"Why do we read writers who are profoundly pessimistic? And what sense are we to make of their work in our ordinary, hopefully not uncheerful lives?" Tim Parks considers.
James Romm: "The master referred to as the 'Berlin Painter,' who lived in Athens in the early fifth century BC, was an artist whose name and nationality remain unknown, but whose distinctive and confident illustration in the red-figure style stands out as clearly as any signature."
Nobel Prize–winning economists Eric Maskin and Amartya Sen follow up their recent proposal for a “majority rule” electoral system in the United States with some reflections on the problem of vote-splitting and the results of the French presidential election.
"Unlike Trump, Jeff Sessions has been able to implement major changes to the agency charged with protecting the rights of all Americans," writes David Cole. For this reason, "the attorney general may actually be the more dangerous of the two."
“Donald Trump is our first Facebook president,” writes Sue Halpern. “His team figured out how to use all the marketing tools of Facebook, as well as Google, the two biggest advertising platforms in the world, to successfully sell a candidate that the majority of Americans did not want.”
Ingrid Rowland reviews several recent exhibitions that provide a fresh, insightful view into Martin Luther’s life and times and the vast, unpredictable forces his rebellion unleashed.
"The genius of Chinua Achebe, like all genius, escapes precise analysis. The first of the novels in his 'African trilogy' defined a starting point for the modern African novel," writes Kwame Anthony Appiah in his foreword to a new edition of the trilogy. "He found a way to represent for a global Anglophone audience the diction of his Igbo homeland."
"The Chinese who could afford to think about such things at all were obsessed with notions of immortality and the afterlife," writes Ian Buruma. Buried in the Qin Emperor’s tomb "there were sculptures of pet animals, and dancers and acrobats to entertain...And the bones of his concubines, sacrificed to comfort their ruler in the afterlife, were found inside the tomb as well."
Astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan reviews three books about women's contributions to modern astrophysics and space exploration: "Science has always been a collective enterprise, dependent on many individuals who work behind the scenes...Yet for too much of its history the work of women and scientists of color was exploited, deemed rudimentary, and unacknowledged."
On World War I and American art, James Fenton writes, "It is striking how often in this period the war is presented as an issue of manhood, of womanly values, motherhood, virginity at stake, plain old sex."
Is a crackdown on universities the latest addition to the increasingly sophisticated repertoire of right-wing populism? Jan-Werner Müller on Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's new law aimed at shutting down the Central European University (CEU).
"Why would Russia tolerate the Chechen government's campaign against gays, which has been so heavily criticized and seems to serve no political purpose?" writes Amy Knight. "Vladimir Putin and Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov have long had a Faustian bargain."
Julia Preston: "US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been conducting what it calls targeted enforcement operations around the country. About 680 people were picked up during five days in February in coordinated actions in five cities...according to the 'Austin American-Statesman,' out of fifty-one people arrested in that Texas city during the enforcement operations in February, twenty-eight had no criminal records."
"Yet another journalist has been murdered in Mexico," writes Alma Guillermoprieto. "Because Javier Valdez was a friend of mine the details matter more to me this time."
We’re pleased to announce that Ian Buruma has been named editor of The New York Review of Books.
Steve Coll’s 2014 review of ‘The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News—and Divided a Country’ by Gabriel Sherman
J. Hoberman on 'Afterimage,' Polish director Andrzej Wajda's final film, which tells the story of the last years of another Polish artist, the abstract painter Władysław Strzemiński.
Martin Filler on Irving Penn at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: "Despite Penn’s habitual kvetching about being a tool of commerce, the Condé Nast connection gave him early access to fresh currents of creativity, and he was always alive to them."
"The antic Jazz Age canvases of the painter, poet, and theatrical designer Florine Stettheimer can give the impression, at first glance, of a never-ending party," writes Christopher Benfey, reviewing the Stettheimer exhibition now at The Jewish Museum along with "The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s" now at Cooper Hewitt.
Historian Robert Paxton on two new books about owls
This article by Timothy Snyder from April 2016, about how Putin would exploit Trump’s vanity and need for praise, is worth another look today:
“It is precisely Trump’s pose of strength that reveals his crucial vulnerability. As anyone familiar with Russian politics understands, an American president who shuns alliances with fellow democracies, praises dictators, and prefers ‘deals’ to the rule of law would be a very easy mark in Moscow.”
Robyn Creswell: "While often whimsical on the surface, in aggregate the Syrian writer Osama Alomar's stories offer a uniquely haunting account of the conflict they never name."
Hillary Chute reviews Guy Delisle's graphic book 'Hostage,' about a man who was abducted and kept for four months.
Paul Levy reviews five books on sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf.
Should Confucius Institutes in the US—officially controlled by a government well known for aggressively propagandizing its official views, censoring dissenting opinions, and imprisoning those who express them—be reformed?
"Donald Trump has an instinct for doing violence to language. Using words to lie destroys language," writes Masha Gessen. "This isn’t merely a question of the prestige of the writing art or the credibility of the journalistic trade: it is about the basic survival of the public sphere."
Tamsin Shaw on the tiny, sixteenth-century boxwood miniatures now at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Cloisters through May 21, and the secrets of their seemingly miraculous creation: "These diminutive objects have an impact for which the viewer who expects merely to marvel at technical virtuosity will be unprepared."
