Articles in current events
Many new books – some excellent, some awful – are now seeking to explain the terrorist group ISIS, but the group’s own origins dynamics are dauntingly complex. Greg Waldmann tries to make sense of it all.
In 2011, a man detonated a bomb in Oslo and then shot dozens of people on a nearby island before surrendering to police. A vivid new book tells the whole story of the victims – and the killer
Author Jacob Silverman contends in his new book that the intrusions of social media into our private lives has reached sometimes intolerable extents. But what does he mean by “intolerable”? And who is he counting as “our”?
Two books by Mark Leibovitch create a picture of Beltway wheelings and dealings that’s almost unbearably incestuous, with virtually no lines drawn between elected officials and profiteering lobbyists. Greg Waldmann plumbs the depths and reports back.
One of the most experienced reporters to cover the war in Afghanistan writes up his experiences
Claudia Rankine articulates the truths of the black experience so poignantly in her celebrated collection Citizen by putting them, paradoxically, both plainly and artfully.
In his new book City of Rivals, James Grumet takes a gloomy close-up look at America’s deeply dysfunctional Congress and offers some solutions. But are those solutions dysfunctional too?
Brian Turner’s complex, lyrical meditations on his tour of duty in Iraq make us ache with the privilege that is a war memoir.
Leon Panetta, old Washington fixture and former member of the Obama administration, criticizes the president in his new memoir. But does he have anything to say?
“Our belief in Literature has collapsed” Lars Iyer once wrote, but his new novel Wittgenstein Jr, the story of a passionate philosophy professor and his apathetic students, bristles with literary faith.
In Absence of Mind, Marilynne Robinson explores both the dynamics of faith and the complacency of recent anti-faith screeds. But is her own book something of a fall from grace?
In his latest collection of essays, Theater of Cruelty, Ian Buruma launches a series of expert investigations into the springs of cruelty and the perils of victomhood.
A British historian’s richly-sourced accounting of Molotov-Ribbentrop offers fresh insights into this Nazi-Soviet pact of “non-aggression.”
A new book blames Pakistan for the carnage in Afghanistan. But what does “Pakistan” really mean when its government is so fraught with dissension?
What does the summer of 1989, when Do the Right Thing hit theaters, have to say to the summer of Ferguson, and police militarization, and race relations today?
The critical consensus around reclusive Italian novelist Elena Ferrante is enough to make you suspect collusion – but to what end? and at what cost? Rohan Maitzen reviews the reviewers.
Uncertain Justice, by Lawrence Tribe and Joshua Matz, suggests that personality plays a greater role than ideology in today’s Supreme Court. David Culberg assesses the arguments.
A controversial author’s latest and most devastating indictment of Israel’s policies toward its Palestinian citizens and neighbors
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems depressingly intractable, an impasse without end. A new book offers a hypothetical solution, but is it foolish idealism, unworkable pragmatism – or a desperately innovative kind of hope?
What place do deep questions about the meaning of life have in our technological age? Is philosophy more important than ever?
William Deresiewicz has written-up some admonitions for gifted children of privilege: beware of status-mongering, ignorance of other classes, greed. But is his book itself just a wee bit … privileged?
Since the days of T.E. Lawrence, reporters have been providing the West with carefully-wrought (or overwrought) tales of the Middle East. A new book comments on the excesses–and maybe commits a few too.
Of all the borders in the world, the Durand line is perhaps the most dangerous. A new book seeks to explain the Taliban, who plague the peoples on both sides of it.
“You can throw out every damn other thing in the Constitution, as long as you don’t touch my guns,” one Southern U.S. Senator famously bellowed, perfectly typifying a certain psychosis. A new book picks fights on history of American gun law.
Thomas Piketty’s great mountain of Gallic macro-economics, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, was the hit of the Western world for one heady season. Then the parade moved on, and we were left, dazed and disheveled, wondering if we’ve been fed un truc de ouf. Our Peer Review attempts to sort out the l’affaire Piketty
With suicides on the rise throughout the Western world, a recent study by Jennifer Hecht attempts to both diagnose the frightening trend and evangelize against it. Ivan Kenneally discusses how effective her arguments are likely to be.
As the world’s supply of writers outpaces the world’s demand for their books, the financial returns for writing have fallen to laughable levels. Then why keep doing it? Paul Griffin explores the problem of writing and money.
A thoughtful exploration of what it means to teach the humanities would be a welcome intervention in the never-ending talk of crisis. Unfortunately, Why Teach? is not that book.
