Matthew Price

  • The Good Fight

    There's not much good that reform-minded liberals can take away from the First World War. If the American Civil War was the first modern "total war," World War I greatly accelerated the West's passage into such conflict, involving fully mobilized home fronts and new modes of technological combat that produced unprecedented casualties. The Great War also proved a major setback to the European left, which was helpless as the international socialist movement's working-class constituencies fanned out in support of their home countries' nationalist causes.

    For Adam Hochschild, author of two

  • culture April 23, 2010

    Winston's War: Churchill, 1940-1945 By Max Hastings

    When Hitler had conquered nearly all of Europe, Winston Churchill resisted the considerable pressure to make terms with Germany. Britons take a justifiable pride in their most famous Prime Minster's foresight, and his achievements during the war that followed.

  • Shopping Modernism

    The history of independent bookstores is littered with fallen monuments. Manhattan’s Eighth Street Bookshop counted the Beats and Auden as customers, but it was long gone when I moved to New York in 1992. In the past several years, we’ve lost the wonderful Dutton’s in Los Angeles; the Trover Shop, once an institution on Capitol Hill; and Cody’s in Berkeley (since when aren’t even that city’s good leftist citizens able to keep an independent bookstore open?). There is something inherently ephemeral about the trade, and the obstacles—indifferent publics, high rents, minuscule profit margins—are

  • Bared Minimalist

    Published in 1978, The Stories of John Cheever was a luminous treasure at the end of gravity’s rainbow. In that retrospective collection, Cheever’s fiction faced backward against the ranks of Pynchon, Barth, Gaddis, and Gass to sum up a rapidly vanishing era of smart manners and discreet affluence, but the hulking volume also heralded a new moment for the American short story. (The book sold some half a million copies, a record for short fiction.) Even if the New Yorker formula Cheever had perfected had become a bit tweedy, his sturdy old realism had life in it yet.

    But the second coming of

  • Commuter Literate

    Some writers went on the road; others went to Paris or fought in a war. John Cheever (1912–1982) went to Westchester, New York, where he cultivated his own exclusive patch of the Northeast Corridor. His outward appearance—a bit rumpled, collar frayed, every inch the squire of suburbia—oozed wasp gentility. Cheever did rumpled preppy long before rumpled preppy was cool. Ever the showman, he posed with horses for PR photos, talked in a patrician drawl so thick he made Thurston Howell III seem down-to-earth, lived in a rambling country house, and wrote bittersweet stories set on Manhattan’s East


    A last gasp of sorts—or maybe a sputter—The Devil Gets His Due collects fifty years’ worth of criticism from that other rebellious Jewish literary son of Newark, Leslie Fiedler. Once the bad boy of cultural crit, Fiedler today seems quaint, which isn’t exactly his fault. By now, everybody—or at least everybody acquainted with cultural studies—knows what was really going on between Ishmael and Queequeg, but Fiedler was there first in 1948, when he argued for the centrality of the homoerotic male bond and the “dark skinned beloved” to American literature in “Come Back to the Raft Ag’in, Huck


    The progression of Alfred Kazin from working-class boy out of the Jewish tenements of Brooklyn’s Brownsville to center of the New York literary world is about as close as you can get to a feel-good story of the intellectual life. Born in 1915 to an itinerant painter and his stout wife, she Orthodox, he an orthodox socialist, the young Kazin overcame his stutter and took to books, devouring Blake and Shelley and discovering the nineteenth-century American masters who would become his lifelong passion. A radical but not a joiner in the ’30s, Kazin looked “to literature for strong social argument,


    Modernist culture may have become a museum piece and épater le bourgeois a harmless little slogan, but critics and historians seem unwilling to say good-bye to all that. Earlier this year, the omnivorous Australian critic Clive James weighed in with Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts, a sprawling, ruminative homage to modernismVienna style in all but name.

    The latest installment to thud onto shelves is Peter Gay’s Modernism: The Lure of Heresy from Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond. If James’s freewheeling meditation bops along with all the energy of its unruly

  • Empire Statement

    Although Irish poet and man of letters Derek Mahon calls him the “finest novelist of recent times,” J. G. Farrell has lacked the high profile of other English writers of the late twentieth century. He is sometimes mistaken for James T. Farrell—remarkably, the two died within a few weeks of each other in 1979—but the working-class writer from the rough-and-tumble streets of Chicago’s south side couldn't have been more different from James Gordon Farrell, who haughtily referred to his near-namesake as that “other James Farrell.”

    To Mahon, Farrell was an “aristocrat of the spirit.” Born in 1935,

  • Dateline, Thermopylae

    Taking stock of his habit of reporting from dangerous places, Ryszard Kapuscinski once told an interviewer, “Mine is not a vocation, it’s a mission. I wouldn’t subject myself to these dangers if I didn’t feel that there was something overwhelmingly important—about history, about ourselves—that I felt compelled to get across. This is more than journalism.” Kapuscinski’s celebrated chronicles of war and revolution in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and points elsewhere made him a darling of literary circles, and you hear a lot from his admirers about how he transcended the limits of journalism, how

  • A Tribe of His Own

    In early April 1968, Ralph Ellison took part in a literary festival hosted by the University of Notre Dame, where he joined the likes of Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, and William F. Buckley Jr. on the program. When he took the stage on the evening of the sixth to deliver his remarks, the moment could not have been more charged. The nation was in crisis: Two days earlier, Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated; across the country, cities had exploded in scenes that seemed uncannily to mirror the apocalyptic final sections of Invisible Man, still one of the handful of truly