Germans, it tends to be Sebald or bust.” Editors and contributors share their favorite books they read in 2010, from climate change thrillers and anthropological masterpieces to historical novels, new and classic poetry, and unconventional biographies. More…

26 January 2011

If novelist and critic Gabriel Josipovici has, for much of his career, written from the literary margin, it is because he has deliberately positioned himself as an anathema to the English establishment. He has pledged himself with monomaniacal devotion to arguing the cause of modernism, a form he would have us all recognize as the only viable mode of aesthetic expression. More…

25 January 2011

In 1990 the economist Amartya Sen published a piece in the New York Review of Books the title of which had a strange quality of revelation and tabloid-worthy scandal. “More Than One Hundred Million Women are Missing” drew from new research to reveal that women’s mortality rates outside of Europe, the US, and Japan dramatically outstripped men’s. More…

24 January 2011

In taking up the topic of the Arabs and the Holocaust, Gilbert Achcar, a Lebanese leftist who teaches at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, is choosing to venture out from the pro-Palestinian lines just at the point where all the Zionist guns are already aimed. His book admits the worst about his fellow Arabs and goes on as it can from there. It’s hard to tell whether the undertaking is very brave or very foolhardy. More…

8 December 2010

There’s no way around it: Commonwealth is an irritating book. It shoves injustice in your face and then, having gotten your attention, refuses to hold still and look at the war or suffering or whatever, but instead soars so high into an atmosphere of self-generated abstraction that very soon you can no longer recognize any earthly landmarks at all. More…

9 November 2010

In-person communication feels binary to me now: subjects are either private, confessional, and soulful or frantically current, determined mostly by critical mass, interesting only in their ephemeral status. Increasingly these modes of talk seem mutually exclusive. You can pull someone aside—away from the party, onto the fire escape—and confess to a foible or you can stay inside with the group and make a joke about something everyone’s read online. More…

29 September 2010

More than elsewhere, the 1968 protests in Germany were a means of reckoning with the country’s past as well as a rebellion against the present. This has made German debates about the legacy of 1968 uniquely divisive. In Germany, right-wing detractors do not just hold 1968 responsible for the usual litany of sins from sexual lawlessness to moral vacuity; they also blame the 1968 generation for making impossible a healthy patriotism and for permanently disgracing the German nation. More…

9 September 2010

The most controversial rap song in history, unfortunately, is not actually a rap song. “Cop Killer” was released in March 1992, one year after Rodney King’s beating and one month before the riots that followed his attackers’ acquittal. It included the lyric—sung, not spoken—“Cop killer / Fuck police brutality!” and was condemned by Tipper Gore in a Washington Post op-ed called “Hate, rape, and rap.” And still, it isn’t rap. More…

9 September 2010

How does one come to have certain ideas about LA without actually experiencing it? Between 1980 and 2007, I’d watched any number of movies about the city (Pretty Woman, Shampoo, Double Indemnity) and some TV shows, too (Beverly Hills 90210; The Hills). I’d listened to The Doors, Jane’s Addiction, and X. At a certain point, I’d also begun fact-checking at a celebrity weekly. Most crucially, however, I’d read Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero. More…

9 September 2010

The impact of early Cahiers on global film culture is undeniable. As the New Yorker’s Richard Brody wrote recently, reflecting on a Sight and Sound poll of film books in which Truffaut, Bazin, and the politique’s principal American exponent Andrew Sarris all took top five spots, the nouvelle vague “is still the cinema’s center of gravity.” But at the heart of this phenomenon is a myth of Cahiers’s priority that is impossible to sustain, and Bickerton’s book only amplifies it. More…

9 September 2010

Berman’s writing in his new book, The Flight of the Intellectuals, is tighter, more claustrophobic. Gone are those sensational sentences; present are rage-filled declarations. The intellectuals have been willingly duped by a smooth Muslim con man; more important, they have abdicated their responsibility to anti-fascism and human rights. Berman is angrier than ever before, and indeed maybe for the first time. More…

9 September 2010

The disconnect in Russia between language and reality can at times become disturbing. It isn’t just the standard “double-talk” of politicians, a screen of incomprehensible loan-words and convoluted syntax. It’s worse: a feeling that the basic descriptions of reality don’t correspond to their objects. Subway escalators that were working five minutes ago are arbitrarily declared “broken”; stores take random and unpredictable “technical breaks,” even if the technicality is a cigarette. More…