Iraqi lawyer and former exile Zaid al-Ali writes a bleak, sobering account of the state of his homeland in the post-“Mission Accomplished” era – but is there any reason for hope?
For the past 25 years, the Irish Presidency has been a wonder to behold: a place where passionate eccentrics can embody a complicated country.
Russia and the West, talking past each other, have blundered into conflict over Ukraine. Some commentators on the American left aren’t behaving much differently.
In her brilliantly scathing new book, Elaine Scarry charges that US Presidents, in maintaining and augmenting an enormous nuclear arsenal, have broken the social contract and become monarchs in all but name.
For years, pioneering blogger Andrew Sullivan was one of the most vocal supporters of the war in Iraq. Time and the war’s wretched progress gradually forced him to change his thinking, however, and a new collection of his writings on the subject charts the disillusioning step-by-step.
Chimananda Ngozi Adichie’s expansive novel Americanah centers on a Nigerian woman’s immigration to the United States and eventual return to Nigeria. Orem Ochiel explores what her story says about complex, often traumatic experience of being black and African in the West.
Fintan O’Toole is an idealist about Irish republicanism and his books begin a desperately necessary conversation. It’s a bad sign, though, that he can’t quite get past the preliminaries.
The authors have invaluable sources in America’s ‘deep state’ of surveillance and counter-terrorism, but how much secrecy does security justify? And what happened to moral accountability?
We’ve long endowed campaign consultants with shamanistic powers, but now a new truth is beginning to emerge–the people behind the scenes who can do most to win elections are the data analysts and stat nerds.
The belief that Jews are the enemy of civilization is one of the West’s most tenacious and systemic ideas. Professor David Nirenberg’s new history offers a vast, seemingly inexhaustible record of a very old, very useful hatred.
When the Paris Review, long regarded as a literary standard-bearer, publishes a volume on the art of the short story, it flushes a flurry of conversations into the open: what is a short story? What constitutes an anthology-worthy example? What’s the audience for this kind of thing? And: can these stories answer such questions?
Give Anthony Burgess a check and he’d write anything, even a Time-Life picture book. Which doesn’t mean that his 1976 guide to New York is anything less than fascinating.
Nate Silver is currently enjoying his status as that unlikeliest of people, the celebrity statistician. Does his bestseller The Signal and the Noise live up to its carefully calculated expectations?
Four years ago, Barack Obama won the U.S. presidency on a platform of hope and change. This month, as he fights for re-election, Greg Waldmann takes a detailed look at the incumbent’s first term.
Mitt Romney’s diatribe at a Boca Raton fundraiser may have torpedoed his candidacy. Was he just pandering, or did he actually mean all of those things he said?
Election-weary Americans might wonder why anybody in their right minds would elect to play a video-game presidential contest – but the process can be oddly enlightening.
Who’s at fault for our disastrous politics — both parties? Not a chance, say Washington insiders Ornstein and Mann. Our resident politico fisks their analysis.
This summer’s London Olympics take us back to 1981’s Chariots of Fire, the 1924 Olympics, and the poetry of William Blake. The connection? All remind us of the fragility of glory and our endless wish to make the past present.
In the wake of today’s news from Connecticut, we are reposting a note written by our Executive Editor following the shootings in Aurora earlier this year.
We may never know with certainty what brought Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to cast the deciding vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act and salvage the chief accomplishment of Barack Obama’s presidency. But …
Just how powerful is Exxon Mobil? Who can they pay off and which governments are they propping up? Steve Coll’s new book explores the dark side of power and light.
She’s occupied the throne of Great Britain and the Commonwealth for 60 years, and in June Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee. Three new biographies try to understand the woman wearing the crown.
No form of literature seems as thoroughly doomed in the 21st century as the printed encyclopedia, but even dinosaurs can have rich and rewarding life-stories. Where did we go, before we all went to the Internet?
Ken Layne’s political writing is sharp and raucus, and a novel about a financially devastated near-future United States would seem like a perfect vehicle for more anger. But though that fire is still there, a gentle-but-compelling spiritualist tone has risen to to the fore.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has made a career of joking about easy political targets – so what happens when she tries to deliver a factual inquiry of a serious subject? Nothing funny, as Greg Waldmann discovers.
This month sees the arrival of the long-awaited $250 million dollar Hollywood movie adaptation of Marvel Comics’ Avengers. Lost in all the hype is the rich history of the comic itself; Justin Hickey explores the convergence of pulp and pixels.
