Books

Christopher Hitchens, Contradiction

Where did the literary luminary go wrong?

Christopher Hitchens was never one to refrain from pissing on a fresh grave if the occupant seemed to have earned it. So now, monitoring Google from the afterlife he didn’t believe in, he can’t be surprised at the steady downpour. And surely it’s a watered-down tribute to treat his final decade of polemics as incidental—to insist that, no matter what you thought of them, Hitchens was, after all, a bon vivant and wonderful stylist the likes of which we will not see again. Of course we will. The ability to be witty on TV and meet deadlines while pickled may be rare, but there are always candidates out there practicing. Give it time.

From London, With Angst

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy chronicles the last days of Britain as a superpower.

AP Photo/Matt Sayles

Spying is popularly conceived of as a glamorous line of work. The James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Mission Impossible films are all cocktails, trysts, gunplay in the tropical sun, and evil brought to heel. The audience gleefully absorbs the antics of the hero-spy, a romantic figure who easily escapes the institutional harnesses of his superiors.

Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy takes place in a different world. There is no super spy here, just a vision of the claustrophobic, embittered world of the intelligence community and its human cost.

Life, Monetized

In Deadly Monopolies, Harriet A. Washington asserts that corporations now own life itself.

In 2010, Rebecca Skloot published The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a New York Times bestseller about a poor black woman in the late stages of cancer in 1950s Baltimore whose doctor removed cervical tissue from her without her knowledge. By remaining viable outside of Lacks’s body, the cells became “immortal” and thus quite valuable; scientists using them have been able to pursue research that would have been unimaginable beforehand, leading to achievements such as the polio vaccine and advances against cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

Why Are They So Angry?

An Israeli dove in Jewish America

"He's lying! He's lying!" the man at the back of the hall shouted, in a tone as desperate as it was angry. "He hasn't read the Geneva Conventions. You haven't read them, so you don't know he's lying."

More Thoughts on Football

I should have posted this poem in October. But since I'm on a football jag now, here's a famous poem about what young men are channeling when they play football. Written in 1964, it includes some offensive language from its era. But I love this poem and have known it by heart for decades.

Autumn Begins in Martin's Ferry, Ohio

--James Wright

In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.

Decoding Michele Bachmann's New Book

Michele Bachmann—or at least her publicity manager—did her research. The Prospect received an early copy of Bachmann’s new book, "Core of Conviction: My Story," last week. In honor of the book’s release today, we’ve compiled the five “Best of Bachmann” moments from the book.

1. Bachmann’s great-great-grandfather won a farm from Jesse James in a game of poker. Bachmann claims that Halvor Munson won a farm in Iola, Kansas, playing poker with Jesse James on a river raft. According to a short biography on Munson, written by a family genealogist, it is likely that Munson did meet Jesse James (before his name became synonymous with outlaws of the American West), but the claim that he won a farm from James is nothing more than family lore.

Cold Warrior

The four-decades-long confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union—a Cold War that periodically threatened to turn hot—spawned many warriors, but few more interesting or complex than George Frost Kennan. As a midlevel American diplomat based in Moscow during the late 1940s, he articulated the “containment” doctrine that defined American policy toward the Soviet Union. Warning that the leaders in the Kremlin were driven by a quest for global power that could be restrained only by vigilant application of “counter-force,” this hitherto obscure diplomat, far removed from the centers of decision-making, provided a strategy for America’s confrontation with communism.

Who Has the Castle Now?

A new biography gives Kurt Vonnegut his due.

On Sunday December 7, 1941, as reports of the bombing of Pearl Harbor poured in, the night editor of The Cornell Daily Sun rushed to lay out the pages for a special edition. A chemistry student who was flunking his classes, he spent more time penning columns and pulling campus pranks than studying. His name was Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

By Charles J. Shields

Good Night, Sweet Prince

The tooth fairy visited our house recently, which made me remember the time—many years ago, when tooth redemption brought only a quarter—that the tooth fairy kept forgetting to claim the tooth under my pillow. After a week, I put a sign on my bedroom door: TOOTH STOP! The next morning, I had my quarter, and a signed note. The tooth fairy explained that he had an extraordinarily large territory that included the Indian Ocean, and apologized for having been delayed by recent monsoons. The note was signed “Prince Oberon.”

Are You Pink- or Blue-Brained?

(Flickr/TZA)

Think that single-sex education is a sensible idea, since boys and girls learn so differently? Think again. In Slate recently, neuroscientist Lise Eliot, who researches child brain development, and social psychology professor Rebecca Bigler explained their recently published peer-reviewed article in Science, which examines an “overwhelming body of research on the topic.” They had three main findings:

The Family Album

A journal of grief and aging, Blue Nights is missing Joan Didion's razor-sharp prose.

What matters are the details. The 60 baby dresses on miniature wooden hangers, the loose pearls in a satin-lined jeweler's box, the bright red soles of the wedding shoes, the white stephanotis in the bride's braided hair. These specifics do not add up to a story; they are a compilation of the past, a messy collage of what used to be. Some are memories to be avoided, "reminders of what was, what got broken, what got lost, what got wasted." Author Joan Didion's latest memoir, Blue Nights, is more journal than narrative, a meditation on grief and aging that jumps in time and place and sucks its readers into its fears and anxieties.

Girls, girls, girls!

  • Over at New York magazine, Emily Nussbaum has written the perfect introduction to the new, fiery, sardonic, savvy generation of feminists who are making change online and in the streets. Nussbaum checks in with both the feminist blogosphere and the controversial “SlutWalks,” a series of anti-rape marches that have caught imaginative fire. The title has been hotly debated—but as young feminist leader Jessica Valenti has noted, it sure has gotten the attention that organizers wanted. Nussbaum writes:
     

Batman the Gentrifier

In real-life, the superhero's do-gooding would push all the poor people out of Gotham.

Rex Features via AP Images

For Batman fans, this past week was a big one. In addition to the release of Arkham City – the sequel to Arkham Asylum, the world’s greatest Batman simulator – DC released its animated adaptation of Batman: Year One, the Frank Miller-penned story that would define Batman for the next two decades, and form the basis for Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of the character. Here’s a trailer:

A Jew of No Religion

Yoram Kaniuk has won: The prominent Israeli novelist is now very officially a Jew of no religion.

Hundreds of other Israelis, inspired by his legal victory, want to follow his example and change their religious status to "none" in the country's Population Registry, while remaining Jews by nationality in the same government database. A new verb has entered Hebrew, lehitkaniuk, to Kaniuk oneself, to legally register an internal divorce of Jewish ethnicity from Jewish religion.

The Theory of Power

Over the past three decades, laissez-faire economics has had an im-mense impact on our society, mostly for the worse. The elements have included privatization of public services, an assault on social benefits, and most important, deregulation of finance. Though free-market ideas are hotly debated in classrooms, op-ed pages, and journals, their influence on events has come not in a Platonic fashion, through the power of argument, but through power itself. Free-market theory has conveniently provided ideological coherence.

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