Books

The Queer List, Part 1: Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, Pool)

Once upon a time, we all knew their names. They shaped our world and our attitudes to ourselves. We had their books on our bookshelves, since there were very few books on the subject. Or we read about their travails in our subterranean newspapers—Gay Community News, The Washington Blade—which we received in the mail, in brown manila envelopes so that we weren't outed unintentionally to our neighbors. (Yes, seriously.) For the most part, the rest of the world ignored us. And so these figures who loomed so large in our lives were invisible to the rest of you. Who ever heard of Sharon Kowalski, except lesbians and some politically aware gay men? Or read the depressingly tragic Well of Loneliness (mentally comparing with its contemporary, the much more playful Orlando) if it weren't a mandatory part of your cultural history?

The Case of the Vanishing Middle Class

Timothy Noah's The Great Divergence deftly explores the roots and resurgence of American inequality.

Did Timothy Noah catch a wave or anticipate one? In 2010, Noah, a longtime public-policy reporter now at The New Republic, wrote a ten-part series in Slate about American economic inequality. This was at a time when the most discussed issue in U.S. politics was how much government Tea Partiers aimed to slash and how quickly we must balance the budget—even in the face of the worst downturn in eight decades. Then, about a year after the Slate series, Occupy Wall Street and its proxies around the country seemingly awakened the nation to the vast disparity of wealth between the top 1 percent and the rest of us.

The Madwoman in the Attic

Awhile back, I wasted an evening watching the 2011 film version of Jane Eyre, something that every former lit major should avoid. I loved the novel for its depiction of the vivid, rich inner life of a proud introvert who is passionately engaged in her life despite the fact that she knows it to be outwardly pathetic. The movie, unable to reproduce the character's inner liveliness, reduced the story to a melodramatic and utterly unlikely romance between a poor orphan and an arrogant nobleman. I had wasted marital chits on a movie that I hated as much as my wife knew she would. (Sports movies, here we come. Sigh.)

Rebuilding the World

Anthony Shadid's final book on the remaking of a house in Lebanon

Houghton Mifflin

House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East 

By Anthony Shadid, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 336 pages, $26.00

 

Power Failure

Two new books on why nations gain and lose wealth and power miss the real story.

(Crown/Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Americans have never felt at ease with empire, and with good reason. Running an empire often demands that we betray our republican ideals, at least for periods of time. It can also be costly in gold and in blood. So it was no surprise that after the fall of the Soviet Union, the American people leapt at the opportunity to lay down the imperial burdens we had carried since World War II. Politicians in both parties assured us that we could off-load our responsibilities onto a “global” market mechanism, overseen by a new institution created in 1995 called the World Trade Organization (WTO). Many if not most of us said, “Good riddance.”

The Nuclear Politics of a Poem

A look at the poem that led the Israeli government to declare Gunter Grass a persona non grata.

(AP Photo/Fritz Reiss)

As you may have read in last Sunday's New York Times, the government of Israel has declared German Nobel laureate Gunter Grass persona non grata because of a poem. True, it's a pretty lousy poem: "What Must Be Said," it's called, and that "Must" tells old Grass hands that it's musty Gunter Gasbag time. But literary criticism has never been a big priority for Benjamin Netanyahu, who followed up his Interior Ministry's PNG announcement with his own condemnation of Grass: "Shameful."

I’ve Got Some Assignments for Rachel Maddow

(AP Photo / Chris Pizzello)

Last week, the authorities here at the Prospect were calling me the substitute teacher. I got grumpy about that at first (all kinds of anti-woman and bad childhood associations). But I’ve decided to embrace it. Rachel Maddow, here’s your homework.

Part Two: Charles Murray, the Long View

Coming Apart caps three decades of faux concern for the poor.

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The following is the second in a two-part series on Charles Murray's Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. For part one, please click here.

Charles Murray, the Long View

In 1984, the right's star public intellectual wrote the book that drove welfare reform. Coming Apart is an alibi for his own failed big idea.

(Courtesy of Crown Forum)

The following is the first in a two-part series on Charles Murray's Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.

For a generation, the main story of working-class America has been the collapse of a living-wage economy due to such forces as globalization, weakened trade unions, and reduced government labor regulation. This trend has been a social catastrophe and, increasingly, a severe embarrassment to free-market ideology.

What's the Point of College?

A critical look at the state of the American university

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College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be, By Andrew Delbanco

Princeton University Press, 240 pages, $24.95

 

Adrienne Rich, Poet of Change

Few literary luminaries succeed in melding a passion for social justice with a love of language.

(AP Photo/Adam Rountree, file)

Adrienne Rich, a poet and essayist whose righteous, resonant voice transformed American literature and consciousness, passed away last Tuesday at her home in Santa Cruz, California. Beloved by the feminist and LGBT communities, Rich’s career spanned seven decades and more than 30 books. Though honored with a bevy of prizes (including the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant), she remained resolutely outside the establishment, her radicalism seeming only to gather steam over time. When President Bill Clinton, for instance, offered her the National Medal of Arts in 1997, she famously declined.

History Lessons

When historian Tony Judt cared passionately about a problem he was able to redefine its terms. Pity he didn't care about a few more things.

(Joe Ciardiello)

Thinking the Twentieth Century lets us listen in on conversations between distinguished colleagues, the intellectual historian Tony Judt and the Eastern Europeanist Timothy Snyder. It conveys the sort of conversation that two scholars may have when they share the same knowledge, references, and opinions.

The Making of a Madman

A.N. Wilson's new biography explains how losing money, mother, and mind created Hitler.

(Flickr / Daniel Semper)

How are monsters made? How do the Neros and Caligulas, the Stalins and Maos come into existence? One of the most frequent explanations for those preternatural torturers of small animals, those psychopathic murderers and genocidal maniacs is actually quite simple: It’s all the parents’ fault. As poet Philip Larkin wrote, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad.” And it’s not just physical abuse that begets monsters but emotional and psychological abuse as well.

Barbarians at the Transom

Lionel Shriver's The New Republic is a provocative and satiric novel about—of all things—terrorism. 

Harper Collins

The New Republic  By Lionel Shriver, HarperCollins, 400 pages, $26.99

Hell's Belles

Tracking the teen heroines of the new dystopian thrillers

(Photo courtesy of Scholastic)

Like the flu virus, the genre of dystopic novels for young adults has many strains. The one featuring a teenage girl battling for her life got a massive boost in the fall of 2008, when the first volume of Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games trilogy was published. Collins’s franchise has more than 23.5 million books in print and a movie adaptation due out next week, while new entries in the genre keep pouring forth, eagerly welcomed by fans and Hollywood. 

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