• print • Feb/Mar 2013

    Minding the Market

    In the 1970s and ’80s, the world’s most advanced economies were reconstructed on the basis of principles that had until recently been thought the “prattle of outmoded cranks,” as the Johns Hopkins historian Angus Burgin puts it. But the cranks had a point, and in The Great Persuasion, Burgin gives a sympathetic account of how they went about making it. When John Maynard Keynes’s General Theory appeared in 1936, it won the apostleship of an entire rising generation of economists and the allegiance of Western policy makers. Only in a few isolated redoubts—notably the London School of Economics

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2013

    South of Sane

    “Nude face-eating cannibal?” Carl Hiaasen wrote last year, when the infamous video surfaced. “Must be Miami.”

    It sounds like a joke, but throw in the overpass, homeless victim, and fundamentalist drug-addict murderer, and there really are no other contenders. At least the rest of the world has some inkling of this now. As Hiaasen says, explaining the Sunshine State’s endlessly inventive dysfunction has gotten easier since the 2000 presidential election. But even natives may be surprised, reading T. D. Allman’s tremendous, five-hundred-year history of the state, Finding Florida, at learning

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2013

    Future Shock

    In the gushing, breathless copy that justifies Gavin Newsom’s lead spot in his publisher’s catalogue, we learn that “government cannot keep functioning in a twentieth-century mindset.” We are informed further that Newsom, the present lieutenant governor of California, and formerly the youngest mayor of San Francisco in more than a century, came to his tirelessly sanguine view of digital democracy by overseeing the digital renovation of San Francisco’s city hall. In a flourish as logical as it is grammatical, we learn that “Newsom’s quest to modernize one of America’s most modern cities—and the

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2013

    The Pill Pushers

    Most of us would like to believe that our doctors spend every free moment buried in medical journals, impervious to the long tentacles of drug companies—no matter what their inexhaustible supplies of AstraZeneca pens and Eli Lilly clipboards may suggest to the contrary. But physician and journalist Ben Goldacre takes firm and decisive aim at that comforting myth in Bad Pharma, a sequel of sorts to his 2009 title, Bad Science.

    Thanks to the moral ineptitude of oil and tobacco companies, we’re all familiar with tales of soulless corporations skewing data, buying off critics, and silencing

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2013

    Getting Schooled

    Hope Against Hope takes place in a New Orleans ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, but even more prominent in journalist Sarah Carr’s story is a highly unnatural disaster: American poverty. The daily lives of many New Orleans schoolchildren, before and after Katrina, amount to an ongoing state of emergency, one that can make the stable, orderly enterprise of learning close to impossible. Kids must get up at 5AM so mothers can get to low-wage jobs. Teens get shot, or watch their friends die.

    Carr’s book takes an intimate look at the real people—students, principals, teachers—affected by “school

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2013

    The Signal and the Noise

    Political forecaster Nate Silver, who has made the frontiers of digital speculation his comfort zone, wants you to learn one thing above all else from The Signal and the Noise: Just because a prediction is wrong, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad prediction. And just because it’s right, that doesn’t mean the person who made it is smart.

    Silver doesn’t offer one comprehensive theory for what makes a good prediction in his interdisciplinary tour of forecasting. But he does give us a well-worn literary analogy. Drawing on a pet image used by psychologist Philip Tetlock (who in turn adapted it from

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2013

    Acting Up

    At the end of the summer of 1892, three young and feverishly idealistic Russian immigrants, whose hopes for living in a free and just society had been crushed by their experiences in the Lower East Side slums of Manhattan, were operating a successful ice-cream parlor in Worcester, Massachusetts. They wanted to save enough money to return to Russia, where they believed revolution was imminent.

    But they shifted plans when they got word of pending labor unrest in Homestead, Pennsylvania. After three months of failed negotiations over a wage increase, the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2013

    Seeing Red

    Why is there no socialism in the United States? Why, when the industrialization of every other Western nation was accompanied by the evolution of institutions to insure the population ever more generously against economic risk, did the mightiest industrial nation of all go the other way? (Pace the paranoid fantasies of the Tea Party Right.)

    The most famous answer came from the German sociologist Werner Sombart, who blamed material abundance, arguing in 1906 that “on rafts of beef and apple pie, socialist utopias of every description go down to destruction.” But what about the Great Depression,

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2013

    Narrative Shortcomings

    Prosecutors, a judge, and a jury put Jeffrey MacDonald behind bars more than three decades ago for the murder of his pregnant wife and two young daughters. But according to Errol Morris, he’s been kept there by the power of narrative. “You can escape from prison, but how do you escape from a convincing story?” asks Morris in his new book, A Wilderness of Error.

    The narrative was the handiwork of journalist Joe McGinniss, whose 1983 best seller Fatal Vision portrayed MacDonald, an army physician, as a narcissistic sociopath who killed his family in a diet-pill-fueled rage, then injured himself

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Revolution Nine

    At first glance, The Oath seems to be a curious title for Jeffrey Toobin’s battlefield account of the current state of constitutional combat in the United States. Toobin opens his book with Greg Craig, President Obama’s first White House counsel, spending his first full day in office fretting whether it really mattered that US Supreme Court chief justice John Roberts had slightly misstated the presidential oath of office at the inauguration the day before. To those who knew the oath—as Roberts manifestly did—something did sound wrong when he stumbled over the proper placement of the word “

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Look Out Below

    I opened Twilight of the Elites with some skepticism—not so much out of any quarrel I had with its argument as from worries that stemmed from the conditions of its production. It’s certainly true, as Nation correspondent Chris Hayes argues here, that growing numbers of Americans who’ve worked hard and played by the rules, as Bill Clinton put it, are deciding that the rules have been rigged—by Clinton as well as others—and that something’s wrong with the game itself. But we’re rarely driven to develop such thoughts further, in large part because our income, support networks, cultural tastes,

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Organ Solo

    In 2007, Naomi Wolf warned us that the specter of fascism was haunting America. The radical Right was set to become a homegrown American version of the brownshirts. The free press was withering under a steady stream of disinformation and newspeak. A craven cabal of political elites was bullying the voting public into submission with cries for endless war. There were only a handful of patriots, in Wolf’s estimation, actively stemming the authoritarian tide. To increase their numbers and bolster the democratic cause, she published Give Me Liberty in 2008. The subtitle was A Handbook for American

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