Books

Lit Crit

‘Arts & Entertainments’ Is Accomplished, Frustrating

By 7.30.14

Arts & Entertainments
By Christopher Beha
(Ecco, 288 pages, $14.99)

Eddie Hartley is a failure. His acting career barely extends beyond a handful of bit parts in Law & Order. He’s a high school drama teacher, but the best he can muster toward his students is apathy. He and his wife Susan have been trying (unsuccessfully) to have children, and expensive fertility treatments have left them deep in debt. Meanwhile, Eddie’s talented and beautiful ex-girlfriend Martha, who dumped him when her own acting career took off, has enjoyed nothing but success. She’s got everything and he’s got nothing.

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Scared Vittleless

By From the July/August 2014 issue

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us
By Michael Moss
(Random House, 480 pages, $28)

The Food Police: A Well-Fed Manifesto About the Politics of Your Plate
By Jayson Lusk
(Crown Forum, 240 pages, $24)

Fear of Food: A History of Why We Worry About What We Eat
By Harvey Levenstein
(University of Chicago, 228 pages, $15)

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In a Sentimental Mood

By From the July/August 2014 issue

Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism
By Thomas Brothers 

(Norton, 608 pages, $39.95)

Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington
By Terry Teachout

(Gotham, 496 pages, $30)

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Restraint: The Prudent American Grand Strategy

By 6.30.14

Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy
By Barry R. Posen
(Cornell University, 256 pages, $29.95)

Since the end of the Cold War, a handful of America’s most prestigious scholars have called for a radical transformation of U.S. grand strategy from the status quo of liberal hegemony. (Liberal because of America’s democratic values and hegemonic because it’s sustained with the sword.) In its place, scholars such as Texas A&M’s Christopher Layne, Harvard’s Stephen Walt, University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer, and MIT’s Harvey Sapolsky have argued for a strategy of “offshore balancing.” In their view, U.S. forces, currently spread across some 500 foreign bases and numbering around 175,000 (not including those deployed to Afghanistan), should come home.

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Shelf Life

Does Language Shape Thought?

By 6.23.14

The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language
By John H. McWhorter
(Oxford, 208 pages, $19.95)

Chinese has an extraordinary number of verbs meaning “carry.” If I carry something on a hanging arm, like a briefcase, the verb is ti; on an outstretched palm, tuo; using both palms, peng; gripped between upper arm and body, xie; in my hand, like a stick, wo; embraced, like a baby, bao; on my back, bei; on my head, ding; on my shoulder, kang; on a pole over my shoulder, tiao; slung on a shoulder pole between two guys, tai….

Every foreign language learner encounters similar curiosities. The question naturally occurs: Since speakers of different languages carve up the world so differently when they speak, do they likewise do so when they think? Do they conceive of the world differently?

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Nobody’s Fools

By From the July/August 2014 issue

The Rule of Nobody: Saving America From Dead Laws and Broken Government
By Philip K. Howard

(Norton, 256 pages, $23.95)

The best law book in the last twenty years received very little attention from anyone in the American legal academy. That book, The Death of Common Sense by Philip K. Howard, was an indictment of the numberless rules and regulations in this country that have assumed a life of their own, to the detriment of old-fashioned commonsensical decision-making. Howard was the kid who said “The Emperor has no clothes,” with the difference that everyone in a position to correct things told him, “Shut up, kid. He looks just fine to me.”

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The Obama Impeachment Bible

By 6.10.14

“Be careful how you make those statements, gentleman.” Barack Hussein Obama had been president of the United States for all of two months. He was lecturing the titans of American finance who were struggling to explain to him, a man with no meaningful business experience, how high salaries are necessary if American companies are to compete for talent in a global market.

“The public isn’t buying that,” scoffed the president. He wasn’t talking about the public, though. “My administration,” he warned, “is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.” The pitchforks: that’s his public. 

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What We’re Reading: May Edition

By on 5.19.14 | 1:47PM

After a short hiatus, we're back with what we're reading:

Matthew Walther, Assistant Editor and Book Reviewer

John Lahr, Tennessee Williams. This very readable life of the playwright, with whose work I have never had much sympathy, by an old New Yorker drama hand has an interesting pre-history. It is, technically, the second volume of an earlier biography whose publication was delayed by Williams's estate. Still in galley, but something to look forward to in September.

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I’m Moving On

By 5.14.14

An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of States: How Taxes, Energy, and Worker Freedom Change Everything
By Arthur B. Laffer, Stephen Moore, Rex A. Sinquefield, and Travis H. Brown
(Wiley, 368 pages, $29.95)

We move around. About half of Americans live in a state other than the one in which they were born. It might be painful to pick up stakes and head to a new town, in a new state, but sometimes the emotional costs of staying put exceed the costs of relocating. And so we move. It’s like a game of checkers, where someone shakes up the board, and half the pieces stay where they were and half move over to a new square.

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Bring On the Anti-Gravity Shield!

By 5.9.14

The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity
By Pedro G. Ferreira
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 288 pages, $28)

On November 25, 1915, Einstein presented his new equations to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in a short three-page paper,” this author tells us. Thus was the General Theory of Relativity born, after of course some years of gestation in Einstein’s remarkable brain.

With the centenary of that event almost upon us, a historical survey is in order. In The Perfect Theory, Pedro Ferreira, a professor of astrophysics at Oxford University, has supplied one.

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