Culture & Literature
The New York Review of Books

The New York Review of Books December 5, 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.

DAVID BROMWICH is Sterling Professor of English at Yale. He is the author, most recently, of American Breakdown: The Trump Years and How They Befell Us. ANDREA COHEN’s sixth collection of poems, Nightshade, was published this year. EAMON DUFFY is Emeritus Professor of the History of Christianity at Cambridge. His book Royal Books and Holy Bones: Essays in Medieval Christianity was published last year. MARTIN FILLER’s latest book is Makers of Modern Architecture, Volume III: From Antoni Gaudí to Maya Lin, a collection of his writing on architecture in these pages. RUTH FRANKLIN’s most recent book, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, won the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography. DAVID GRAEBER is a Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and the author, most recently, of Bullshit Jobs: A Theory. LINDSEY…

1 min.
here comes the neighborhood

A. K. SANDOVAL-STRAUSZ BARRIO AMERICA How Latino Immigrants Saved the American City “A path-breaking book. Challenging previous histories of the urban crisis, Barrio America excites the imagination and forces all of us to rethink the rampant xenophobia of our day.”—RAMÓN A. GUTIÉRRE Z, University of Chicago“Barrio America tells the untold story of a powerful force in revitalizing America’s cities: Latin American immigrants. Instead of erecting walls to limit immigration, America should open its arms to those whose talent, hard work, and ambition contribute so very much to our economy and our great cities.”—RICHARD FLORIDA, author of The Rise of the Creative Class“Barrio America is as illuminative as it is necessary, upending longstanding misconceptions about urban renewal and migration.”—CRISTINA GARCÍA, author of Dreaming in Cuban basicbooks.com…

18 min.

1. Among the plethora of disturbingly disproportionate, super-tall, super-thin condominium towers that have spiked the New York City skyline since the turn of the millennium and that graphically symbolize America’s concomitant surge in income inequality, the most recently completed of them marks the spot of the Museum of Modern Art, which inaugurated its latest building project in October, two weeks before its ninetieth anniversary. The dagger-like ultra-high-rise component of the conjoined complex was built to the plans of the French architect Jean Nouvel, while the enlargement of the museum itself is the work of the New York partnership Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) in association with Gensler, the powerhouse multinational firm that often provides technical and construction management expertise on high-style projects conceived by less full-service practitioners. This newest architectural iteration…

1 min.

You marveled at the vein in the marble.The moment’s slight pulse when you approached.His blood murmured when you neared, so Ibelieved, and still do. When I returned toit, you were gone in the other countryof my head that will never, like him, age.Long was I able to stare at the vein.The giant must’ve just laughed and mocked him.Then he imagined the giant’s fall, and hearda restless quiet as far as Sokho.He thought of the river near the vineyard,its broad dreaming-stone. He knew it no more.The animals looked inconsolable.They knew their boy was lost to become king.I was supposed to photograph you both;but the stone sank in me and I didn’t;my eyes going between David’s and your eyesas the army, scattered, pushed us apart,the tumult blotted out what I shoutedto you,…

15 min.
the medium is the mistake

Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America by James Poniewozik. Liveright, 325 pp., $27.95 Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another by Matt Taibbi. OR Books, 294 pp., $24.95 James Poniewozik is the chief television critic of The New York Times, and his new book, Audience of One, tells a double story: the rise of Donald Trump and the rise of television. Poniewozik wants to show us that TV has everything to do with the formation of Trump’s character—his manners, his place in the commercial culture, his ability to track and manipulate popular sentiment and opinion. It seems a reasonable hypothesis. How good is the evidence? Trump entered the presidency, says Poniewozik, backed by “a four-decades-long TV performance.” That is not quite true. During the first…

16 min.
ladies of the moon

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth. Catapult, 243 pp., $16.95 (paper) In an engrossing book published last spring called Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative, the Australian writer Jane Alison makes a trenchant observation about the “dramatic arc” long considered the foundation for plot. Swelling to a climax and then deflating, it resembles nothing so much as a phallus: “Bit masculo-sexual, no?” Alison’s book offers alternative possibilities for fiction based on patterns found in nature, such as the spirals of fiddlehead ferns, seashells, or whirlpools; the meandering path of a river; the radiating shape of a flower; the self-replication of trees or clouds; or the cells in a honeycomb. These structures aren’t necessarily feminine—as it happens, Alison’s investigation of them is inspired by…