Culture & Literature
The New York Review of Books

The New York Review of Books February 13, 2020

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.

KWAME ANTHONY APPIAH teaches philosophy at NYU. His latest book, The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity, is based on his 2016 BBC Reith Lectures. ELAINE BLAIR is a regular contributor to The New York Review. DAN CHIASSON’s fifth book of poetry, The Math Campers, will be published in September. He teaches at Wellesley. ANNE DIEBEL works as a private investigator with QRI in New York City. ROBERT IRWIN is the Middle East Editor of the Times Literary Supplement and the author of many books, including Ibn Khaldun: An Intellectual Biography. His most recent novel, My Life Is Like a Fairy Tale, was published in the UK in November. SARAH ELIZABETH LEWIS is an Associate Professor in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture and the Department of African and African-American Studies at Harvard.…

25 min.
the good guy

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow. Little, Brown, 448 pp., $30.00 In 1995 CBS lawyers ordered 60 Minutes not to broadcast an interview with Jeffrey Wigand, a former vice president of research and development for Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation (B&W). In the interview, Wigand asserted not only that B&W’s CEO lied when he testified before Congress that he did not believe nicotine was addictive, but that the tobacco industry operated by fine-tuning nicotine delivery and was thoroughly aware of health risks. The lawyers were concerned that the network would be sued for “tortious interference” for inducing Wigand to break his confidentiality agreement with his former employer. Lowell Bergman, the producer who had gotten Wigand to talk, was infuriated by CBS’s capitulation and leaked…

1 min.

Wherever you look in this town are painted castsof the famous statue. One at my doorlike a street performersilver mantle, silver eyes and skin. In the Town Hall Information Zonehe is lapis lazuli. Face the color of clear skyafter sunset, body scrawled with white crotchets,a blizzard of musical snow. At the end of a street he used to race up laughing,leading the pack, I see the Rhineflickering like departure. Each chestnut treein a skirt of fallen leaves. Six immigrants asleep in an arcade. Where the house once stoodare rows of little Beethovens, stamped on marzipan.I see a small boy dashing through these alleysto play for early Mass. Then sullen, dragging his feet toward some grand door to teach a rich child piano.His brothers are useless. The new babies die.Father drinks his salary, Motherhas a…

14 min.
vallotton’s demons

Félix Vallotton: Painter of Disquiet an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, June 30–September 29, 2019; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, October 29, 2019–January 26, 2020. Catalog of the exhibition by Dita Amory, Ann Dumas, Patrick McGuinness, Belinda Thomson, Philippe Büttner, Katia Poletti, and Christian Rümelin. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 182 pp., $45.00 (distributed in the US by Artbook/D.A.P.) Félix Vallotton was talked about as a highly individual, even anomalous, figure already in the 1890s, when he was in his late twenties and early thirties—and when his work was actually most aligned with that of his contemporaries—and the sense that he is an unclassifiable artist has remained to this day. He is probably best known for being part of a group of artists that included Édouard…

18 min.
do the democrats have a foreign policy?

A paradox of American presidential elections—especially during the primaries—is that unless a war is looming or underway, voters pay little attention to the arena in which a president has the greatest power to affect their lives. On taxes, education, health care, and all the other domestic issues for which candidates put forward detailed plans, what a president wants will have to be exhaustively negotiated with Congress. On foreign policy, his or her freedom of action is vastly greater. Foreign policy, too, unlike domestic issues, frequently entails surprises—the collapse of the Soviet Union, say—that demand a swift response in unexpected conditions. In their own interest, then, voters ought to want to know what a candidate’s instincts about foreign policy are—what she or he makes of recent history, of global trends, of…

17 min.
learning to fight

The Topeka School by Ben Lerner. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 282 pp., $27.00 What is a museum guard to do, I thought to myself; what, really, is a museum guard? On the one hand you are a member of a security force charged with protecting priceless materials from the crazed or kids or the slow erosive force of camera flashes; on the other hand you are a dweller among supposed triumphs of the spirit and if your position has any prestige it derives precisely from the belief that such triumphs could legitimately move a man to tears. If people were in fact moved, convincing themselves they discovered whatever they projected into the hackneyed poem, or better yet, if people felt the pressure to perform absorption in the face of what they knew…