Books

When It Comes to Kindles, Do You "Like" or Unlink?

Social reading will bring us together while restoring a long tradition in the history of the book. Still … 

flickr/kirainet
flickr/thekellyscope A t night, I find incredible pleasure in my Kindle. I pick up all 7.8 ounces of it, palm it, turn out the lights. Then, the only physical act required is a small swipe of my finger across an index-card-size piece of glass. I can choose to go almost anywhere, as long as I am willing to pay. The Kindle offers the purest form of immersive reading I have ever experienced. There is something narcotic about it. As scholar Alan Jacobs writes, “Once you start reading a book on the Kindle—and this is equally true of the other e-readers I’ve tried—the technology generates an inertia that makes it significantly easier to keep reading than to do anything else.” The compulsion to keep reading stems partially from the lack of distractions: E-books, thin, gray, and under-designed, shear off the blurbs and author bios and test-marketed book-jacket covers. But when I am reading on my Kindle, I am not alone. While swiping my fingers across the pages of Stephen Greenblatt’s The...

All Tomorrow’s Parties

Gay Equality 1, Civil Rights 0 – join us in wondering how to celebrate this Fourth of July. (Hint: not by seeing Johnny Depp’s new movie, that’s for sure.)

AP Photo/The Omaha World-Herald, Brynn Anderson
AP Photo C all it coincidence, but my bedside reading for the past couple of weeks has been the new two-volume boxed set of the Library of America’s Reporting Civil Rights . Awe-inducing and frequently thrilling, this monumental anthology of on-the-scene coverage of the fight for black equality features contributions by scores of writers, some rightly renowned—James Baldwin, Garry Wills, et. al.—and some unjustly obscure. Part One deals with the years 1941-1963; Part Two tackles the pressure-cooker decade that followed King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Each volume also includes a sheaf of photographs, primarily of the writers themselves at the time. They’re often evocative ones, even if the era’s great photojournalism—no less worthy of commemoration—gets short shrift as a result. Anyway, I won’t pretend I’ve made much more than a dent in the set’s almost 2,000 pages. But that’s not the point, since Reporting Civil Rights could easily keep my idle hours occupied until Christmas. (Not...

Putin Loves Me, Putin Loves Me Not

A conversation with the author of a new book about the Russian president, touching on fomenting dissent in the country, Syria, and the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool, File
AP Photo/Alexei Vladykin R ussian President Vladimir Putin has earned Western fascination with his over-the-top motorcycle riding and judo-fighting public persona, aggressive foreign policy, and his seemingly captivating power over the Russian people. However, Putin’s third term has quickly proven that, with a restless Moscow middle class increasingly discontent with his authoritarianism and local activists fed up with the corruption of the capital, the love affair between Russia and Putin may not be one for the ages. In his new book, Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In And Out Of Love With Vladimir Putin (Yale University Press) Ben Judah, who grew up the son of a Balkans reporter and whose earliest memories are of the collapse of communism in Bulgaria, explains Putin’s fall from popularity and its context in the greater narrative of modern Russia. Judah, a former reporter and current Russia analyst for the European Stability Initiative, spoke to the Prospect about Syria, dissent...

Mo' Children, Mo' Problems

Are the parents of only children selfish? Maybe, but Lauren Sandler’s new book says that's okay.

Courtesy of Nona Willis Aronowitz
Courtesy of Nona Willis Aronowitz The author with her mother, feminist and author Ellen Willis, and father, professor and labor activist Stanley Aronowitz in 1986 W hen I was around six years old, I begged my parents for a younger sister. When she failed to materialize, I dreamed up Shelly, who showed up in family portraits I drew in art class with a frilly dress and a Pebbles ponytail. When friends came over, I told them she was with the babysitter. At school, I bragged about my bottle-feeding skills. After my teacher made a concerned phone call about my lies, my mother—a journalist and feminist activist who had me at 42—sat me on her lap, and we had a surprisingly candid conversation about why she wasn’t going to have another baby. In her late 40s, she could have copped out and told me that biology wouldn’t let her. Instead, she brushed a curl from my face and said: “We’re happy with just you.” I thought about this moment halfway through Lauren Sandler’s new book, One and Only: The...

Agee, Before He Was Famous

Can a rediscovered first draft of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men speak more directly to our time than the finished masterpiece? 

Library of Congress
B y age 26, James Agee had spent four years at Fortune , the glossy magazine created by Henry Luce to celebrate the American business class, filing un-bylined reportage on topics like orchid cultivation and cockfighting and the occasional skeptical item on how the new Tennessee Valley Authority was playing out. Most writers would consider it a plum job, especially in the early 1930s. But Agee, politically progressive and instinctively adversarial, was uneasy over the magazine’s thrall to the lavish life. He had ambitions worthy of a Blake or a Dostoevsky: highly personal, mythic literature meant to get “as near truth and whole truth as is humanly possible,” as he put it in a letter in early 1936. A few months later, Agee got an assignment that spoke to his ideals. As part of Fortune ’s “Life and Circumstances” series, he was to travel to Southern cotton country and live among poor working families. Agee had grown up in Knoxville, Tennessee, and he descended from Southern Appalachian...

