Culture & Literature
The New York Review of Books

The New York Review of Books June 6, 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.

ANNE APPLEBAUM is a columnist for The Washington Post and a Professor of Practice at the London School of Economics’ Institute of Global Affairs. Her latest book is Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine. EMILY BERRY is the Editor of The Poetry Review. She is the author of the poetry collections Stranger, Baby and Dear Boy. 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 Early Christianity. SIMON CALLOW is an English actor and director who has written about Orson Welles, Charles Dickens, Charles Laughton, and Oscar Wilde. His latest book is Being Wagner: The Story of the Most Provocative Composer Who Ever Lived. DAN CHIASSON’s fourth collection of poetry is…

17 min.
truth, beauty, and oliver sacks

Everything in Its Place: First Loves and Last Tales by Oliver Sacks. Knopf, 274 pp., $26.95 Readers of The New York Review, to which he was a regular contributor over many years, need no introduction to Oliver Sacks. A number of the pieces in Everything in Its Place, his second posthumous volume, which collects published and unpublished work, first appeared in these pages, as did a number of those in the first posthumous Sacks volume, The River of Consciousness (2017), which is dedicated to Robert Silvers, his editor at the Review. Everything in Its Place is, in some senses, a slighter book than that one, which Sacks himself put together before his death. The pieces in it are generally shorter, some barely more than fragments, but this is not a mere Sacks smorgasbord:…

13 min.
growing up in hell

Capernaum a film directed by Nadine Labaki There is a lexicon that comes with a particular upbringing and class privilege in the Middle East, and that casts a shadow over your life when you reach a threshold of intellectual maturity or awareness. It’s not easy to admit: that what are actually street-children we grew up calling beggars, or that the visa-sponsored Filipino maids were a modern-day form of slaves. But no matter how aware you become, it’s a reality that persists. Class privilege is passed from one generation to the next, in countries living under protracted dictatorships and with varied histories of casting off colonial rule and staking claim to rights and land. It is in some sense a revolt against these systems and inequalities that drives Nadine Labaki’s Cannes Jury Prize–winning film,…

19 min.
the fog of ambition

Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century by George Packer. Knopf, 592 pp., $30.00 “Almost great” is George Packer’s measured judgment on the life and character of the American diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who was trying to broker an end to the war in Afghanistan when he died suddenly in 2010. Holbrooke left the war pretty much as he found it, and peace is no closer now, nearly a decade later, but that isn’t what explains the cruel precision of Packer’s judgment. It’s the man. Holbrooke had the serious intent, the energy, the friends, the wit, and even the luck needed to accomplish great things, but he fell short. Packer circles the question of why in his new biography, Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century,…

19 min.
a new kind of heroine

L.E.L.: The Lost Life and Scandalous Death of Letitia Elizabeth Landon, the Celebrated “Female Byron” by Lucasta Miller. Knopf, 401 pp., $30.00 It is a disturbing story. Letitia Elizabeth Landon was born in 1802 in Hans Place, Chelsea, a fashionable and wealthy quarter of West London (near the present site of the luxury emporium Harrods); but after a brief and riotous literary career, she died in mysterious circumstances thirty-six years later in Cape Coast Castle, a former slave-trading station on the west coast of Africa. She was prolific, even prodigal. In her short life, Landon published six collections of poetry, three novels, a book of short stories, a slew of literary sketches, and a cascade of glittering verse contributions to the so-called Keepsakes and Annuals. These were deluxe productions, sometimes illustrated by J.M.W. Turner, that…

18 min.
a reporting life in latin america

A version of this essay was delivered as the Robert B. Silvers Lecture at the New York Public Library on December 4, 2018. I sense some obligation to explain the title of this talk. The flimflam man currently occupying the White House has provoked such an increase in the amount of hate circulating in the world that sometimes it makes me dizzy, as if I were about to lose my balance and fall. He uses hatred and latent violence every time he feels the need to run from the taxman or the prosecutor. The three years since the last presidential campaign have been so filled with outrage and insult, it’s hard to remember that from the first day he stood on that escalator in his very own tower, there has been…