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The New York Review of Books

The New York Review of Books August 20, 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

3 min.

RUMAAN ALAM is the author of Rich and Pretty and That Kind of Mother. His third novel, Leave the World Behind, will be published in October. RAE ARMANTROUT’s newest book of poems, Conjure, will be published in September. KATE BOLICK is the author of Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own. She teaches in the graduate Cultural Reporting and Criticism program at NYU. 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. FARA DABHOIWALA, the author of The Origins of Sex, teaches at Princeton and is writing a global history of free speech. JONATHAN FREEDLAND is an editorial-page columnist for The Guardian. His latest novel…

18 min.
stepping out

I hold hands with strangers. I do it quite often, and for long minutes at a time. I wrap my arms around them to bring them close in an embrace. I search their faces. I fit my body to their dips and hollows. Recently a man said to me, “I can feel your hot belly.” He happened to be French, and something about the deliberate way he said it, carefully pronouncing the English words, meant that I could suddenly feel my hot belly too. It was as though I were inside him, and the heat pushing out through my skin was really pushing in. The membrane between us was suddenly so thin we could have peeled it off, or pressed right through it. Where did I end and where did…

15 min.
130 degrees

Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency by Mark Lynas. London: 4Thestate, 372 pp., $27.99 So now we have some sense of what it’s like: a full-on global-scale crisis, one that disrupts everything. Normal life—shopping for food, holding a wedding, going to work, seeing your parents—shifts dramatically. The world feels different, wiThevery assumption about safety and predictability upended. Will you have a job? Will you die? Will you ever ride a subway again, or take a plane? It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen. The upheaval that has been caused by Covid-19 is also very much a harbinger of global warming. Because humans have fundamentally altered the physical workings of planet Earth, this is going to be a century of crises, many of them more dangerous than what we’re living through now.…

15 min.
the virtuoso

Raffaello 1520–1483 an exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome, June 2–August 30, 2020. Catalog of the exhibition edited by Marzia Faietti and Matteo Lafranconi, with Francesco P. Di Teodoro and Vincenzo Farinella. Skira, 543 pp., €46.00 (paper) (in Italian; an English translation will be published in October 2020) Like the artist himself, the longanticipated Raphael exhibition that opened in Rome on March 5, 2020, was struck down by infectious disease. Raphael succumbed to a sudden fever on April 6, 1520, his thirty-seventh birthday. The exhibition that marked the five hundredth anniversary of his death lasted only four days. On March 9, the Italian government issued a decree prohibiting “every form of gathering in public places” to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and every public institution in Italy shut its…

17 min.
revenge served tepid

The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir by John Bolton. Simon and Schuster, 577 pp., $32.50 Back in January, when it emerged that former national security adviser John Bolton was publishing a book critical of the Trump administration and was willing to testify against President Trump in his Senate impeachment trial if subpoenaed, I speculated in a New York Times oped that a combination of patriotism, professional principle, payback, and personal ambition must have motivated him to turn against the president.1 Having now read Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened, slogging through almost five hundred pages of bumptious recitation, fatuous braggadocio, and lame attempts at wit, I can confirm that those were his reasons, though I’d change the order. The virtuous ones—patriotism and professional principle—were clearly subordinate to the…

20 min.
shadow selves

The Man in the Red Coat by Julian Barnes. Knopf, 265 pp., $26.95 There is a moment in the life of Oscar Wilde that is difficult to interpret. In Paris in 1899, two years after his release from prison and seventeen months before his death, he wrote a short letter to Morton Fullerton, who worked in Paris for the London Times, asking for money. Fullerton, known for his charm and good looks, would later have an affair wiThedith Wharton and had been the lover of the English writer and sculptor Lord Ronald Gower, often identified as the model for the louche and cynical Lord Henry Wotton in The Picture of Dorian Gray. It is hard not to wonder why Wilde selected Fullerton and if Fullerton’s high-toned reply did not contain something…