A new book takes readers back to a time when, according to historian Ira Shapiro, politics could sometimes be noble and senators could sometimes be giants.
When the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 2010, it was given to an empty chair. Its recipient, Liu Xiaobo, was in prison for advocating human rights in China. Though he is still incarcerated, a collection of essays sheds light on his thought and struggle.
To the quintessential virtues the Puritans lent to a fledgling republic – globality, philantropy, and autonomy – the ‘speaking aristocracy’ of the Boston Brahmins added one more: the love of learning
Steve Jobs, the visionary predator who founded Apple and forged a new way of thinking about technology, wasn’t a particularly nice man (as even his dutiful biographer must occasionally concede) – but was he a genius?
Unlike the soap operas with which it is often dismissively aligned, Downton Abbey is defined by change rather than stasis – by its beautifully produced attention to social evolution.
Andrew Breitbart, the brash, conservative media warrior, died a few days ago. He was by all accounts a wonderful husband, father, and friend – but should that matter?
After a brutal six months, Mitt Romney has won Florida and almost certainly the GOP nomination. Democrats and Republicans are rightly focused on his record, but they’re each doing it for the wrong reasons.
For two terms, first as National Security Advisor and then as Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice was the most – often the only – likeable face of the George W. Bush administration. But does this quintessential team player break ranks in her new memoir?
Boston without Brahmins, like Vienna without Jews, frames shifting capitoline visions, visions much more in the spirit than most realize of Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., who actually wrote: ‘It dwarfs the mind to feed it on any localism.’
He lost his famous mother when he was a boy, became a teen idol, had a storybook wedding, and he’s second in line to be King of England. The monarchy Prince William inherits will be like nothing his predecessors have experienced – if it exists at all. “A Year with the Windsors” concludes.
John Nance Garner famously referred to the vice presidency as being not worth a bucket of warm, er, spit – and yet, during the two terms of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney used that office to wield unprecedented power. The former vice president writes an unapologetic memoir.
Provocative public intellectual/muckraker Christopher Hitchens offers an enormous volume of collected essays and articles, probably his last.
Boston, so often reproved for living in its memories, may well be poised to lead the future, not in spite of its history but because of it.
The key to storytelling is world-building, and a new book wonders if our new and all-encompassing Digital Era has given mankind world-building tools like it’s never had before. Is it the death of the imagination – or Story 2.0?
The ethics of Wikileaks (and the antics of its mastermind, Julian Assange) continue to be the focus of controversy – and new books. Greg Waldmann takes a comprehensive look at the entire phenomenon.
Could you actually be hurting the environment by going green and moving to the suburbs? A new book champions that oft-maligned human invention: the big city.
Former political radical Susan Rosenberg received the longest sentence ever given for the charge of possessing explosives. Her new memoir revisits her prison experience.
If you’re hoping for a heartfelt mea culpa from an architect of two disastrous wars, this isn’t it. Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir is shallow at best, cynically self-serving at worst.
Semiotext(e) is famous for theory and provocation. So what happens when its co-founder takes on the art world in the latest installment of their manifesto series? To begin with, she doesn’t write a manifesto…
It’s fitting that Ahdaf Soueif is narrating this exciting new chapter in Egypt’s history: for decades she has offered her readers richer, more complicated stories of the Middle East than the commonplace ones of submission and extremism.
The myth of idyllic rural America dies hard, but the scourges of modern society have long since struck the heartland, including the scourge of drug addiction and drug trafficking. A recent book explores the darkness at the edge of town.
Matt Taibbi is the foremost political-writing muckraker of his generation, matching an acerbic wit with a pressure-cooked prose style. But is there substance behind the bluster?
Is the death of literature finally dead? If not, it’s been dealt a healthy blow by Gregory Jusdanis’ Fiction Agonistes, even it art does have to “justify itself in a way not necessary before.”
No American president in a generation has so polarized the country as George W. Bush, and his new book will almost certainly polarize its readers. Is it defiant agitprop or heartfelt memoir?
As reproductive technology has become more advanced, the value of those engineered lives has become more complicated. Two recent novels provide a striking perspective on this growing conflict.
It’s that time of year again, when our writers gird themselves and review all ten books on The New York Times bestseller list. This time around the quarry is bestselling Nonfiction.
The attacks of 9/11 evoked reactions from writers around the world, and journalist Scott Malcolmson finds fault with a great many of them – but does he do any better a job himself?
Vegetarians choose to be vegetarians and meat-eaters choose to be “normal.” Melanie Joy cuts into the language we use to describe our food and the mindset behind it.
