• print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2010

    Arms and the Man

    In the final days of the Soviet Union, when the old icons were fast decaying and any future ones were frantically packing off to escape the ruins, the guardians of Russia’s past had few relics to showcase. One of the last heroes standing, a Stalin Prize winner and two-time Hero of Socialist Labor, was Mikhail Kalashnikov, designer of the world’s most famous automatic rifle, the AK-47. Even after the USSR fell, Kalashnikov—now ninety—has enjoyed an afterlife as a living monument to the days when the Kremlin’s fiat reached from Eastern Europe to Southeast Asia and well into Africa. With characteristic

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2010

    Turning to Nostalgia

    In her magisterial history of classical dance, Jennifer Homans tells the story of ballet’s life over four centuries: dance conventions and dance-obsessed people, ideas and political movements, sacred and profane gestures. Apollo’s Angels is a cultural history of the highest order—like Anne Hollander’s Seeing Through Clothes or Frances Yates’s The Art of Memory. The book, with its quiet, encyclopedic knowledge, relates more than a decade spent in archives around the world, reading generations of scholars. The result is neither a digital-age mash-up nor an overlong compilation of “the greatest

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2010

    Sore Winner

    I can’t remember whether it’s the author (played by Charlotte Rampling) or her publisher (Charles Dance), but in François Ozon’s film The Swimming Pool one of them remarks that literary prizes are like hemorrhoids: Sooner or later, every asshole gets one. This sentiment might have been used as an epigraph to the Austrian author Thomas Bernhard’s My Prizes, an “accounting” of the many literary awards that began coming his way in the mid- 1960s. Being Thomas Bernhard, of course, it’s not just the recipients of these prizes who are “All Assholes”—“a whole row of assholes,” to be precise—it’s also

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2010

    Pride and Prejudice

    Reading America’s destiny in the entrails of its foreign-policy doctrines and wars is no job for amateurs. But in The Icarus Syndrome, Peter Beinart—a Yale-to-Oxford-to-Beltway wunderkind who flew too close to the sun of liberal-hawk glory while he edited the New Republic during the Iraq war—pirouettes to keep his wings from melting and lands safely, bringing us an essay in history that’s insightful, if also a little self-serving.

    When he tells you that Colin Powell judged Paul Wolfowitz’s grand plan for Iraq “the kind of militarily ludicrous suggestion you got from people who had spent their

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2010

    Liberation Impasse

    In his new book, Paco Underhill, a longtime student of consumer behavior, evinces a particular aversion to the word woman. He prefers instead “the female of the species” or “the female of the household” or “the female of the house.” The female of the species, we learn, behaves in a specific, predictable way in hotel lobbies. The female of the species feels about her kitchen the way the male feels about his car. The female of the species prefers certain species of things; for instance, she does not like cookie-cutter mansions, which, “as a species,” convey “aesthetic bankruptcy.”

    These repeated

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2010

    Master’s Mind

    Few books I’ve read carry the visceral impact of Marlene van Niekerk’s Agaat; it is the South African writer’s second novel and fifth book, and it is stunning. Set in the apartheid era of the 1950s into the ’90s, on a dairy farm contentiously run by a desperately unhappy white couple, Milla and Jak de Wet, and their half-adopted, half-enslaved black maid, Agaat, it is about institutional racial violence, intimate domestic violence, human violence against the natural world, pride, folly, self-deception, and the innately mixed, sometimes debased nature of human love. It is especially about how

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2010

    Dapper Dealer

    In 1950, few Americans bought modern art. Fewer still bought modern American art. The rags-to-riches story of the next fifty years, when New York transformed itself into the hothouse of the art world, is well known. Usually, the story centers on art and artists. However, powerful dealers also played a significant, if less examined, part. Two in particular, Sidney Janis (1896–1989) and Leo Castelli (1907–1999), are now emblematic figures from those glory years. They had a telling touch. Something more interesting, that is, than a Midas touch.

    Janis was the pioneering market maker of the period.

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2010

    Crossed Cultures

    A new book, a new genre—just what you’d expect from David Mitchell. Since 1999, this wunderkind of British fiction has produced a globe-spanning chain of nine semifuturistic narratives (Ghostwritten), a coming-of-age thriller set in contemporary Tokyo (Number9Dream), a Chinese box of nested tales that take us from the nineteenth century to about the twenty-third (Cloud Atlas), and a portrait of the artist as a very young Englishman (Black Swan Green). And now for something completely different—a historical novel. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, with its stately, melancholy title, is not

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  • print • Apr/May 2010

    Power Play

    Once upon a time, Ian McEwan was content to snare readers with his literary gamesmanship and stun them into submission with his talent for revealing the unsettling and irresistibly deviant appetites that undergird life. Thanks to early books like First Love, Last Rites (1975), The Cement Garden (1978), and The Comfort of Strangers (1981) and their tightly plotted agonies of flesh and mind, the press gave McEwan the nickname Ian Macabre. While the exact point of progression is arguable, ever since his missing-child epic, The Child in Time (1987), McEwan has undertaken a much larger, more ambitious

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  • print • Apr/May 2010

    Gossip Girl

    It astonished me to learn that Emily Gould has a thing for tattoos. On page 169 of her 208-page memoir, And the Heart Says Whatever, she tells us that she “started getting tattooed,” a verb tense that implies she’ll continue to add to what sounds like an exotic if thematically disjointed exhibit: koi, a chrysanthemum, poppies, two starfish. And on her hip, a broken heart—it was her first: “When it was my turn I barely winced, and soon I had a permanent broken heart. It was emboldening in general to know that I could act nonchalant about pain.”

    Gould’s casual masochism didn’t surprise me. By

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  • print • Apr/May 2010

    Bohemian Rhapsody

    First came the Beats, then the hipsters, then the hippies: all within thirty years of World War II. By the 1980s, American countercultural radicalism had exhausted itself, but during its gloriously hectic run it had performed nobly enough that today it is (rightly) credited with having brought about indelible change in our politics, our social attitudes, our arts. Perhaps, most especially, our arts. It was 1950s realpolitik that did it. What had it meant, after all, to have won the fight against Nazi Germany only to be living within the straitjacket of cold-war anxiety?

    In the late 1940s,

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  • print • Apr/May 2010

    Sunday Driving

    NASCAR, the nation’s premier stock-car racing circuit, draws an average of seventy-five million TV viewers a year, a third of the US adult population and second among sports only to professional football. Though its roots lie in the Piedmont South, today it draws fans from across the country, and its demographics match up closely with the population at large—middle-class, educated, and surprisingly racially diverse. NASCAR the corporation, owned and operated by the heirs of its founder, William “Big Bill” France, is a slick and efficient multinational operation, generating billions of dollars

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