Culture & Literature
The New York Review of Books

The New York Review of Books November 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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in this issue

2 min.

ELAINE BLAIR is a regular contributor to The New York Review. G.W. BOWERSOCK is Professor Emeritus of Ancient History at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. His latest book is The Crucible of Islam. LOUISE GLÜCK’s most recent books are American Originality: Essays on Poetry and the poetry collection Faithful and Virtuous Night, which won the National Book Award. MICHAEL GORRA is the author of The Bells in Their Silence: Travels Through Germany and The Saddest Words: William Faulkner’s Civil War, which will be published next year. He teaches English at Smith. LINDA GREENHOUSE teaches at Yale Law School. Her most recent book is Just a Journalist: On the Press, Life, and the Spaces Between, a memoir. JOSHUA HAMMER is a former Newsweek Bureau Chief and Correspondent-at-Large in Africa and the Middle East. His…

1 min.
only the world was enough

BRENDAN SIMMS HITLER A Global Biography “Enthralling and enlightening. Revisionist history at its best.”—VICTOR DAVIS HANSON, author of The Second World Wars“Certain to spark passionate debate… Simms challenges some of our longstanding ideas about the man who ruled Nazi Germany.”—FINANCIAL TIMES“Brendan Simms has a bold hypothesis and he argues it with exceptional eloquence and force. This fascinating book will force us to rethink the strategy of the Second World War in a way that none other has.”—ELIOT A. COHEN, Johns Hopkins University basicbooks.com…

17 min.
singing the back streets

Never a Lovely So Real: The Life and Work of Nelson Algren by Colin Asher. Norton, 543 pp., $39.95 Nelson Algren arrived in Hollywood on January 26, 1955. He had spent the previous year rewriting a book he couldn’t stomach and running from a wife he didn’t love. He was agonized by the State Department’s refusal to issue him a passport—they distrusted his leftist political views—and he had wandered from state to state, from bus stop to cheap motel, desperate to find a place where he might be at peace to write the way he wanted to. He knew Hollywood was no place for authors of distinction but couldn’t argue with a thousand a week. He was soon in the company of the Austro-Hungarian director Otto Preminger, who had bought the rights to his…

19 min.
al & georgia & beck & paul

Foursome: Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Paul Strand, Rebecca Salsbury by Carolyn Burke. Knopf, 419 pp., $30.00 Alfred Stieglitz: Taking Pictures, Making Painters by Phyllis Rose. Yale University Press, 259 pp., $26.00 In 1973 Georgia O’Keeffe accepted a young poet’s help organizing her library at her house in Abiquiu, New Mexico. For seven years, C. S. Merrill spent her weekends with the great painter, who was in her eighties, cranky, and nearly blind, but still a formidable figure, attracting acolytes and interviewers and painting with help from assistants. The younger woman rarely asked questions—“if I wanted to last there,” she was advised, “I must consider it like a medieval court and keep a very formal relationship with Miss O’Keeffe”—but sometimes O’Keeffe would reminisce about her artistic beginnings in New York. She confided that the years before her success “were…

20 min.
a heritage of evil

Learning from the Germans: Race and the Memory of Evil by Susan Neiman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 415 pp., $30.00 Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide by Tony Horwitz. Penguin, 476 pp., $30.00 Remembering Emmett Till by Dave Tell. University of Chicago Press, 308 pp., $25.00 The small Bavarian city of Landshut sits on the Isar River about an hour northeast of Munich. It’s an absurdly pretty place, with the blue and pink buildings on its main street so pristine that it looks like a postwar reconstruction. But it’s not: Landshut wasn’t big enough to be a target of the Allies’ strategic bombing, and it lay out of the way of any advancing army. This does not mean that the war left no traces. I broke a long drive there one night twenty years ago, and…

18 min.
blood on the ice

Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait by Bathsheba Demuth. Norton, 416 pp., $27.95 “Nowhere in all America will you find more patrician-like houses; parks and gardens more opulent, than in New Bedford. Whence came they?” Melville asked in Moby-Dick. He knew the answer: “All these brave houses and flowery gardens came from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. One and all, they were harpooned and dragged up hither from the bottom of the sea.” Bathsheba Demuth’s Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait tells the story of how people learned to make money from the seas—specifically, from the waters of Beringia, the region that includes Alaska, the northeast-ernmost parts of Russia, and the seas in between. At first the money came from sea otters and whales, but when these grew…