George Packer's U.S.A.

AP Images/David Samson
In the quest to understand what has happened to the U.S. economy since the 2008 meltdown and the recession that followed, the challenge has been figuring out how far back to pull the lens. Early books on the crisis zoomed in on airless rooms occupied by panicked CEOs and government officials during the pathetic last few months of the Bush administration and the beginning of this one. More expansively reported accounts looked at lower-level traders and fly-by-night firms, expanding the scope to recognize a decade of mortgage fraud and exploitation of would-be homeowners and investors, along with the Washington corruption that allowed the profiteers to thrive unpunished. As time passed, it became clearer that this was not a story that began in 2008 or just a story of the Bush years. It was the inevitable last act of the period since the late 1970s, when the nation became dramatically wealthier but median wages stagnated, economic insecurity worsened, and debt became a means to paper...

Rediscovering Albert Hirschman

Resistance fighter. Development economist. Philosopher. A new biography of the thinker who redeemed political economy for liberals. 

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T o consider the life story of development economist turned moral philosopher Albert Hirschman is to appreciate that no other generation is likely to accumulate the experience of the European émigrés to America who came of age just before World War II, survived it, and went on to contribute to the political and scholarly foundations of postwar civilization. Of that generation, nobody did so with more range and grace than Hirschman. There was a time in the 1970s and 1980s when Hirschman, who died last December at 97, enjoyed a wide general audience. But outside of academia, his works connecting economics and policies to core human values haven’t made it into the canon of writings that educated people feel they need to read. The results of my informal survey suggest that even among teachers who admire him, Hirschman’s work is invoked but not routinely assigned. This is a loss to our collective wisdom. We can hope that the publication of Jeremy Adelman’s new biography, Worldly...

Da Gr8 Gatsbee

Nobody's going to mistake Baz Luhrman's adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic for a great movie. But, there's no doubt it's a fun ride.

AP Photo, File
AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures T he book will still be around in the morning. That's the best advice I can give anyone appalled by the mere existence of director Baz Luhrman's 3-D, darn near transcendently tasteless screen adaptation of The Great Gatsby— or Da Gr8 Gatsbee, as I've grown fond of calling Luhrman's version. For once, I find myself almost envying people who've never read Fitzgerald's novel. Free of literacy's inner censure, untroubled by invidious comparisons, they can just let the whole whooshing, clamorous debauch run them over like a fire truck tearing after a burning Christmas tree, emerging dazed but sated. Then again, ex-English major or no, that was pretty much my own reaction. Combined, true, with a few incredulous giggle-fits that may have annoyed the soignée senior citizen sitting next to me. (No more Baz's target audience than I am, she did look charming in 3-D glasses.) Though I thoroughly enjoyed myself—and don't feel at all sheepish about it, so there—it may...

Sex, Economics, and Austerity

AP Photo
AP Photo J ohn Maynard Keynes was the sexiest economist who ever lived. This might seem like half-hearted praise since in our mind’s eye the typical economist appears as a dowdy and almost always balding man, full of prudential advice about thrift and the miracle of compound interest. Keynes, with his caterpillar moustache and mesmerizing bedroom eyes, cut a more dashing figure. He had many lovers of both genders, and was married to one of the great beauties of the age, the ballerina Lydia Lopokova. His genius at playing the stock market allowed him to enjoy the life of bon vivant, socializing with the writers and artists of the Bloomsbury group such as Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster rather than dull number crunchers he knew at Cambridge and in the British Treasury. While other economists focused on maximizing economic growth, Keynes wanted to go further and maximize the pleasures of life. Given all this, it’s perhaps not surprising that a much-publicized recent attack on the...

When Rock Criticism Found Its Voice

A new book charts the intellectual history of the Village Voice's towering rock critics, as well as the community that sprung up around them.

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AP Photo N ewly out from University of Massachusetts Press, Devon Powers's Writing The Record: The Village Voice and The Birth of Rock Criticism— which'll cost you a whopping $80 for its 160 pages in hardcover, making the paperback's $22.95 price tag seem almost reasonable—is the first work of intellectual history I know of whose heroes are a couple of guys I used to see around the office during my own tenderfoot days at the paper in question. Don't blame me for both being uncommonly interested and feeling time's icy fingers do the Charleston on the nape of my neck. Reading Rick Perlstein's Nixonland was weird enough; that Perlstein was too young to have any first-hand memories of the Nixon era demanded a certain, how you say, adjustment. Still, it's not as if I used to run into Tricky Dick at the soda machine. So let's get my personal acquaintance with Powers's two protagonists out of the way. Richard Goldstein, author of the Voice 's seminal "Pop Eye" column from 1966 to 1969, is...

