• print • Dec/Jan 2017

    Working Classes

    Most college students aren't just workers-in-training; they are workers. And they're members of the working class. But our national discourse doesn't imagine them that way, and neither do our policies.Temple University professor Sara Goldrick-Rab's book Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream looks in detail at the day-to-day lives of struggling students. It's a needed intervention. Goldrick-Rab herself once assumed that a student named Stacey who fell asleep in her class had been partying too much. But when she asked her, she discovered a different

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  • review • November 07, 2016

    Thousands of Little Trumps

    I’m tired of Hillary partisans, too—the ones who devote more energy to verbally bludgeoning Clinton’s doubters on the left than to taking on her real enemies on the right. But even if, like me, you are critical of Clinton—of her corporate centrism, cronyism, elitism, and militarism—please consider voting for her anyway. She is probably going to win, but it’s no longer a lock. Trump has a narrow but plausible path: As of this writing, FiveThirtyEight’s election forecast gives him a 33 percent chance of winning. True, FiveThirtyEight foresees a better chance than all but Trump’s zealot legions,

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  • review • October 31, 2016

    Android Hero

    The theme park at the center of Westworld—HBO’s new series, adapted from the 1973 sci-fi film written and directed by novelist Michael Crichton—is a simulation of a dirt-on-the brow, snake-in-the-boot nineteenth century frontier town where the only consequence of sin and murder is profit. The park’s hosts are sentient androids covered in impeccable artificial flesh, ignorant of the fact that the “new comers” to the park’s central town of Sweetwater are human guests who pay $40,000 per day for the chance to lay a saloon prostitute or shoot a man just to watch him die. But as expected from

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2016

    Fear and Loafing

    So what kind of book will emerge from the 2016 presidential campaign? For more than a year now, I’ve been saying a secular metaphysical cleric from deep in South America—Borges, say, or Julio Cortázar—should compose it. I recognize that they’re both “with the ancestors.” But would a Book of, or by, the Dead about Campaign 2016, complete with mix-and-match chapters and faux arcana, be any less opaque to real life than Donald J. Trump, a presidential candidate who exists in his own alternate universe, where feelings are facts and facts always lie?

    As many others besides me have remarked, being

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2016

    Across the Great Divide

    One day in August of 2012, the ground began to tremble in the tiny town of Bayou Corne, Louisiana, the smell of oil filled the air, and the bottom of a nearby bayou tore open. Earth, brush, and trees were sucked under, as though down a drain, while oil oozed to the surface. The sinkhole, which eventually covered thirty-seven acres, was not a spontaneous development: Underground drilling by a company called Texas Brine had pierced the wall of a subterranean cavern, and the cavern had collapsed. The eerie disaster made a ghost town of Bayou Corne, after the state of Louisiana recommended that

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2016

    The Anomie Within

    Through the open window, along with a breeze that’s small relief for the mugginess of Istanbul in summer, comes a screech, a series of staccato honks, and shouting. Two men are in each other’s faces, livid, gesticulating wildly. One is a taxi driver. The other is an impressively groomed fellow who leaped out of an Audi coupe. Their cars are idling, doors akimbo, nose to nose in the one-lane street. The driver of the Audi is yelling that he’d flashed his lights, claiming right-of-way, and that the cabbie should have yielded the road. The cabbie is yelling that the yuppie is a son of a donkey

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2016

    Hot Shot

    Cody Wilson was a twenty-four-year-old law student when in early 2012 he realized he could unite his two strong interests, open-source software and the right to bear arms. By distributing digital blueprints for a handgun, he and his friends would allow anyone with a 3-D printer to manufacture his own “Wiki Weapon.” As soon as he conceives it, Wilson imagines himself on the news. “And now we turn to another story, seemingly out of the pages of science fiction,” he fantasizes. “Three-dimensional printable guns, made at home.”

    Wilson is a natural-born persuader. He is handsome, a little gleaming,

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2016

    The Big Comedown

    Late in the autumn of 2014, a prominent Yemeni politician was out taking a walk near his home in the capital city of Sana’a when two men on motorbikes shot him to death. Muhammad Abdelmalik al Mutawakel was a professor of political science who had long been advocating for a strong, democratic state in an otherwise fractious, feudal place. Mutawakel was the leader of a liberal party and an architect of the uprisings that had deposed Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s autocratic former president; he had been negotiating a peace deal behind the scenes among Houthi rebels, the opposition, and the new(ish)

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2016

    Class Act

    When you finish Nicholson Baker’s seven-hundred-plus-page tome devoted to a day-by-day, minute-by-minute account of his several-week stint as a substitute teacher in rural Maine, you will be exhausted by the accumulation of minutiae, irritated by the endlessly distracted chatter, and numbed by the sheer relentlessness of human interaction in large groups: You will, in a word, have been schooled. There is a wide variety among books about education; the lofty view engages pedagogy and policy, while a subgenre with long-standing currency offers first-person narrative—fictional and factual—from

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2016

    Votes of No Confidence

    Could there be a more propitious time to come out, as the title of Jason Brennan’s book announces, Against Democracy? From the Brexit vote to the Trump nomination, both liberal and conservative bien-pensants are grumbling that, if this is what the people decide, then maybe the people should not decide after all. If that is your mood, Brennan has catnip for you.

    Brennan divides citizens into three gimmicky species: hobbits, who don’t care much about politics and just want to live their lives; hooligans, keenly interested in politics, who tend to be hyper-partisan and filter everything through

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2016

    Society and the Spectacle

    FDR grasped the potential of radio in 1936. Ike made pioneering use of television in 1952 (as did his running mate Richard Nixon). JFK triumphed on live TV in 1960. Ronald Reagan, a veteran screen performer, exploited the televised photo op in 1984. Bill Clinton recognized the power of MTV. With the rise of social media, Barack Obama had YouTube, Hillary Clinton has, in a negative sense, e-mail, and the master of reality TV Donald Trump is defined by . . . Twitter?

    It’s sobering, at least in this election cycle, to think that the candidate with the greatest affinity for newfangled communications

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2016

    Do We Really Need to Talk About Dylan?

    In 2012 Sue Klebold and her husband Tom popped up in Andrew Solomon’s deliriously received Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, talking about their love for their son Dylan, who with his friend Eric Harris shot and killed twelve students and a teacher and injured twenty-four others at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Both seniors, they had been planning to blow up the school and kill many more, but the bombs they built didn’t go off. Sue Klebold said some rather startling things in Solomon’s book, such as “I am glad I had kids and glad I had the kids

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