Culture & Literature
The New York Review of Books

The New York Review of Books August 15, 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 latest book is Engines of Liberty: How Citizen Movements Succeed. ROBYN CRESWELL is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Yale. He is the author of City of Beginnings: Poetic Modernism in Beirut. MARGARET EBY is the author of South Toward Home: Travels in Southern Literature. IAN FRAZIER is the author of eleven books, including Great Plains, Family, On the Rez, and Hogs Wild: Selected Reporting Pieces. JAMES GLEICK’s most recent book is Time Travel: A History. LAURA KOLBE is a poet and Instructor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College. REGINA MARLER is the author of Bloomsbury Pie: The Making of the Bloomsbury Boom. She edited Queer…

19 min.
burning down the house

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warmingby David Wallace-Wells.Tim Duggan, 310 pp., $27.00 Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?by Bill McKibben.Henry Holt, 291 pp., $28.00 Climate scientists’ worst-case scenarios back in 2007, the first year the Northwest Passage became navigable without an icebreaker (today, you can book a cruise through it), have all been overtaken by the unforeseen acceleration of events. No one imagined that twelve years later the United Nations would report that we have just twelve years left to avert global catastrophe, which would involve cutting fossil-fuel use nearly by half. Since 2007, the UN now says, we’ve done everything wrong. New coal plants built since the 2015 Paris climate agreement have already doubled the equivalent coal-energy output of Russia and Japan, and 260 more are underway. Environmental…

18 min.
shock artistry

Sarah Lucas: Au Naturelan exhibition at the New Museum, New York City, September 26, 2018–January 20, 2019; and the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, June 9–September 1, 2019.Catalog of the exhibition edited by Massimiliano Gioni and Margot Norton.Phaidon/New Museum, 239 pp., $79.95 The art of the British sculptor Sarah Lucas seems to operate on a sliding scale between anger and whimsy. At one end are works like Receptacle of Lurid Things (1991), a life-size flesh-colored wax cast of what we assume to be a middle finger—raised at the art audience? At patriarchy? At everyone?—and at the other is Sex Baby Bed Base (2000), a mattress spring frame from which Lucas has hung (on a wire clothes hanger) a small sleeveless T-shirt, the fabric sliced in front to admit a couple of lemons,…

18 min.
real americans

This America: The Case for the Nationby Jill Lepore.Liveright, 150 pp., $16.95 This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifestoby Suketu Mehta.Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 306 pp., $27.00 A poignant quality of anachronism threatens these exigent, idealistic books by the writer-professors Jill Lepore and Suketu Mehta. The product of admirable research and serious reflection, they appear at a time when the very project of carefully acquiring and disseminating insights about the world, and the United States in particular, has been marginalized by the historic momentum of Republican authoritarianism. Presumably these manuscripts were completed by January 2019. Since then, things have moved at an extraordinary speed into extraordinary terrain. The House of Representatives, the FBI, the Department of Justice, the Office of Special Counsel, the Office of Legal Counsel, the United States Geological…

16 min.
a free man in nablus

The Parisian, or Al-Barisiby Isabella Hammad.Grove, 566 pp., $27.00 In his meditation on the peculiar beauties and burdens of Palestinian life, After the Last Sky, Edward Said writes, “The striking thing about Palestinian prose and prose fiction is its formal instability.” While readers may be tempted to look for political messages, Said suggests that the real drama in this body of literature is the writers’ struggle to come up with a coherent form, “a narrative that might overcome the almost metaphysical impossibility of representing the present.” Representing the present is never easy—the lines begin streaking as soon as they’re laid down—but the Palestinian present is perhaps especially slippery, because its people live under such disparate conditions: occupation, exile, second-class citizenship, but also, in rare cases like Said’s, material comfort and privilege.…

20 min.
keeping up appearances

The Company They Keep: How Partisan Divisions Came to the Supreme Courtby Neal Devins and Lawrence Baum.Oxford University Press, 235 pp., $29.95 The Chief: The Life and Turbulent Times of Chief Justice John Robertsby Joan Biskupic.Basic Books, 421 pp., $32.00 1. The Supreme Court opened its 2018 term last October amid a highly charged political battle over the confirmation of its newest justice, Brett Kavanaugh. It closed the term in late June by issuing two major opinions about the legality of partisan efforts to rig elections and undermine the accuracy of the census. And it spent much of the time in between attempting to show that, unlike the other branches of government, the media, and most of the country, it is not defined by partisan politics. As Chief Justice John Roberts said in…