26 July 2010

As the novel goes on we find that we are treated to a spectacle of suffering humanity, not displayed to provoke us to outraged enlightenment, but for our pleasure. We like Kathy’s plainness, her simple thoughtfulness, and her growing awareness of pain gives us a charge too. More…

26 May 2010

D’Agata is at his best when he sheds the artifice of the lyric essay and writes straightforwardly about Yucca Mountain. He adroitly parses the project’s byzantine network of claims and counter-claims, reports and rejoinders, assurances and recriminations, risk assessments and ten-thousand-year forecasts—the endless generation of facts to supplant facts. More…

24 May 2010

The Berlin U-Bahn, like the New York subway, is a surprisingly easy place to feel alone. People avoid eye contact in the crush, and the German announcer’s voice has a lilting softness at odds with the language’s guttural reputation. For the year I lived in Berlin, the U-Bahn was where I spent time in my own head, easing into the day. It was unusual when, riding the U1 through Kreuzberg, my faux-solitude was interrupted by the onset of paranoia. More…

22 May 2010

Look up Greil Marcus’s chapter on Moby-Dick in Harvard’s New Literary History of America, and you’ll find a TV Guide description of John Huston’s 1956 film version: “A mad captain enlists others in his quest to kill a white whale.” It’s Melville’s epic reduced to a sentence of plot summary, which is funny, maybe. But then Marcus glosses the sentence, “Isn’t that America, the thing itself, right there?” and it starts to get confusing. More…

19 May 2010

Is the philosophical program that emerges out of this double movement, between tradition and innovation, even coherent? It seems to me that x-phi simply cannot decide what it wants to do. More…

18 May 2010

Great or only willing greatness, Reality Hunger neither dissolves nor founds but slips into a growing mode of authorial self-presentation, an instance of what I’d call either the fallacy of “hipness by analogy,” or “the fantasy of the writer as hip-hop DJ.” More…

23 April 2010

Given that most critics are people who have devoted their careers to reading and rereading their favorite books—romantics who pursue the ideal in everything they read—finding Pushkin in Pelham and so on—there is something mysterious and even, as Kundera says, scandalous in Moretti’s willed and scientific choice to read what is formally interesting, with so little regard for what he likes. More…

4 March 2010

There are a few obvious reasons why rural society (or lack of society) takes up so much space in our literature. The literary magazine Avsagd Hagle once did a tongue-in-cheek analysis of contemporary Norwegian poetry and found a surprisingly high frequency of the words “hand,” “bird,” and “tree.” More…

3 March 2010

Solnit brings to public light the findings of academic social scientists, who have discovered that in periods of disaster people more often than not behave with altruism and empathy towards each other, rather than, as conventional understanding has it, violently and selfishly. This discovery alone is fascinating and unexpected, but in Paradise Solnit wants more. More…

27 February 2010

Together with the quaint aesthetics of the Scandinavian countryside, this socialist backdrop is precisely what makes the genre work. It’s shocking enough when a bloated corpse turns up floating in Stockholm’s pristine, well-managed waterways or when a serial killer disrupts the huddles of little red cottages that dot the Swedish countryside. More…

26 February 2010

The expectation in the American West, when looking at a map of public and private lands, is one of apparent socialism: the closest this country gets, at least on paper, to the appropriation of property by the people. The numbers are well known: 85 percent of Nevada is owned by the federal government, 57 percent of Utah, 50 percent of Idaho, even 45 percent of California. More…

30 November 2009

Julie Metz is a woman who has been wronged by love. Her husband, “a writer and food enthusiast,” according to his obituary in the New York Times, cheated on her, repeatedly, exhaustively, with everyone from trusted neighbors to business-trip strangers. And now he has been punished: not by God, but by his widow. More…

13 November 2009

For thirty years there were whispers about Laura. The manuscript that the dying author in 1977 told his family to destroy was not the Holy Grail, but the final king’s chamber in the pyramid of an oeuvre that rises stunningly from the literature of the twentieth century. After decades of hesitation, Nabokov’s son Dmitri is about to present the opus posthumum to the public. More…

