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Articles by Greg Waldmann

OLM Favorites: A Great and Sustaining Mystery

December 1st, 2017
OLM Favorites: A Great and Sustaining Mystery

Anthony Burgess the novelist had dreams of being a composer. He had little success, but along the way he delved deep into the nature and meaning of music.

From the Archives: A Boy Who Would Be King

November 1st, 2017
From the Archives: A Boy Who Would Be King

How did Donald Trump, a vacuous, bigoted sociopath, get to the White House? He did it by being himself.

The Ground Beneath Their Feet

July 1st, 2016
The Ground Beneath Their Feet

The promise and the limits of the Arab Spring receive some well-written – and necessarily sobering – reporting in Robert Worth’s A Rage for Order. Greg Waldmann reviews.

Change the Way They Live

May 1st, 2016
Change the Way They Live

As Andrew Bacevich relates in his important new book, US involvement in the Middle East has been characterized by confusion, mistakes, and blundering military force. Greg Waldmann reviews America’s War for the Greater Middle East.

Same Bloody Rhythm

April 1st, 2016
Same Bloody Rhythm

A new book reminds us that good reporting on the Middle East is more important than ever, and more dangerous.

A Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy

March 1st, 2016
A Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy

Jane Mayer’s new book uncovers the overpowering fire-hose of private money now being blasted into the American political system by the robber barons of the new Gilded Age.

Imminent Threat

February 1st, 2016
Imminent Threat

A harrowing new study tries to determine why the myth of torture’s effectiveness persists despite all the evidence – and despite a long line of permanently maimed victims. Greg Waldmann reviews.

The Broken Clock

November 1st, 2015
The Broken Clock

Controversial former Vice President Dick Cheney and his journalist daughter Liz have written a book claiming that the exceptional nature of American power is being sullied and squandered by the current occupant of the White House. Greg Waldmann reviews Exceptional.

None of the Above

August 1st, 2015
None of the Above

Political scientist Ian Bremmer’s new book looks at the changing nature of American power in the 21st century, but just how many false premises does the book employ?

The Management of Savagery

June 1st, 2015
The Management of Savagery

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.

A Cycle of Horrifying Songs

May 1st, 2015
schubert’s winter journey – Copy

Schubert’s bleak, tumultuous song cycle, Winterreise, is the subject of tenor Ian Bostridge’s passionate new book. Greg Waldmann examines Schubert’s Winter Journey, and the trouble with hard-to-love classical music.

Members in Good Standing

April 1st, 2015
Members in Good Standing

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.

Faith-Based Initiative

February 1st, 2015

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?

Unwise Counsel

December 1st, 2014
Unwise Counsel

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?

Hidden in Plain Sight

October 1st, 2014
Hidden in Plain Sight

A new book blames Pakistan for the carnage in Afghanistan. But what does “Pakistan” really mean when its government is so fraught with dissension?


July 1st, 2014

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.

The 5 Commandments

June 1st, 2014
The 5 Commandments

Major Kolt “Racer” Raynor doesn’t salute the U.S. flag – it salutes him. He punches bad guys so hard their grandkids are born with bruises. He garrotted a terrorist using a string made from his own eyelashes. He stars in Dalton Fury’s action novel – and if you don’t read the book, he’ll know.

“There Is No Enjoyment in This Life”

April 1st, 2014
“There Is No Enjoyment in This Life”

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?

Policy Papers: Ukraine and the Left

March 8th, 2014

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.

A Disproportionate Response

February 1st, 2014

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.

Quick, Off the Mark

November 1st, 2013
Quick, Off the Mark

Campaign books have short shelf-lives – and they deserve them, since most of them have about as much introspection as yesterday’s racing form. Greg Waldmann reads a recent book on the pivotal 2012 U.S. presidential election.

Failing Gracelessly

May 1st, 2013
Failing Gracelessly

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?

Book Review: Into the Desert

April 29th, 2013
Book Review: Into the Desert

It has become conventional wisdom to say that the first Gulf War was one of necessity, while the second was one of choice–but a collection of reflections challenges that maxim

Van Cliburn, 1934-2013

February 28th, 2013
Van Cliburn, 1934-2013

His repertoire was small, he was no barnstormer, and he gave up full-time concertizing in 1978. But Van Cliburn, who died yesterday at age 78, is to this day the most famous pianist America has …

Charles Rosen, 1927-2012

December 16th, 2012
Charles Rosen, 1927-2012

Open Letters mourns the loss of Charles Rosen, pianist, scholar, teacher and critic.

The Evolutionary: Barack Obama’s First Term in the White House

November 1st, 2012
The Evolutionary: Barack Obama’s First Term in the White House

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.

A Man Apart

October 1st, 2012
A Man Apart

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?

A Hostage Worth Ransoming

September 1st, 2012
A Hostage Worth Ransoming

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.

