• pubdates • June 20, 2019

    Why Conspiracies Thrive

    In the dark of the night of July 19, AD 64, a fire broke out in the slums of Rome and, swept along by vicious winds, devastated the town, leveling several districts entirely. The fire burned for six days, died down, was reignited, and burned for three more. Hundreds of people were killed; many more were left destitute and homeless.

    In the midst of it all, the famously conniving Emperor Nero—who was away in his holiday home on a cool hillside when the fires began—was reported by the historian Tacitus to have placidly watched the city burn as he nonchalantly played his fiddle or plucked his

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  • print • Summer 2019

    Severe and Pervasive

    The lawyer and philosopher Linda Hirshman is a second-wave, no-BS feminist who thinks like a law professor and writes with journalistic chops. She’s also known for writing as if white women’s middle-class experience were universal. It was little wonder that Hirshman dedicated her 2006 manifesto, Get to Work, to a similarly contentious figure, Betty Friedan. In that book, Hirshman laid out a five-point “strategic plan” for “all women to find and be able to pay for the kinds of satisfying lives that a grown up should want to lead.” In short, she rails against being a stay-at-home mom (as she puts

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  • print • Summer 2019

    A World to Win

    Capitalism isn’t working. We know this deep in our bones even if we live in one of the few cities where life is bustling and busy and we can pretend that this situation can continue. Yet even in those cities, the signs are everywhere. They are in the ubiquitous homeless population sleeping in the door-nooks of closed stores or in tent cities. In New York, where I live, they are in the crumbling subway system, its stations jam-packed with frustrated commuters trying to get to work even as the city begs to give tax breaks to Amazon for the honor of hosting its new campus. The system is broken.

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  • print • Summer 2019

    Speak, Memories

    Last Witnesses was the second book by Svetlana Alexievich, originally published in 1985, the same year as her first, The Unwomanly Face of War. Both of them, like the three major works that followed—Zinky Boys (1990), Voices from Chernobyl (1997), and Secondhand Time (2013)—could be briefly and superficially described as oral histories. They indeed consist of testimony, recorded and transcribed, by witnesses to major events and periods in the history of the former Soviet Union.

    Oral history is an important research tool, but it has not often been treated as literature. Although it obviously

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  • print • Summer 2019

    Full Metal Racket

    The aim of venture capital is to bet on the long tail: Invest in many different start-ups, knowing most will fail but hoping at least one big success will more than offset the losses. For this reason, the business has always been focused on technology companies, which offer the greatest potential for fast growth and outsize returns. Most venture capital firms today are located in Silicon Valley, and nearly all the major tech companies, including Amazon, Apple, and Google, relied on venture capital funding to get off the ground. The playbook is simple: Raise capital from institutional investors

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  • print • Summer 2019

    Our Woman in Tehran

    It’s six o’clock in Tehran and Kate Millett needs a drink. It’s not easy, being a maquisard of the feministas. It is March 1979, only weeks after the departure of the Shah of Shahs. Iran is in the throes of revolution. Streets are being renamed, monuments defaced, pissed upon, torn down; there is graffiti everywhere. Call it the chrysalis phase after five decades of Pahlavi absolutism: No one knows what’s being born, but everyone wants it to be beautiful. (Beauty, alas, is in the eye of the beholder.) Millett, forty-four years old, tousle-haired and bespectacled in the frog glasses of her era,

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  • print • Summer 2019

    Between the Reenactments

    Not many writers mix up geniality and astuteness as enjoyably as Tony Horwitz does. He’s got a rare knack for spotting topics whose eccentricity lets him juxtapose the baleful past and the cuckoo present in arresting, provocative, hugely entertaining ways. Most readers first discovered his originality thanks to 1998’s Confederates in the Attic, which turned the wacky world of Civil War reenactors into fodder for an inspired, seriocomic meditation on the war itself as America’s ultimate unfinished business.

    He did it again with Blue Latitudes, following in Captain James Cook’s watery footsteps

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  • print • Summer 2019

    Totalitarian Recall

    There was a time, according to A. B. Magil and Henry Stevens, authors of the urgent 1938 tract The Peril of Fascism: The Crisis of American Democracy, when “fascist” was “the most commonly used epithet in the American political vocabulary.” Do tell!

    What existed back then was an entrenched, self-identified fascist regime in Italy; a newer, kindred one in Nazi Germany, which had adopted the Italian ideal of a “totalitarian state”; a quasi-fascist government in Japan; and a fascist-inspired revolt in Spain, not to mention sympathetic parties and youth movements throughout Europe.

    But what do

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  • print • Summer 2019

    A History of Violence

    Writing history is a tricky business, one that always reflects the biases and agendas of the author. This holds doubly true for what is not written about, those historical events that almost everyone would rather ignore. Few people are familiar with the events of May 1911 in the La Laguna region of Mexico, when the Maderistas, a group of revolutionaries, took the city of Torreón and slaughtered more than three hundred Chinese immigrants. The Maderistas mutilated their victims’ bodies, looted their businesses, and destroyed what had once been a vibrant enclave.

    This “small genocide,” as novelist

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  • review • May 23, 2019

    Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family by Mitchell S. Jackson

    Years ago, I was shopping for a dinner party with my roommate. Our Chicago neighborhood—white ethnic and racist turned gentrified—hadn’t flipped enough to produce a decent seafood counter, so we found ourselves at the Jewel-Osco on Canal, blocks away from Maxwell Street. Witnessing this odd duo (me, black and from the south suburbs; my friend, first-generation Polish from the northwest suburbs), the clerk eyed us from behind the counter. Wrapping up our order in plastic, he asked, “So, where are you from?”

    My roommate began to tell his life story, but I sensed something sinister in the clerk’s

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    Show Your Work

    Bhaskar Sunkara’s Socialist Manifesto begins by entering an imaginary world. It’s 2018 and “you” are a die-hard fan of Jon Bon Jovi, “the most popular and critically acclaimed musician of this era.” So devoted are you to the singer-songwriter that you’ve found work at the pasta sauce factory his father owns in New Jersey. The job isn’t great, but it’s better than nothing. After a year, your wages rise from $15 an hour to $17, a 13 percent increase that fails to match your recent 25 percent increase in productivity; meanwhile your colleague Debra, who’s been working there for three years, is

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  • print • Apr/May 2019

    Psycho Analysis

    “I never pretended to be an expert on millennials,” writes Bret Easton Ellis halfway through White, and the reader desperately wishes this were true. Ellis is best known for American Psycho, the controversial 1991 cult novel about an image-obsessed Wall Street serial killer; the film adaption would star Christian Bale as psychotic investment banker Patrick Bateman. Following several increasingly metafictional novels and a few bad screenplays, White is Ellis’s first foray into nonfiction, and the result is less a series of glorified, padded-out blog posts than a series of regular, normal-size

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