The documentary Restrepo, set in the deepest and most violent American outpost in Afganastan, ushers us “through a door most Americans don’t know about and don’t want to know about”
In 2009, Ciudad Juarez reported 2,700 homicides. As Charles Bowden’s new book Murder City shows, the bloody drug-war just south of the border shows no signs of abating
Our bookshelves are a hedge against our failing memories, and as such, an extension of our minds. Nathan Schneider explores if and how this sacred role will be preserved in the age of digitization.
The so-called Tea Party would like to dump President Obama in Boston Harbor – but even ordinary politicians often misunderstand him. The reasons are simpler than you think.
Famed reporter Sebastian Junger spent months embedded with frontline troops in Afghanistan’s most forbidding region and tells the stories of the men who fight there.
There’s a frightening possibility at the heart of Jaron Lanier’s new manifesto You Are Not a Gadget: how often do we subjugate our own personalities to the fixed designs of computer software?
Louis Menand has offered a calm and lucid response to the usual jeremiads about higher education–but is its lecture targeted to an ever-shrinking audience?
The elephants of South Africa and the right whales of the North Atlantic are enormous, complex – and confronted with a growing human population. Two books estimate their chances.
Jonathan Safran Foer is not the first, but is certainly the most famous, to investigate the ethics of eating animals. Megan Kearns studies both the style and the substance of his argument, with an eye to his less acknowledged allies in vegetarianism
Unlike most prior White House wonks, Matt Latimer aw-shucks his way through history and into deep, deep trouble; Greg Waldmann reviews Speech Less
In Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sherilyn DuWunn chronicle the plight of women from the Congo to Cambodia, and everywhere else across the globe; Megan Kearns reviews their work.
Dan Baum and Dave Eggers have made very different books on New Orleans and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; Thomas Larson separates sense from sensationalism.
Foreclosure isn’t the homeowner’s only enemy. No one’s safe in their home when big money sniffs around; so the Supreme Court famously ruled in Kelo v. New London: John Cotter reviews muckraker Jeff Benedict’s Little Pink House.
Ned Sublette pens a loving portrait of New Orleans before Katrina struck. Ingrid Norton reviews The Year Before the Flood.
The writers of Freakonomics are at it again, this time in super-sized form; Arthur Brock scrutinizes their findings.
In A Vindication of Love, Christina Nehring has set herself the task of reclaiming romantic love for the Twitter Age. Ingrid Norton rates the results.
Simon Schama’s The American Future finds ways to relate most of American history to President Obama. Amanda Bragg checks the connections.
In Signature in the Cell, Stephen Meyer suggests that science has prematurely evicted a prime mover from cellular biology, and he would like it put back. Ignazio de Vega tests his case.
In Reason, Faith, and Revolution, literary critic Terry Eagleton joins the contentious “God Debates” popularized by Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. Jeremy Kessler moderates the results.
Brilliant novelist/amateur crank Mark Helprin despairs of your online thievery, and Esther Schell despairs of his new book, Digital Barbarism.
Great Britain has finally made a woman poet laureate—and a lesbian no less. As Bryn Haworth reports, when she’s isn’t writing about the Royals, she’s plenty worthy of the honor. Since writing about the Royals is one of the job’s few requirements, what changes might we expect from the post?
Edward Lucas, in The New Cold War, puts a modern face on the hoary geopolitical struggle between the Russian bear and the American eagle. Greg Waldmann sorts the players and evaluates the stakes.
For half a century, Senator Ted Kennedy has been carving out a legacy in Congress. The legacy and the man come into focus in Thomas J. Daly’s review of Last Lion.
Malcolm Gladwell is once again on the bestseller lists, this time for Outliers, about the social science of genius. Peter Coclanis begs to differ with the vox populi.
Evan Thomas, under the aegis of Newsweek, with substantial researcher assistance, after the editing of … well, “A Long Time Coming”, the first post-election account of President Obama’s campaign, got written somehow. Greg Waldmann goes into it with high hopes – and then conducts the autopsy.
Jane Mayers’ The Dark Side describes the United States’ rapid descent into the murky ways of torture and secret autocracy. Whether its the expediting of illegal proceedings or the out-sourcing of brutality, Greg Waldmann tries not to flinch from what he finds in Meyers’ account.
Millions of people all over the world feed their pets food manufactured under circumstances that would make Upton Sinclair spin in his grave. Sara Shaffer sifts through the ingredients of Marion Nestle’s Pet Food Politics.
