Culture & Literature
The New York Review of Books

The New York Review of Books February 21, 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.

CHRISTOPHER BEHA is the Executive Editor of Harper’s. His new novel, The Index of Self-Destructive Acts, will be published next year. RICHARD BERNSTEIN was a foreign correspondent for The New York Times and the Beijing Bureau Chief for Time. His latest book is China 1945: Mao’s Revolution and America’s Fateful Choice. ELAINE BLAIR is a regular contributor to The New York Review. CHRISTOPHER R. BROWNING is Frank Porter Graham Professor of History Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author, most recently, of Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave-Labor Camp. MERVE EMRE is Associate Professor of English Literature at Oxford and a Fellow of Worcester College. Her latest book is The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing. CAROLINE FRASER’s most recent book, Prairie…

14 min.
fool britannia

Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain by Fintan O’Toole. London: Head of Zeus, 217 pp., £11.99 (paper) From the ill-conceived Brexit referendum onward, Britain’s governing class has embarrassed itself. The Remain campaign was complacent, the Leave campaign brazenly mendacious, and as soon as the result was known, most of the loudest advocates for severing ties with the European Union ran away like naughty schoolboys whose cricket ball had smashed a greenhouse window. Negotiations have revealed the pitiful intellectual limitations of a succession of blustering cabinet ministers, the leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition doesn’t appear to want to oppose, and the prime minister has engineered her own humiliation by starting the countdown to Brexit without a plan that could command wide support, resulting in the heaviest parliamentary defeat in history. Despite…

19 min.
men’s lib

On Henry Miller: Or, How to Be an Anarchist by John Burnside. Princeton University Press, 175 pp., $22.95 Pity John Burnside. It’s not the best time to publish an appreciation and defense of Henry Miller, whose Tropics trilogy, written in the 1930s, was banned for decades in the US for obscenity, and then indicted by feminist critic Kate Millet in her book Sexual Politics (1970) as a paramount example of chauvinist attitudes toward women. Burnside, a poet, points out that Miller is a romantic who devoted over a thousand pages (the Rosy Crucifixion cycle) to chronicling his narrator’s relationship with the great love of his life (based on Miller’s second wife, June). More specifically, Miller was one of the early-twentieth-century writers—with Lawrence and Joyce—who brought the explicitly carnal, so-called lower functions into the literary…

16 min.
the dems take charge

I doubt that it was even noticed much beyond Washington, but a meeting on January 10 between Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and members of the House of Representatives gave a pretty good sense of how the next two years are likely to proceed, and how different they will be from the two years just past. Mnuchin was summoned to explain the administration’s actions regarding Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch who is a former associate of Paul Manafort and whom the FBI tried (apparently without success) to turn into an informant about ties between the Kremlin and the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Last spring, the Treasury Department added three Deripaska-owned companies to its list of sanctioned foreign entities as punishment for Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election. In December the department…

13 min.
the fake threat of jewish communism

A Specter Haunting Europe: The Myth of Judeo-Bolshevism by Paul Hanebrink. Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 353 pp., $29.95 One of the great merits of Paul Hanebrink’s A Specter Haunting Europe is its demonstration of how Europe’s most pervasive and powerful twentieth-century manifestation of anti-Semitic thought—the myth of Judeo-Bolshevism—emerged before the rise of National Socialism and has continued to have a curious life long after the Holocaust and the defeat of Nazi Germany. Hanebrink’s approach is not to repeat what he considers an error of the interwar era—the futile attempt to refute a myth on the basis of historical facts and statistical data. A small kernel of truth underpinned the stereotype of the Jewish Bolshevik: a number of well-known early Bolshevik leaders (Bela Kun, Leon Trotsky, Karl Radek, and others) were of Jewish origin. That…

19 min.
yemen under siege

Yemen and the World: Beyond Insecurity by Laurent Bonnefoy, translated from the French by Cynthia Schoch. Oxford University Press, 234 pp., $49.95 Yemen in Crisis: Autocracy, Neo-Liberalism and the Disintegration of a State by Helen Lackner. London: Saqi, 330 pp., $35.00 Tribes and Politics in Yemen: A History of the Houthi Conflict by Marieke Brandt. Oxford University Press, 466 pp., $45.00 In about 570 AD, in the dry hills of what is now northern Yemen, the great dam of Marib collapsed. It had been one of the engineering marvels of the ancient world, with a mud- and-brick retaining wall fifty feet high and 2,100 feet long—twice as long as the Hoover Dam. It fed a complex irrigation network that made the desert bloom and sustained the kingdom of the Sabaeans, who had built it, for more than a thousand years. The fertile plains around…