Ingrid Rowland writes, "Most of all, the Caravaggio originals in the exhibition 'Beyond Caravaggio' demonstrate why the painter exerted such an overwhelming influence on patrons and colleagues alike, and why he is so passionately loved today."
"What is the function of the body in consciousness? Am I my body, or my brain, or a part of my brain?" writes Tim Parks in the introduction to his latest conversation with Riccardo Manzotti, continuing their dialogue on consciousness.
Darryl Pinckney reviews ‘The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race,’ an anthology of poems, essays, and memoirs edited by Jesmyn Ward.
"James Comey is no saint. But thanks to Donald Trump, he is now a martyr," writes David Cole. "The notion that Trump and Sessions took action against Comey because of his unfairness to Clinton may be the most brazen effort at 'fake news' or 'alternative facts' yet from a president who has shown no reluctance to lie, even and especially when the truth is plain for everyone to see."
Deborah Cohen reviews ‘Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First’ by Frank Trentmann.
Alongside Alex Webb's three decades of photographs of Mexican streets, Álvaro Enrigue ruminates on Calle Viena in Mexico City, where Trotsky’s bones were held
'The Lost City of Z,' James Gray's film on a twentieth-century European's navigation of the Amazon River, Thomas Powers writes, "is distinguished by three things—a kind of ethnographer's fascination with the behavior of men in groups; beautiful photography of the forest lushness of the Amazon basin; and the driving force it gives to Percy H. Fawcett's determination to do something that would dazzle the world."
Yesterday, President Trump's revised travel ban appeal was argued in the Fourth Circuit Court. David Cole writes, "The central issue in the appeals is whether it is appropriate to look beyond the text of the order in assessing its legality....Once one does so, it is self-evident that the travel ban was intended to make good on Trump’s oft-repeated campaign pledge to prohibit Muslims from entering the US."
"Successful reproduction lay at the very heart of the royal system," writes Martin Filler of the exhibition "Enlightened Princesses," which looks at how three remarkable women shaped eighteenth century Britain. "In the 1770s, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz promoted research on maternal health; her physician was the first to dissect a pregnant woman’s uterus and study its anatomical composition."
Astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan reviews three books about the frequently unknown or unacknowledged contributions of women to modern astrophysics and space exploration.
“In choosing a president,” writes Robert Darnton, “the French will be voting, at least in part, for an interpretation of French history.” This helps explain the outrage over Patrick Boucheron’s ‘Histoire mondiale de la France,’ a volume that aims to change how French history is understood.
James Fenton on World War I and American art
Ian Buruma on an exhibition of Qin and Han Dynasty artifacts: "Having been beautifully preserved underground for thousands of years, these objects delight us still. It is easy to forget that the past remains another country. But perhaps it isn't a complete illusion."
The effects of the Trump administration’s push for deportations have been far-reaching. In many cities and towns, immigrants say they feel besieged and are retreating from public life.
Francine Prose: "The new TV series 'The Handmaid’s Tale' has been enthusiastically acclaimed as a feminist classic. But in what sense is it 'feminist' to provide viewers with a glossy, sensationalized portrayal of women’s deepest anxieties and paranoias?"
"The economic miracle that was promised by the Hassan Rouhani government hasn’t happened, and as Iran's presidential election approaches, the sense of anti-climax is palpable," writes Christopher de Bellaigue.
Charles Glass reports from Aleppo, where the landscape “conjures memories of Dresden, Coventry, and Tokyo in the aftermath of World War II. The multiple forms of destruction testify to the ingenuity of the world’s arms factories. Bombs have transformed Aleppo into an Escher-like vision of six-foot-thick concrete slabs twisted into braids; five-story apartment buildings compressed into piles ten feet high; and collapsed façades of entire streets exposing rooms with ceiling fans eerily intact and revolving in the wind.”
Martin Filler on the Irving Penn exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: "The show suggests that the master photographer’s commercial work laid the foundation for his deeply original contribution to the medium. Indeed, the Met’s splendid overview of this grand obsessive proves that his supposedly Faustian bargain was not such a bad deal after all."
Tim Judah went to the South of France to report on the presidential election and found voters "suffering a crisis of faith." He writes, "Abstentionism, another major terrorist attack, or something else as yet unforeseen could swing the vote" in the second round this Sunday.
Guy Delisle’s new book 'Hostage,' which recounts the story of one man's experience as a hostage for four months after being abducted while on his very first mission as an administrator for Doctors Without Borders, "beautifully demonstrates the aptitude of comics for representing time and subjective experience," writes Hillary Chute.
Masha Gessen: "A year after historian Timothy Snyder made the observation that 'Putin is the real world version of the person Trump pretends to be on television,' the tables are turned: Trump has become the real version of the man Putin plays on television—an unpredictable, temperamental, impetuous man who will push reality past the limits of the imagination."
Paul Levy on the painter Vanessa Bell and her sister, Virginia Woolf.
A recently issued report recommends that Confucius Institutes—housed in US institutions, their curriculum largely shaped, at least formally, by Chinese guidelines—be closed or reformed. Richard Bernstein considers.
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