Culture & Literature
The New York Review of Books

The New York Review of Books

November 5, 2020

For over 50 years, The New York Review of Books has been the place where the world's leading authors, scientists, educators, artists, and political leaders turn when they wish to engage in a spirited debate on literature, politics, art, and ideas with a small but influential audience that welcomes the challenge. Each issue addresses some of the most passionate political and cultural controversies of the day, and reviews the most engrossing new books and the ideas that illuminate them. Get The New York Review of Books digital magazine subscription today.

United States
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20 Issues

in this issue

2 min.

ELAINE BLAIR is a regular contributor to The New York Review. DAVID W. BLIGHT is Sterling Professor of American History at Yale. His biography of Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom, received the Pulitzer Prize for History. CAROLINE FRASER’s most recent book, Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, received the Pulitzer Prize for Biography. VIVIAN GORNICK is the author, most recently, of Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-reader. MICHAEL GORRA’s latest book, The Saddest Words: William Faulkner’s Civil War, was published in August. He teaches at Smith. MICHAEL GREENBERG is the author of Hurry Down Sunshine and Beg, Borrow, and Steal: A Writer’s Life. LINDA GREENHOUSE teaches at Yale Law School and is a New York Times contributing columnist. A new edition of her book The U.S. Supreme Court: A Very Short Introduction…

19 min.
sound and fury

Music Lessons: The Collège de France Lectures by Pierre Boulez, edited and translated from the French by Jonathan Dunsby, Jonathan Goldman, and Arnold Whittall. University of Chicago Press, 662 pp., $40.00 In 2014, when I was an apprentice conductor with the Chicago Symphony, I first conducted that ensemble in public with an enormous projection of Pierre Boulez looming over me. Boulez, the revered and widely influential French composer and conductor, was nearly ninety at the time. He had originally been slated to lead two weeks of programs in Chicago, but his declining health prevented him from traveling; as a result, his conducting duties were apportioned among three young conductors, myself included. The orchestra’s administration compensated for the disappointment of Boulez’s physical absence through video interviews with the maestro about the music on the…

18 min.
karenina’s children

The Book of Anna (Karenina’s Novel) by Carmen Boullosa, translated from the Spanish by Samantha Schnee. Coffee House, 182 pp., $17.95 (paper) In 1899 Anton Chekhov wrote to Maxim Gorky, an up-and-coming writer whose stories had caught his and Tolstoy’s attention: The day before yesterday I was at L. N. Tolstoy’s; he praised you very highly and said that you were “a remarkable writer.” He likes your “The Fair” and “In the Steppe,” and does not like “Malva.” He said: “You can invent anything you like, but you can’t invent psychology, and in Gorky one comes across just psychological inventions: he describes what he has never felt.” In another letter, Chekhov advised Gorky against his tendency to write like “a spectator in the theater who expresses his delight with so little restraint that he…

20 min.
enabler in chief

On September 23, less than two weeks before he tested positive for Covid, Donald Trump made explicit what has long been implicit: he will not accept defeat in the presidential election. Asked whether he would “commit here today for a peaceful transferal of power after the November election,” Trump replied, “Get rid of the [mail-in] ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful—there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation.” Earlier that day Trump explained why he wants to appoint a successor to Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court before the election: “This scam that the Democrats are pulling—it’s a scam—the scam will be before the United States Supreme Court.” The plan could hardly have been laid out more clearly. If he loses, he will rely on…

13 min.
knives out

Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle an exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, January 18–August 9, 2020; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, August 29–November 1, 2020; the Birmingham Museum of Art, November 20, 2020–February 7, 2021; the Seattle Art Museum, February 25–May 23, 2021; and the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., June 26–September 19, 2021. Catalog of the exhibition edited by Elizabeth Hutton Turner and Austen Barron Bailly. Peabody Essex Museum/University of Washington Press, 188 pp., $45.00 As we were waiting on line at the Metropolitan Museum to get into the exhibition “Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle,” I told my friend that one reason why Lawrence, though long an esteemed name in American art, has a rather modest presence in our museums may derive from his not having…

15 min.
why was she so hated?

Marie Antoinette’s World: Intrigue, Infidelity, and Adultery in Versailles by Will Bashor. Rowman and Littlefield, 297 pp., $24.95 Marie-Antoinette: The Making of a French Queen by John Hardman. Yale University Press, 363 pp., $30.00 Lock her up! In this case, they not only locked her up but also cut off her head. It is not often that a queen is arrested, tried, and publicly executed. Henry VIII had two of his wives beheaded, one after a trial, the other by bill of attainder, but their executions took place in the privacy of the Tower of London. Marie-Antoinette’s problem was not her husband, Louis XVI, who was tried and executed for treason in January 1793. At the time of her own trial nine months later, she found herself the former queen in a year-old republic. Although the…