31 October 2009

In July 2008, while traveling on a Greyhound bus between Edmonton and Winnipeg, Vincent Li beheaded his sleeping seatmate, a man he had never met, with a butcher knife. Li held up the head in crazed triumph as the bus screeched to a halt and the other passengers rushed out. More…

29 October 2009

On December 7th, 2006, in a blog entry on “Offprints in the Digital Age,” honestly reprinted in its entirety, n+1 friend and frequent contributor Caleb Crain assured his readers, “not even I am so nineteenth-century as to have my essays privately printed.” But he has now gone and done just that! Not just his essays but the blog itself, “Steamboats Are Ruining Everything.” More…

28 October 2009

Crawford’s book, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, describes the emotional and cerebral satisfactions of skilled manual labor; it is an attempt to restore dignity to, and propose renewed pedagogical emphasis on, such work in the softer, more circumspect era of the “knowledge economy.” More…

4 August 2009

When the reading is over and the inevitable question-and-answer session begins—and there’s nothing wrong with that, of course—the question invariably arises. “When exactly did you start writing?” As though it could be traced back to an exact date and time, like one’s first cigarette, or the loss of one’s virginity. More…

4 August 2009

Communist ideologues are not known for their parenting skills. Take Marx, who saw families (especially his own) as obstructions to political ends; Che, a notorious ladies’ man who barely saw his children at all; Mao, with his four wives and ten (or more) kids; or even Stalin, who, before driving Nadezhda Alliluyeva to suicide, impregnated a 13-year-old during his Siberian exile. More…

4 August 2009

Books on atheism have been selling like—well, like spiritual self-help books. The unexpected publishing success of Dawkins and Dennett, Hitchens and Harris has left some of us, at least on the more religious side of the Atlantic, fantasizing that we might be at the dawn of a secular New Age. More…

3 August 2009

In a 1998 essay recently reprinted in his book Close Calls with Nonsense, critic Stephen Burt christened the “Elliptical school” of poetry, which encompasses writers prone to “hinting, punning, or swerving away from a never-quite-unfolded backstory,” who “believe provisionally in identities (in one—or in at least one—‘I’ per poem),” but who, amid their “fast-forward and cut-up,” “suspect the I’s they invoke.” More…

3 August 2009

As the US prepared to invade Iraq, Arthur Houghton began to worry about the fate of the country’s archaeological heritage. An antiquities collector and former White House international policy analyst, Houghton tried to locate the office in the Defense or State Department concerned with protecting Iraq’s heritage during the invasion. More…

3 August 2009

It’s clear why academics would be interested in a book about peer review, but How Professors Think is being marketed for a general readership. Here, peer review serves as a proxy for all the acts of judgment that make up the university, all the decisions about who is admitted, who is rewarded, what is worth studying, and why. More…

16 June 2009

The most striking pages of Beyond Belief tell the tale of Texas Rangers’ All Star Josh Hamilton’s astoundingly precocious talent. At the age of six, Hamilton could throw a baseball 50 miles per hour—his first peg from shortstop in Little League knocked his bewildered first baseman to the ground. More…

31 May 2009

Alex Ross is the most important arts critic writing for the New Yorker. I do not mean he is the best writer (though he may be) or the most intelligent (also possible). Rather, more than his contemporaries, he draws an attention of rare sensitivity to modern classical music—a sphere of cultural activity that shows few signs of recovering in any respect from its mid-20th century decline. More…

31 May 2009

Considered in the most cynical light, the American system of education as it now exists is a status machine, absorbing young citizens, sorting them according to rigid criteria. Walter Kirn’s new memoir comes tagged with the catchphrase “Percentile is destiny in America.” The book takes the form of a confession, as Kirn deploys his experiences to expose a sham. More…

31 May 2009

This God- and sin-haunted man and the writing he produced so meticulously over the course of a half-century have come to stand, in our collective literary consciousness, for dullness, complacency, and an utter lack of relevance. This spring’s double-barreled canonization at least allows us finally to pose the question: Was Cheever great? More…

Image: Katja Mater, Build #3, from the series Book Buildings, 2007. c-print, 24" x 28". Courtesy the artist.