A mere month remains until the most fiercely fought and most historically pivotal American presidential election of the last half-century. In July, Greg Waldmann served up an in-depth look at Republican John McCain. Here, just in time for the election, he does likewise for Democrat Barack Obama.
With his new book and coinage Crowdsourcing, Jeff Howe argues that a democratic, everyman wisdom is the secret to business success. So is the vox populi really the key to quality? Kathleen Smith, crowd of one, weighs the argument.
For those too addled by Xbox to grasp subtlety, Mark Bauerlein and Richard Shenkman have titled their respective books The Dumbest Generation and Just How Stupid Are We? For the rest of us, Laura Tanenbaum provides a nuanced evaluation of the laments of these cultural Jeremiahs.
In covering John McCain’s life and accomplishments, the American press has been, how shall we put it? less than tenacious. There are real stories they’ve yet to explore, or so argues Greg Waldmann in his first piece as Open Letters‘ Politics Editor.
For a year in the mid 1970s George H.W. Bush was the head of the United States Liaison Office in China. Steve Donoghue laments the contrast they make with his incurious son.
We know that we can digitize books, but is it possible to translate digital texts back onto paper? Carolyn Grantham explores this and other 21st-century dilemmas in her review of Sarah Boxer’s Ultimate Blogs.
The premise of Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational is that all of us are a lot more irrational a lot more often than we thought; Steve Donoghue tries to determine if the inmates really are running the asylum
He makes tools; he uses fire; he caucuses with interest groups: this is Dana Milbank’s Homo Politicus. Greg Waldmann assesses Milbank’s field notes, wishing the taxonomist had been more exacting.
Books lamenting our fractured political system are as commonplace these days as polling and pundits, but, as Greg Waldmann discovers, the historical rigor of Ronald Brownstein’s The Second Civil War helps elevate it above its pandering peers.
The bestselling New Atheists presume that a simple faith in reason will make short work of the longing for God. David G. Moser takes them to task for what Nietzsche would have called their “complacent rationality.”
Joanna Scutts reviews Soldier’s Heart by West Point professor Elizabeth D. Samet, whose memoir accomplishes the impressive feat of finding common ground between Army officers and English majors.
Does Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason really tell us anything we didn’t already know about our dying national dialogue? Greg Waldmann’s answer is yes.
When crises like 9/11 erupt, says Susan Faludi, America’s women wind up in lockdown. Joanna Scutts finds the national unconscious as unbalanced as ever in The Terror Dream.
Aside from the stammering anger they’ve stirred up, have John W. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt added anything substantial to the Middle East debate? Plenty, Greg Waldmann writes, but not for the reasons they wanted.Aside from the stammering anger they’ve stirred up, have John W. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt added anything substantial to the Middle East debate? Plenty, Greg Waldmann writes, but not for the reasons they wanted.
In The Know-It-All, A.J. Jacobs reduced learning to the memorization of trivia; now in The Year of Living Biblically he reduces religious faith to growing a beard. Steve Donoghue, in turn, reduces A.J. Jacobs.
Greg Waldmann wraps his head around The Suicide of Reason and comes away wishing Lee Harris hadn’t tried to talk reason off a ledge.
Steve Donoghue reviews pollster-guru Mark J. Penn’s Microtrends, a book that sheds light on the campaign mentality of our most powerful politicians. The weak of stomach must consider themselves duly warned.
In our regular feature, Hugh Merwin tucks in to the reviews of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which alternately acclaim and castigate the bellwether bestseller.
Wikipedia is destroying our culture; so are YouTube, MySpace, and Google; and all your damn blogs, too—or so says Andrew Keen. Greg Waldmann exposes Cult of the Amateur, and the amateur authorship behind the screed.
Simon & Schuster is calling Michael Behe’s The Edge of Evolution a work of science. Steve Donoghue examines just how blasphemous a claim that is.
Ignazio de Vega conducts a careful exegesis of Pope Benedict XVI’s
Jesus of Nazareth and discovers in it a remarkable quality: a spirit
Teaching a man to fish isn’t enough: you’ve also got to teach him to cook what he catches. Hugh Merwin challenges the usefulness of Barbara Kingsolver’s folksy Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
After tallying up the fallacies in God is Not Great, Amanda Bragg concludes that Christopher Hitchens is less concerned with enlightened dissent than with cashing in on a craze
Sam Sacks laments the great divorce of Christianity from literature
Can a writer be objective about poverty? John Cotter thinks William T. Vollmann’s striking approach in Poor People is both beautiful and frustratingly distant.