Culture & Literature
The New York Review of Books

The New York Review of Books February 7, 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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20 Issues

in this issue

2 min.

DAVID COLE is the National Legal Director of the ACLU and the Honorable George J. Mitchell Professor in Law and Public Policy at the Georgetown University Law Center. His most recent book is Engines of Liberty: How Citizen Movements Succeed. CARL ELLIOTT is a Professor at the University of Minnesota and the recipient of a 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Award. He is working on a book about whistleblowers and unethical medical research. HOWARD W. FRENCH is a Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and was for many years a New York Times correspondent. His latest book is Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power. CHARLES GLASS is a former ABC News Chief Middle East Correspondent.…

14 min.
the twisting nature of love

Roma a film directed by Alfonso Cuarón Alma Guillermoprieto Water comes over the screen in waves for long minutes as the film opens. Offscreen, we hear the scrubbing of a straw bristle brush, as soapsuds float in and out of the frame, and at last the shot widens to reveal a young woman, tin bucket in one hand, long-handled squeegee in the other. The tiled area under the brush is the carport of a home in one of the older parts of Mexico City, and if you’re a Mexican viewer you’ll know without thinking that the person with the bucket is a servant, doing the daily morning clean-up. You’ll know her occupation even before you really see her face because she is dark-skinned and too poorly dressed to be anything else in a house…

18 min.
imperial exceptionalism

Empire in Retreat: The Past, Present, and Future of the United States by Victor Bulmer-Thomas. Yale University Press, 459 pp., $32.50 Republic in Peril: American Empire and the Liberal Tradition by David C. Hendrickson. Oxford University Press, 287 pp., $34.95 It is hard to give up something you claim you never had. That is the difficulty Americans face with respect to their country’s empire. Since the era of Theodore Roosevelt, politicians, journalists, and even some historians have deployed euphemisms—“expansionism,” “the large policy,” “internationalism,” “global leadership”—to disguise America’s imperial ambitions. According to the exceptionalist creed embraced by both political parties and most of the press, imperialism was a European venture that involved seizing territories, extracting their resources, and dominating their (invariably dark-skinned) populations. Americans, we have been told, do things differently: they bestow self-determination on backward peoples…

18 min.
first among equals

Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry an exhibition at the Louvre, Paris, February 20–May 22, 2017; the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, June 17–September 17, 2017; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., October 22, 2017–January 21, 2018. Catalog of the exhibition by Adriaan E. Waiboer with Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Blaise Ducos, and others. Yale University Press in association with the National Gallery of Ireland, the National Gallery of Art, and the Louvre, 304 pp., $60.00; $35.00 (paper) On a May morning in 1921 Marcel Proust ventured from his bed, where he spent most of his time, to see an exhibition of Dutch painters at the Jeu de Paume. Organized to demonstrate the modern sensibilities of certain old masters, it had been lavishly praised, including by his…

11 min.
syria: a savage peace

Workmen throughout Syria are erecting bronze, stone, and concrete statues in what the government calls “liberated areas.” Some of the monuments are newly cast, while others have been in storage since the conflict began in 2011. At that time, protesters in rebellious cities like Dera’a and Homs were desecrating the sculptures of longtime president Hafez al-Assad, his successor Bashar, and Bashar’s older brother, Bassel, the designated heir who died before ascending the throne. It was perhaps an omen of the rebellion’s destiny that popular legend had a massive bust of Hafez in Idlib killing two demonstrators as it crashed to earth. Seven years on, the effigies, like the regime they embody, are back. The war isn’t over, but the postwar era has begun. Outright victory remains elusive. The Syrian army controls…

16 min.
the disillusionist

Arturo’s Island by Elsa Morante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein. Liveright, 370 pp., $27.95 We live in a golden age of reissues. Every publishing season seems to bring fresh editions from a vital but ignored past: say, Clarice Lispector, who had one book come out last year, or Lucia Berlin, who had two. For readers, republication offers something rare: the possibility of reclaiming history simply by opening a book. The proper response to this is surely celebration. But I can’t help feeling a bit depressed that so many of the cool new writers are dead. I’ve been particularly interested in the resurgence of midcentury women novelists who share certain characteristics. These women were underappreciated in their own lifetimes. They may have gotten prizes and awards, but they never earned the fame or…