Culture & Literature
The New York Review of Books

The New York Review of Books January 17, 2019

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.

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in this issue

2 min.

DAVID A. BELL teaches history at Princeton and is currently the John and Constance Birkelund Fellow at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center. His recent books include Shadows of Revolution: Reflections on France, Past and Present and, with Anthony Grafton, The West: A New History. JULIAN BELL is a painter based in Lewes, England. He is the author of What Is Painting? MARIANNE BORUCH is the author of The Little Death of Self: Nine Essays Toward Poetry. Her latest book of poems is Eventually One Dreams the Real Thing; her tenth collection, The Anti-Grief, will be published later this year. PETER BROWN is the Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton. His books include Augustine of Hippo: A Biography and, most recently, Treasure in Heaven: The Holy Poor in…

14 min.
‘has any one of us wept?’

This essay is adapted from a new afterword to the paperback edition of The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú, to be published by Riverhead in February. In the summer of 2018, as the press began to cover stories of family separation following the implementation of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, Americans were forced to grapple with the human cost of border enforcement at a national level. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the greatest outcry came in response to photographs that distilled the policy’s cruelty into images of children crying at the feet of armed border guards and sleeping on bare floors inside cages—soon after their viral circulation, the president was forced to issue an executive order reversing the practice of separating families. That reversal, we have learned in recent months,…

15 min.
the painter of souls

Lorenzo Lotto Portraits an exhibition at the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, June 19–September 30, 2018; and the National Gallery, London, November 5, 2018–February 10, 2019. Catalog of the exhibition edited by Enrico Maria Dal Pozzolo and Miguel Falomir. Thames and Hudson, 372 pp., £29.95 “No fee was given, but I rely on the honesty of the gentleman, finished the painting is worth a fair price of 20 ducats.” Lorenzo Lotto entered this note about a portrait in his account book in February 1542; similar arrangements—or lack of them—are recorded in many other entries. Lotto was, at this point, in his early sixties and working in Treviso, a city between Venice and the Alps in which, almost four decades earlier, he had been remarked on as pictor celeberrimus—a very distinguished painter. If we accept the…

15 min.
apologize later

The Cleaners a PBS Independent Lens documentary film directed by Moritz Riesewieck and Hans Block The Facebook Dilemma a PBS Frontline documentary television series directed by James Jacoby Fifteen minutes into The Cleaners, the unsettling documentary about the thousands of anonymous “content moderators” working behind the scenes in third-world countries for Facebook, Instagram, and other social media companies, the filmmakers provide a perfect—if obvious—visual metaphor: they show a young Filipino woman walking through a garbage-strewn Manila slum as children pick through a trash heap. “My mom always told me that if I don’t study well, I’ll end up a scavenger,” she says. “All they do is pick up garbage. They rely on garbage. It’s the only livelihood they know…. I was afraid of ending up here, picking up garbage. It was one of the…

14 min.
bonfire of the bathroom vanities

Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart. Random House, 338 pp., $28.00 The rambunctious satires of Gary Shteyngart have previously had one foot rooting around the real-life New York City, the other foot dug into the rubble and riches of post-Soviet republics or the oddly similar rubble and riches of an imaginary dystopian New York. In The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, his first novel, he describes Vladimir Girshkin on his twenty-fifth birthday as divided almost evenly between there and here: “He had lived in Russia for twelve years, and then there were the thirteen years spent here. That was his life—it added up.” Over the course of the novel, Vladimir seeks love and success in both worlds, from the smooth, pious liberality of his girlfriend’s Upper East Side parents to the cheerful greed and brutality of…

17 min.
the power broker

Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life by Diarmaid MacCulloch. Viking, 728 pp., $40.00 “Thomas Cromwell …Thomas Cromwell? I thought his name was Oliver!” This was the initial reaction of a young Harvard graduate in 1897 to the topic assigned to him for his B. Litt. thesis by Oxford’s Regius Professor of Modern History, Frederick York Powell. Over a century later, the relative fame of the two Cromwells has, at least temporarily, been reversed. The brilliance of Hilary Mantel’s novels Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring Up the Bodies (2012), with a third, The Mirror and the Light, promised for next year, and the dazzling success of their adaptations to stage and television have made the name of Henry VIII’s minister better known than that of the Lord Protector. After recovering from his disconcerting interview with York…