We Could Have Beaten Kennedy…

August 1st, 2012

Lyndon Johnson rained destruction on Vietnam and championed civil rights, amassed a secret fortune and fought for the needy. His paradoxical life continues in the fourth volume of Robert Caro’s epic biography.

Roberts Saves POTUS and SCOTUS

July 1st, 2012
Roberts Saves POTUS and SCOTUS

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 …

We Are Oil

June 1st, 2012
We Are Oil

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.

The Non-Event of the Month

May 31st, 2012

Last week on NBC’s Meet the Press, Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, was asked to give his opinion about an advertisement the Obama campaign has been running. It was a cover story for days. It was a complete waste of everyone’s time.


May 1st, 2012

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.

The Baffler Returns

April 2nd, 2012
baffler 19 cover

The Baffler, an unapologetically radical journal that always punched above its weight, has had a troubled history. But a long-term publishing contract has rejuvenated it, and shown that an old formula is as relevant as ever.

Good Enough

April 1st, 2012
Good Enough

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.

Breitbart at Rest

March 3rd, 2012

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?

Shore to Shore

March 1st, 2012

For two generations, the great American critic and man of letters Edmund Wilson has been instructing and delighting his readers – and inspiring some of them to become critics themselves.

Romney After Florida

February 1st, 2012

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.

The Apparatchik

February 1st, 2012

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?

Sentimental Education

January 1st, 2012
Sentimental Education

Though most people don’t understand musical notation or the theory underlying it, nearly all classical music writing relies on it. Today, the initiate has a better option: YouTube.

A Heartbeat Away

November 1st, 2011
Dick Cheney

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.

Splendide Mendax

September 1st, 2011
Splendide Mendax

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.

A Brief for the Defense

June 1st, 2011
A Brief for the Defense

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.

A False Quarrel

March 1st, 2011
Sari Nusseibeh

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?


January 1st, 2011

Nixon’s crimes are known to us all. A new book reveals that his biggest tormentor in the media committed a few of them himself.

Simple Man

December 1st, 2010
Simple Man

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?

How, Not If

July 1st, 2010
How, Not If

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.

Playing the Shadow Game

February 1st, 2010

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.


December 1st, 2009

Unlike most prior White House wonks, Matt Latimer aw-shucks his way through history and into deep, deep trouble; Greg Waldmann reviews Speech Less


October 1st, 2009

In our second annual Fiction Bestseller List feature, our writers temporarily put aside their dogeared copies of Hume and Mann, roll up their sleeves, and dig into the ten bestselling novels in the land as of September 6, 2009 – in the tranquil days before a certain Dan Brown novel began tromping all over that list like Godzilla in downtown Tokyo. Before you spend your hard-earned money at the bookstore, join us in a tour of the way we read now.


June 1st, 2009

Eric van Lustbader throws every cliche in the kitchen into Robert Ludlum’s endless Bourne saga, attempting to keep the pot boiling. Greg Waldmann tastes the stew.

The Empire Strikes Back?

May 1st, 2009

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.

Free with Subscription! Order Now!

February 1st, 2009

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.

One More, Please

January 1st, 2009
One More, Please

It’s been years—too long!—since Martha Argerich has preformed solo. Greg Waldmann eagerly pours thorugh her new DVD and the history of her brilliant career for clues to her reclusiveness and for glimmers of hope.

They Went to Work Quickly

December 1st, 2008
They Went to Work Quickly

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.

The Education of Barack Obama

October 1st, 2008

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.


September 1st, 2008

The Last Patriot, by Brad Thor

The End of the End of the End of the End of History

August 1st, 2008

In his latest book (a slim one this time), Robert Kagan again probes the socio-political state of the West. History is back, he tells us—about a week after he told us it was gone. Greg Waldmann helps us to to keep track of the epochs without a scorecard in his review of The Return of History and the End of Dreams.

The Truth and John McCain

July 1st, 2008

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.

Living Israel’s History

June 1st, 2008

Partisans on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have trouble reconciling the intricacy of events with their national mythology. Greg Waldmann explains how the Benny Morris of 1948 is both the exception and the rule.

What Went Wrong?

April 1st, 2008

Many readers forgave Michael Scheuer the angry bloody-mindedness of Imperial Hubris because of the merciless critiques of the Bush administration, but Greg Waldmann reports that in Marching Toward Hell, illogical anger is about all Scheuer has left

One Encounter: Thank You and Goodbye

March 1st, 2008

In February, the great pianist Alfred Brendel gave his final performance in New York City. Greg Waldmann was in Carnegie Hall to see it and in this regular feature he shares the experience.

Irreverence by Half-Measure

March 1st, 2008

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.

Not Quite Détente

February 1st, 2008
Not Quite Détente

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 Right Man for the Job

December 1st, 2007

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.

Costly Friendships

November 1st, 2007

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.

Tribal Failings

October 1st, 2007

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.

Chicken Little 2.0

September 1st, 2007

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.