Books

A Nightstick Turned into a Song

Two new books and a documentary cue up the soundtrack of the black-power movement.

(Courtesy of Louverture Films)

In January, President Barack Obama made his singing debut on the stage of Harlem’s Apollo Theater. During a campaign fundraising speech, he leaned into the microphone, gently slid his State of the Union baritone up to a whispery falsetto, and nailed the opening line from “Let’s Stay Together,” the Al Green soul classic that has melted hearts and warmed sheets since its release in 1971. “I-I-I-I, I’m so in love with you,” Obama cooed. The video of his impromptu performance has logged more than four million views, and the song has become an unofficial re-election theme. Obama’s rendition is available as a ringtone; inevitably, Green showed up to sing it at an event in February.

The Republican Socialist

A new biography shows that Dwight Eisenhower was a more cunning and active president than he gets credit for. 

(AP Photo/Arthur Sasse)

Does anyone else remember the Western Hemisphere's only functioning socialist paradise? In that bygone land, the top income-tax bracket for millionaires was 90 percent. Thanks to a heavily—and proudly—unionized workforce, collective bargaining resolved most labor-management disputes. To stave off recession, the government instituted the largest public-works program in Country X's history, from which its now largely unwitting citizens still benefit today.

The Part of Silence That Can Be Spoken

Jeanette Winterson’s fairy-tale search for a mother

For some writers, mothers are everywhere. They slip off windy cliffs and fall to their death; they follow a star to an orphanage and choose a child in a crib. They are the Dog Woman, fleshy and unwashed and unafraid to kill. They rescue the baby who, like some kind of Moses, is abandoned in the Thames, and they bring him up as their own.

Fumblerooski

Is it too soon to pronounce Obama an economic failure? A different take on The Escape Artists.

The sophisticated political observer doesn’t need public opinion polls to weigh the odds of President Obama’s re-election. Economic indicators drive voters, and if the president and his party come up short in November, the recriminations won’t be aimed at campaign headquarters in Chicago but at the staffers and wonks tasked with turning around the American economy.

The Escape Artists: How Obama’s Team Fumbled the Recovery, provides just that opportunity. Noam Scheiber, an editor at The New Republic, susses out the Obama administration’s most important internal debates to find exactly where the supposed dream team of economic wonks failed.

Obama's Squandered Recovery

In The Escape Artists, Noam Scheiber depicts a White House out of its depth on the financial crisis.

The Escape Artists: How Obama's Team Fumbled the Recovery. By Noam Scheiber, Simon & Schuster, 351 pages, $28.00.

Burying Camelot

Mimi Alford's memoir marks the end of America's Kennedy fetish.

(Bettmann/Corbis/AP Images)

The publication last month of onetime JFK mistress Mimi Alford's Once Upon a Secret: My Affair With President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath provoked a variety of reactions. I wonder how many people shared mine, which was, "Bon voyage."

Why? Because I figure Alford's book almost has to be The End. The torch has been passed and then some to a new generation of Americans. Few of its members give much of a damn about presidential peccadilloes half a century old. Barring the discovery of Marilyn Monroe's lost diaries, it's not inconceivable that America is finally done with its Kennedy fetish. As the elderly Tolstoy —or was it Sophocles?—once celebrated the loss of his sex drive, "At last I am freed from a cruel and insane master."

Watergate Finally Gets Its Novel

Thomas Mallon's new fiction humanizes the ultimate D.C. scandal.

Watergate: A Novel. By Thomas Mallon, Pantheon Books, 448 pages, $26.95.

Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life. By Ann Beattie, Scribner, 282 pages, $26.00.

This year will mark the 40th anniversary of the break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters by yeggs with White House connections that provoked the Watergate scandal and led to Richard M. Nixon’s resignation as 37th president of the United States. It’s the kind of benchmark that leaves people who lived through those days facing two realizations, fused by the unwelcome recognition that we’re pretty old.

Charles Portis's Guide to the GOP

An obscure book that just might explain the GOP race better than any pundit could

(Flickr/Austin Kleon)

Does today's Republican Party baffle you? Then I can help. A too-little-known book called Masters of Atlantis explains absolutely everything: They're Gnomons. Gnomons, every last one. While this is an inflammatory charge, I don't think I'm being reckless. If Masters of Atlantis can be trusted—and for reasons that will soon be apparent, I see no reason why it shouldn't be—Gnomonism, or Gnomonry, was introduced to the United States soon after World War I by Lamar Jimmerson, an ex-doughboy reared under Indiana's placid blue sky. While serving in France, he came into possession of a rare copy of the Codex Pappus: the only surviving repository of Atlantean wisdom, "committed to the waves on that terrible day when the rumbling began." 

Three Big Tax Lies

And two must-read new books that finally debunk them.

If the last ten years of debt and jobs destruction have taught us anything, it’s that we must change our tax system and soon, or face economic disaster. Instead of maintaining our infrastructure, we are consuming it. Instead of investing in education and research with an eye to later wealth, we’re cutting our way to a poorer future.

Under the Covers, Between the Sheets

With the new translation of the Kama Sutra, it's not all about sex.

(Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition/Malika Favre)

(Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition/Malika Favre)

Cover image of A.N.D. Haksar's new translation of the Kama Sutra, illustrated by Malika Favre.

What It Feels Like to Be Poor

Katherine Boo chronicles the intimate realities of poverty in an Indian slum.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. By Katherine Boo, Random House, 256 pages, $27.00

And Then There Was Light, Man

Mimicking a familiar format, Alan Lightman's Mr. g fails to create a unique world.

As an undergraduate student, in order to acquire financial aid, I agreed to take a special first-year seminar called The Creative Process. In the class, we discussed such questions as “What is art?” and, in more concrete form, “Why do we refer to the urinal in the bathroom as simply a place for waste when we call the urinal on the gallery wall a masterpiece?” Halfway through the semester, the professor, a 50-year-old woman with dyed-black, bobbed hair and a necklace that featured a grapefruit-size bust of Jack Skellington, instructed us to consume—to consume—the book Einstein’s Dreams, which, despite its name, was fiction. I did not have high expectations.

Scarcity Came to Town

Two leading minds on our lean times

Jeff Madrick, the author most recently of Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present (Knopf), exchanges questions and ideas with Thomas Byrne Edsall, whose book The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics (Doubleday) is out this week.

Madrick: Your book places the current extreme partisanship in its critical economic context. There are cultural and religious conflicts in America, but it is economic scarcity that underlies much of our political paralysis. Is that so—scarcity lately more than culture? And scarcity has tended to favor conservatives?

Yes, It's "Rape" Rape

Last week I heard two pieces of good news about rape—one local, one national. The local news: While Boston's serious crime reports dropped by 8 percent overall, rape reports spiked by 12 percent, according to police; the rise was especially dramatic in some lower-income sections of the city. So why is that good news? Well, no one believes more rapes occurred—primarily because there was no increase in reported rapes by strangers, which are most likely to be reported but only make up an estimated 20 percent of all rapes.

International Adoption or Child Trafficking?

Maria Fernanda Alvarado lies at the center of Erin Siegal's true-crime investigation into the Guatemalan adoption system. Photo by Erin Siegal.

Between 1998 and 2008, nearly 30,000 Guatemalan-born children (mostly infants and toddlers) were adopted by U.S. parents. In some years, that meant that an astonishing 1 out of 100 children born in Guatemala was adopted by an American family. For most of that time, everyone but the prospective adoptive parents knew—or in some cases actively chose to “unknow”—that the country's international adoption system was a cesspool of corruption and crime, and motivated by money.

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