• print • Dec/Jan 2018

    After the Deluge

    Richard Lloyd Parry’s very touching and thought-provoking book Ghosts of the Tsunami tells how the community of Okawa, Japan, was affected by the Great Tohoku Disaster: the earthquake and resulting tidal wave of March 11, 2011. On that day, the tidal surges struck Okawa’s primary school, killing seventy-four of the seventy-eight children present, and ten of the eleven teachers.

    To write his account, Lloyd Parry—the Tokyo bureau chief of The Times of London and the author of the true-crime book People Who Eat Darkness—visited the locality for six years. His achievement reminds me of the

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2018

    The Body Politic

    Anesthesia has been around for over 170 years, and in spite of its inherent drama it’s impressively nonlethal. Current estimates place the death toll at about one in two hundred thousand or even one in three hundred thousand, which means—according to the earnest nonprofit the National Safety Council—that you or I are more likely to die from insect stings, “excessive natural heat,” or “contact with sharp objects” than either of us is from being put under. Properly supervised anesthesia is not only exceedingly safe but also ubiquitous, and necessary for a slew of lifesaving and life-improving

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2018

    Thaw and Disorder

    No statesman in living memory has experienced a more meteoric rise, and at his height enjoyed more universal esteem—or suffered a more precipitous fall, and thereafter more curious neglect—than Mikhail Gorbachev. When he became General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985, few knew what to make of this bald-pated, purple-birthmarked former secretary of agriculture. His relative youth (he was fifty-four years old) immediately distinguished him from the dotard preceding him and the gerontocrats still surrounding him in the politburo—but no one could have anticipated the

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2018

    I Put a Spell on You

    Quaint to think that not even fifty years ago—when network TV reigned supreme, the underground press flourished, and El Topo invented the midnight movie—there was an amorphous thing called the Counterculture. Now, of course, there are hundreds.

    Back then dog-eared head-trips like Clans of the Alphane Moon by the still-unknown Philip K. Dick circulated among the cognoscenti. So did Richard Brautigan’s twee Trout Fishing in America and Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier’s blithely footnote-free The Morning of the Magicians.

    Morning’s first part concerned the secret society of the “Nine Unknown

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  • review • October 11, 2017

    Dix and Dix: On "In a Lonely Place"

    We first meet Dix Steele, the star of Nicholas Ray’s 1950 Hollywood noir In a Lonely Place, as he pulls his car up to a stoplight on a dark Los Angeles street. From the vehicle next to him, a blonde woman addresses him by name—she seems to know him, but Dix isn’t having it. When she tells Dix that she starred in the last picture he wrote, the screenwriter replies tartly, “I make it a point never to see pictures I write.” Because Dix is played by Humphrey Bogart, the line comes across with a wry charm, but because he’s played by late-career Bogie, it’s weighted with a certain weariness, a curdled

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2017

    The Liars’ Club

    “Are you a one or a zero?” demands Mr. Robot in the eponymous TV series. “That’s the question you have to ask yourself.” My answer: neither, goddamnit—my hopes and dreams aren’t regulated by a motherboard, not quite yet. Or am I deluding myself, and identity is so shaped by the technologies we use that effectively they’re using us? Some version of this query lurks at the edges of Andrew O’Hagan’s The Secret Life: Three True Stories of the Digital Age, a book dominated by secretive and truth-challenged men, among them WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2017

    Arrested Development

    The word totalitarianism has an ominous ring. At the height of the Cold War, in the 1950s and ’60s, Western social scientists began using it to describe the political structure of the USSR, as part of an ideological effort to equate the Soviet system in general, and Stalinism in particular, with Nazism. That effort was very successful. The “totalitarian model” gained such a powerful grip on people’s imaginations that when, in the ’80s, a new generation of scholars began poking holes in it, they took a pummeling, accused of being Communist sympathizers or apologists for Stalin’s crimes.

    As

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2017

    Empire Stakes

    In 2007, Suzy Hansen was a reporter at the New York Observer. Hansen was twenty-nine; she had grown up in a small town in New Jersey and moved to New York City after college. When she first arrived, New York seemed like the center of the world, but in the years after September 11 it began to feel increasingly provincial, both feverish and inward-looking. The liberal journalists she knew were “extremely arrogant,” convinced of their moral superiority to the Bush-era Republicans but strangely indifferent to the wars being fought in their names in Iraq and Afghanistan. Caught up in a narrow round

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2017

    Gray Area

    There is an essential arbitrariness to borders. Whether enforced by walls and fences or through less material means—visa requirements, travel bans—they are always at least partly abstract: imaginary lines. Kapka Kassabova’s travelogue Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe explores the spiritual, psychological, and emotional qualities of the area around the shared frontiers of Turkey, Greece, and Bulgaria, roaming this “back door to Europe” in an effort to find out, up close, what borders do to people, and vice versa. Her book is a deconstruction of the looming, nonspecific anxiety that comes

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2017

    Gen Vexed

    The most essential passage in Kids These Days, Malcolm Harris’s new book on the “making of millennials,” does not appear until its 113th page and is not really about millennials at all. “When history teachers talk about government policy decisions, they tend to use the progressive frame: The government improves things over time,” he writes.

    While liberals think conservatives slow down or rewind progress, and conservatives are only willing to accept government policy forty or fifty years after its implementation (at which point they want an equal share of the

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2017

    The Free and the Brave

    In the late 1940s, the poet Czesław Miłosz wrote to a Polish friend from the United States: “The spiritual poverty of millions of the inhabitants of this country is horrifying . . . The only living people—the ability to create art is a sign of living—are the Blacks and the Indians.” In contrast to the nation’s beleaguered minorities, it seemed to him, the “unfortunate American puppets move . . . with a depressing inner stupor.” Miłosz was then the cultural attaché of Communist Poland in New York. Within four years he would be persona non grata to the Stalin-installed regime in Warsaw, and he

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2017

    How to Lose Your Country

    It’s April 16, and Turkey is voting on a constitutional referendum that may allow its president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to drastically increase his powers. It’s the most significant day in the modern history of my country, and I’m watching events unfold on my phone screen in Zagreb, Croatia, where I now live. (Rather than deal with the constant threat of imprisonment or of having my passport confiscated, I chose to get out a few months ago.) In Turkey, the streets are full: People know that this is, in effect, the last chance to prevent a dictatorship.

    Already, anyone critical of Erdoğan risks

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