Country Noir

Flickr/Matt Carman
Flickr/Matt Carman O ne spring morning two years ago, a woman left her house—a small white one, its porch overrun by toys and exercise equipment—and dropped off her kids at the Sunman Elementary School. Sunman is a tiny town that spreads across the flat farmland of Southern Indiana. State Road 101 is the main drag, and the woman drove down it, past the IGA with its twin gas pumps, past the Family Dollar, past a bar named Louie’s, until she reached home. Stanley Short, her estranged husband, was waiting inside. When she entered, Short hit her on the head with a hammer, then bound her to a bed with zip ties and duct tape. He cut her shirt off with a carpet knife and raped her. After several hours the woman came up with an excuse for why they needed to leave. If she didn’t pay the electricity bill, the utility would shut off her power. With Short in the passenger seat, she headed back out on 101 until she spotted a group of men talking outside the Sunman Auction House. The woman swerved...

The New Deal That Could Have Been

Courtesy W. W. Norton and Company
I nvoking “dysfunction” is now the basic black of punditry about American politics. As the British political theorist David Runciman recently observed in the London Review of Books , “Commentators find it almost impossible to write about American democracy these days without reaching for the word ‘dysfunctional.’” Consider the lowlights of our political culture in just the past 15 years: a puerile impeachment; the subsequent president elected via a Supreme Court filled with political allies; a radicalized Republican Party, convinced that taxation and domestic government spending are a form of socialism; a failure by bipartisan elites even to prioritize, let alone tackle, continued high unemployment and the looming catastrophe of climate change. As Runciman’s editors titled his own essay on America’s lumbering democracy, “How can it work?” Courtesy of W. W. Nortn and Company It is one measure of the power of Ira Katznelson’s important, overstuffed new book, Fear Itself: The New Deal...

Data Comes to the Culture Wars

A sociologist runs the numbers on charges of liberal campus bias.

flickr / World Bank Photo Collection
R emember the good old days of the early culture wars? Oh, how I wistfully long for the late 1980s and early 1990s, when higher education was under sharp attack. It was then that Allan Bloom called out his colleagues for closing the American mind, and E.D. Hirsch surveyed the scene and wondered where all the cultural literacy had gone. Faculty, graduate students, and liberal defenders of American higher education bristled against these charges, to be sure. Yet this was elevated discourse compared to the knuckle-dragging anti-intellectualism of today’s assaults on the academy. Gone are Bloom’s and Hirsch’s pious—if precious—reverence for great ideas and students capable of tussling with them. Now we are left with the spectacle of conservatives trying to outflank each other by trash-talking “liberal intellectuals” and the refuge they find in American universities. Only by understanding how crucial these attacks are to conservative identity can we make sense of the jockeying among the...

Sheryl Sandberg’s Can-Do Feminism

AP Photo/Gregory Bull
AP Photo/Gregory Bull Sheryl Sandberg at a luncheon for the American Society of News Editors in San Diego in 2011 I n 1956, when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg entered Harvard Law School, her class of more than 500 students included nine women and one black man. Erwin Griswold, the school’s dean, summoned the nine women and asked each to answer a question: How could she justify taking a place that would otherwise have gone to a man? Griswold would later insist he’d just been playing devil’s advocate. Ginsburg, who still tells this story with a tinge of resentment, emerged from the meeting determined to prove him wrong. A half-century later, Angie Kim, Harvard Law School class of ’93, surveyed 226 women in her class. A decade and a half after graduating, almost one-third of the women described themselves as stay-at-home mothers, which they indicated was a temporary status; nearly another third had arranged “mommy track” part-time or flexible work. With numbers like these among women with...

Fear and the New Deal

FDR ascended to the White House 80 years ago. How has his legacy—and the legacy of his landmark legislation—shifted in the years since?

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In 1942, Congress passed legislation attempting to facilitate voting by soldiers stationed overseas. Passed too close to the date of the general election (and after the primary election season) and creating a cumbersome process, the bill was ineffective. As the number of American soliders overseas continued to increase, the lack of practical access to the ballot was intolerable to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He sent a bill to Congress in 1944 that would have created a simple federal ballot made it much easier for soldiers to make their voices heard. Despite having the authority of a wartime president, however, the bill failed. Congress instead passed a much weaker version, more similar to the 1942 statute, that did not send out a uniform federal ballot and left administration in the hands of the states. Fewer than 33 percent of eligible soldiers were able to vote in the 1944 elections. How, during the height of wartime, could such a basic democratic right be denied many...

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