Archive by Formats
An excerpt from my review of Richard Zacks’s new book Island of Vice, about Theodore Roosevelt’s brief stint, during the mid-1890s, as a New York City Policy Commissioner.
A link to my review of journalist Simon Kuper’s book Soccer Men.
An excerpt from and link to my appreciation of the Los Angeles–based art critic Bruce Hainley, which has appeared at the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Brands’s briskly paced, accessible book features the likes of Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and Pierpont Morgan, American Colossus is not a fine-grained history of the business revolution they wrought or its effects on American workers. It is instead a broad survey of the period that uses “the triumph of capitalism” as a loose interpretive framework.
The Lost Art of Reading expands upon an essay Ulin published last year, and though pocket-size and only 150 pages, the book attempts to weave together several narrative threads. It is a personal essay; a journalistic summary of recent commentary on e-readers; and a paean to the intimacy and attention demanded of book readers.
Epstein began with a straightforward if ambitious premise—to depict our nation’s varied energy infrastructure—but quickly expanded his remit to include several notions of power that course through American society as invisibly as does electricity through the national grid. Cooling towers and reactors factor in many of the images, yet each kind of power—not only literal, but also political, economic, and the power of nature—impacts upon the others.
Stewardship of the land remains as contentious an issue today as it was one hundred years ago, when Theodore Roosevelt laid out his vision for conservation and ran into opposition from corporate lumber and mining interests. In The Big Burn, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Timothy Egan tells the story of Roosevelt’s prophetic vision for America’s landscape and the debates he gleefully exacerbated. The book focuses, with cinematic flair, on the August 1910 forest fire that ravaged three million acres in the northern Rockies, while providing an opportune challenge to the newborn US Forest Service.
Ranging idiosyncratically across the last two centuries, art historian Charlotte Klonk examines the influence of colour theorists, psychologists, businessmen and artists on the design decisions undertaken by museum directors in Europe and the USA. Klonk shows how changing theories of perception and individuality, as well as evolving attitudes toward gallery visitors, were at the centre of some surprisingly intense debates about how to present art.
My brief review of Paul Goldberger’s Why Architecture Matters (Yale) appears in the fall issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review. Click here (and scroll down) to read it. “[Goldberger] is suitably temperate while discussing the balance of ‘aesthetic ambition’ and ‘social purpose,’ exterior form and interior space, architecture’s effects on our emotions and on our [...]
Rebecca Solnit agrees with one aspect of commonplace thinking about disasters: once a hurricane’s winds subside, an earthquake’s upheavals abate, or an explosion’s concussive force dissipates, the trouble is far from over. But the premise of Solnit’s forceful new book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, is that nearly everything else we are told about the aftermath of such events is wrong…
The September/October/November issue of Bookforum has been posted online. It contains my brief review of Cecelia Tichi’s Civic Passions: Seven Who Launched Progressive America (and What They Teach Us) (UNC Press). The issue’s loose theme is “Work in Progress.” As always, the pairing of reviewers and subjects is incredibly sharp, with Gregory Sholette writing about [...]
This patient recounting of I.F. Stone’s career charts two ascensions punctuated by a sharp downturn. First came the meteoric rise from book-obsessed New Jersey boy named Isidor Feinstein to op-ed columnist for the New York Post with easy access to New Dealers throughout FDR’s administration. The second ascent begins approximately with the launch, in late 1953, of his humble four-page newsletter.
Rather than pay close attention to the merits of individual exhibitions or examine the public’s perception of the institution, Gross revels in the internecine squabbling among Met directors, board members, curators and New York City officials over the growth, acquisitions and public orientation of the museum. The book, akin to a 500-page Vanity Fair article, is an unabashedly unofficial history – Gross makes much of being denied official access to the museum’s archives and its employees [...]
Surrounded by condemned buildings and not yet eager for more human subjects, photography Danny Lyon set out to document the broad swaths of downtown being razed for two major infrastructure projects: a new ramp for the Brooklyn Bridge on the East Side and the World Trade Center on the West Side. [...]
Paradise Found ranges across five centuries of North America’s ecological history and narrates a striking diminishment of earlier natural abundance. Steve Nicholls offers copious evidence that even today our society is far from embracing as members of our “community” all of the earth’s living organisms. Yet, in recent decades, the sense of connection to the natural environment felt by figures like Leopold has swelled into what sociologist James William Gibson labels a “culture of enchantment” that is potentially broad, deep, and socially transformative. [...]
