Book Review

An online-only review of books and arguments about books.

Said of the Sixties

Said of the Sixties

Revising Said’s “out of place” self-image is a project worth pursuing further

Although Brennan’s book prioritizes Said’s English-department dramas, his longstanding anti-militarism is arguably at least as interesting a thread to follow, and one that seems destined to stay interesting longer.

The Ambitions of Illiberal Democracy

The Ambitions of Illiberal Democracy

How did the revolutionaries of 1989 become the nativists of the 2010s and 2020s?

Migration shapes nativist politics, but does not suffice to explain the wider crisis of liberalism. Exclusionary policies on immigration are being pursued in most European countries (with some notable exceptions, such as Portugal). Yet despite general anti-immigrant sentiment, it is only in the United Kingdom, Poland, and Hungary that nationalist governments have actively turned away from the European Union, and only in Budapest and Warsaw that open season has been declared on liberal civil society and the rule of law. Kaczyński and Orbán are special among Europe’s nationalists not for their chauvinism, but for their authoritarian actions against domestic opponents and the EU.

The People, It Depends

The People, It Depends

What’s the matter with left-populism?

The New Deal is the ultimate horizon of Frank’s political imagination. In the 1930s, Frank argues, the Great Depression finally forced the American ruling class to rethink its unabashed elitism, leading inevitably to the rediscovery of the virtues of the populist tradition. The New Deal was at its heart, then, a cultural and rhetorical phenomenon with downstream economic consequences. He devotes orders of magnitude more attention and detail to poets like Carl Sandburg (whose epic The People, Yes gives the book its title), filmmakers like Orson Welles, and the oratory of FDR at his most fire-breathing than to the substantive economic policy of the President and his postwar successors. Frank even quotes, approvingly, labor secretary Frances Perkins’ remark that the New Deal was “basically an attitude.”

After Neoliberalism

At the heart of the new age are novel configurations of fear, certainty, and power

The big reveal: Google and Facebook are marketing companies. That is how they make money. What is more extraordinary is how much the two companies have thus far dominated their markets. Zuboff reports that between 2012 and 2016 Google and Facebook together accounted for 90 percent of the growth in global advertising expenditures. But there is nothing much “unprecedented” about advertising.

Argument Without Argument

Argument Without Argument

Robert M. Gates and America’s forever foreign policy

The more time one spends in Gates’s head, the more one is struck by the increasingly nihilistic quality of the American exceptionalist creed. Gates and his ilk remain committed to the idea that when there are problems in the world, the United States must “do something.” What is that something? It usually doesn’t matter much.

The Wantok System

The Wantok System

A horizon of maximum difference, a test bed for linguistics and for linguists

New Guinea remained on my radar: a horizon of maximum difference, a test bed for linguistics and for linguists. Elsewhere, linguistic differences usually stem from geographic isolation. But in much of New Guinea the diversity is actually deepest in places where travel is easiest. Instead of using religion, clothing, or food, Papua New Guineas have distinguished themselves above all through language. Call it tribalism or, as linguists do, the “constructive fostering of variegation” through “intentional language change.”

Pollito, Chicken; Gallina, Hen

Pollito, Chicken; Gallina, Hen

American Dirt in Mexico

Notice how the register of the prose, with its figures and rates, evokes the rhetoric of nonfiction. The use of general, declarative sentences about Mexico, in particular, makes me think of what my journalism professors used to call the nut-graf—the paragraph in the article where the journalist briefly pauses her account of the news to establish, in the most efficient way possible, the context for the events on which she is reporting. The result is that Cummins’s book often slips into didacticism.

Eating the Frog

Eating the Frog

David Wallace-Wells’s new book is one of the few honest accounts of the costs, both tangible and metaphorical, of global warming.

David Wallace-Wells’s new book, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, reads at once as an innovative look at manmade climate change and also as old news. As Wallace-Wells himself states at points, not much in his book is new. Even the scariest near-term predictions and assessments, like the possibility that “should the planet warm 3.7 degrees . . . climate change damages could total $551 trillion—nearly twice as much wealth as exists in the world today,” or that, at the upper-end of temperature predictions for the end of this century, “humans at the equator and in the tropics would not be able to move around without dying” have been accessible to the general public online or in academic articles and assessments. What is new is the candor of the narrative and relative impassivity with which Wallace-Wells, a career journalist, elucidates the distressing implications of the facts that he reports.