• print • Dec/Jan 2014

    The Man Who Has Everything

    The Everything Store, Brad Stone’s reverential biography of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, isn’t a book you should feel obliged to read. It doesn’t bristle with character development, narrative arc, or unexpected lessons. To be sure, Stone, a tech correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek, gamely plays up minor dramas and speed bumps that studded Amazon’s path: the stock price dipping and soaring; sagas of hiring and firing; battles over how to phrase direct-marketing e-mails or whether to offer free shipping. But we all know where that path is heading: world domination. Almost two decades after

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2014

    Nerds of Prey

    By the spring of 2008, nine months after the first iPhone reached the trembling hands of the American consumer, Steve Jobs had grown so suspicious of Google’s nascent Android project that he took an unusual step: He personally traversed the six miles from Apple’s central command in Cupertino to Google’s Mountain View headquarters to hold a meeting with the wizards of the great global search engine on their turf.

    What he saw there incensed him: a smartphone prototype that offered many of the same features highlighted on the iPhone, like multifinger touch—an innovation he claimed as Apple’s

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2014

    Rites of Spring

    Henri Lefebvre’s notion of “Revolution as Festival,” which the great French political thinker developed in his account of popular uprisings of the twentieth century, continues to inspire today’s global Left and its ideas of “people power.” Cultural theorist Gavin Grindon cannily sees this vernacular spirit of celebration in “the global cycle of social struggles since the 1990s, from Reclaim the Streets to the Seattle World Trade Organization Csarnival Against Capitalism, Euromayday and Climate Camp to Occupy’s Debt Jubilee.” And this same narrative—which at times approached a shared, lived

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2014

    The Family Business

    John Foster Dulles was a dullard and a prig. “He was driven to find and confront enemies, quick to make moral judgments, and not given to subtlety or doubt,” the former New York Times reporter Stephen Kinzer writes in his new biography of the Dulles brothers. In 1957, Foster (as he was familiarly known) gave his sister Eleanor a Christmas present of “several yellow legal pads” and a check. Kinzer quotes the British politician Harold Macmillan, summarizing a meeting with the Eisenhower administration’s dour new secretary of state: “His speech was slow, but it easily kept pace with his thoughts.”

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2014

    Marching On

    When you visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC, it’s not hard to see how it inspired a small controversy. This monumental King, sculpted by Lei Yixin, an artist from the People’s Republic of China, is a stern-faced titan, arms folded, with his uncompromising gaze fixed in the distance.

    Critics questioned the social-realist style and wondered if this wasn’t a far cry from the King who gave the “I Have a Dream” speech and accepted the Nobel Peace Prize.

    Then again, there’s something about the memorial that fits. King was uncompromising in that he refused to bend to the

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2013

    The Worst Years of Our Lives

    I'm so pissed off after reading these books I can hardly type. But my ire begins with baseball—and the same is true for Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel who lost a son in Iraq.

    Been to a game lately? Try to grab just a few hours of peace and fun, and what do you get? A toxic brew of manufactured religious piety and tin-hat patriotism, served up in force-feedings of "God Bless America" and coercive "salutes" to "wounded warriors" bused in for a game.

    Bacevich, a West Point graduate who now writes perceptive, bristling essays and books from his perch at Boston University, puts his finger

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2013

    Dead Center

    On page 102 of The Center Holds, former Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter’s account of the 2012 election (and his second book about the presidency of Barack Obama), we learn that the president was facing a problem as his 2012 “reelect” approached: Liberals didn’t particularly care what happened to him. “Reenergizing the base was tough,” Alter writes. Fortunately, however, Obama got an assist in this task from right-wing governors such as Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio, whose wars on public-employee unions and their pensions “proved to be powerful motivators for the base.”

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2013

    City on the Make

    As I sit down to write, it’s roughly day 3 of the Washington political class’s overheated response to the release of Mark Leibovich’s This Town, and day 800 or so of what that class regards as the real story: the chatterbox narrative surrounding Mark Leibovich’s This Town. Politico has come forward with its latest report on the surveillance data it’s been collecting on all things “Leibo,” as the rag calls him. Glancing over the dispatch, it’s clear that the crucial question on Washington’s mind is this: Will this saboteur—who has courted no end of damning disclosures from his sources via his

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2013

    First, Do No Harm

    At one point in Five Days at Memorial, Sheri Fink's elaborately researched chronicle of life, death, and the choices in between at a New Orleans hospital immediately following Hurricane Katrina, hospital staffers begin, inevitably, to imagine how the made-for-TV movie of their ordeal would be cast. A nurse named Budo, "dark-haired with a heart-shaped face and thick eyebrows, said she wanted Demi Moore to play her. Her longtime colleague on the night shift, Cheri Landry, short and stout, with hooded eyes, arched brows, and an air of wisdom, would be portrayed by Kathy Bates."

    As things turned

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2013

    Unfair and Unbalanced

    In our unstable neoliberal world, the venerable social ideal of equality is perhaps the most precarious commodity of all. To be sure, evidence of its absence abounds—in the casual enclosure and systematic auctioning of once-public goods, in the gaudy bailouts of our nonproductive financial sector, in the riotous indulgences of the 1 percent and the gnawing penury of the 99. And as the sphere of its exercise has narrowed to the vanishing point, equality seems to have been downgraded into the great dirty secret of our public life—only in contrast to the old Potter Stewart saw, fewer and fewer of

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2013

    Going Underground

    A decade ago, Sudhir Venkatesh inspired the insular world of academic sociology with American Project, his closely observed ethnography of the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago. Venkatesh’s hard-fought insider access was hugely impressive: As he labored for years in the sprawling public-housing project, Venkatesh took participant observation to new heights, documenting the complex social networks that governed life in the Taylor homes.

    By marrying the “thick description” pioneered by the esteemed anthropologist Clifford Geertz with an empirical grounding in the political economy of Chicago’s

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2013

    The Accidental Activist

    The conservative counterrevolution in American politics has its roots, so the story goes, in a broad-based revulsion at the radical excesses and battles of the 1960s. That long right-wing ascendancy continues today in free-market supremacy and hyperindividualism: in sum, a wholesale repudiation of ’60s-movement values. This plot has become the conventional account of the era. Like any master narrative, though, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

    Amid the rightward shift, a host of radical movements flared as well—gay rights, women’s liberation, Puerto Rican independence, prisoners’ rights—suggesting

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