State by State re-creates, in condensed form, the American Guide series, a collection of 48 books published between 1938 and 1941 as part of the Federal Writers Project. Practicality, however, is set aside; whereas the earlier books were published by each state and intended for tourists’ use, this volume offers decidedly personal literary endeavors.
Farmers and Fishermen displays Daniel Vickers’s magisterial command of the local literature of Essex County, Massachusetts, as well as of historians’ interpretations of the labor performed there in the first two centuries of European settlement. Vickers aims, in this clear, accessible narrative, to fill a gap in the knowledge of preindustrial America concerning the structure of labor relations in the region’s farming and fishing communities. [...]
American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau, a 1,000-page anthology, represents a Herculean effort on the part of author and activist Bill McKibben, its editor, to bring together the texts most relevant to an audience unfamiliar with the topic. It is matchless in its heft, generous in scope (included are Sierra Club founder John Muir and Marvin Gaye), and, with a detailed chronology in its back matter, serviceable in its depth. [...]
Success greeted the Japanese author Shotaro Yasuoka, now nearly 90, immediately upon the publication of the short stories that make up The Glass Slipper and Other Stories. With frugal, occasionally lyrical prose (translated by Royall Tyler), these works, from the early 1950s, prize emotional and psychological depth over narrative propulsion [...]
David Samuels belongs to an increasingly rare species: journalists who can parachute into an unfamiliar corner of America, establish their bearings quickly and extract a compelling narrative at once universally recognizable and resonant with idiosyncratic particularities. [...]
The prolific anthologist and writer Alberto Manguel has become, since the publication in 1996 of A History of Reading, one of the foremost gentleman scholars of books and the act of consuming them. In The Library at Night, Manguel meditates on repositories of books, his thoughts provoked by the construction, next to his home in a small French village, of a freestanding building to harbor the vast, multilingual collection he has acquired over his lifetime of devotion to the written word. [...]
To browse a stack of photo books containing images of repressively choreographed social life, famine, and war—in this instance, in North Korea, the Darfur region of western Sudan, and the former Yugoslavia, respectively—is to travel down myriad avenues of interpretation. Each book and every page requires a complicated recalibration of expectation and response. [...]
In 2003 Steiner published Lessons of the Masters, an analysis of the personal encounter between mentor and protégé that took in not only Socrates and Plato and Jesus and his disciples but also college football coach Knute Rockne. Its valedictory tone likewise underpins his latest, and perhaps most disparate, essay collection, My Unwritten Books. [...]
When this book was originally published in 1998, Alice T. Friedman’s recourse to letters, memoirs, and newspaper and magazine accounts charted relatively new territory for an architectural historian. The portraits of six modernist houses, interwoven with profiles of the creators and their clients, still make for engaging material. [...]
The Cirkut camera, introduced just after the turn of the 20th century, charted—by means of a patented spring-arm rotation technology with a 360-degree range—the development of American society for the better part of 40 years. [...]
Vincent Kaufmann, professor of French literature at the University of St. Gallen and author of a study of twentiety-century avant-garde movements in poetry, has scoured Guy Debord’s writings and films—and the thicket of exegetical, frequently partisan scholarship they have inspired—to produce a compelling if necessarily incomplete portrait of the man, Guy Debord: Revolution in the Service of Poetry, newly translated into English by Robert Bononno.
In this slim, enjoyable book, cultural theorist and literary critic Kevin Kopelson uses the writer’s desk as an airstrip from which to lift off into flights of stirring exegesis. The five linked essays, on poet Elizabeth Bishop, novelist Marcel Proust, critic Roland Barthes, playwright Tom Stoppard, and travel writer Bruce Chatwin, use the orderliness (or lack thereof) of the writer’s desk as an lens through which to view the writers’ literary production. [...]
In the 60s, as art historian James Meyer points out in the introduction to a newly published collection of Andre’s writings, artists increasingly picked up the pen—to contextualize their work and to refute the claims of an ever-growing cadre of professional critics, whether overly literary or dryly theoretical. They often wrote, paradoxically, to insist on the primacy of the art viewing experience. Foremost among these artist-writers was Donald Judd [...]