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The New York Review of Books

The New York Review of Books September 24, 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.

DAVID A. BELL is the Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor in the History Department at Princeton. His book Men on Horseback: The Power of Charisma in the Age of Revolutions has just been published. ELAINE BLAIR is a regular contributor to The New York Review. SARAH BOXER is a contributing writer for The Atlantic and the author of two cartoon novels, In the Floyd Archives: A Psycho-Bestiary and its sequel, Mother May I?: A Post-Floydian Folly. PETER BROWN is the Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton. His books include Augustine of Hippo: A Biography and, most recently, Treasure in Heaven: The Holy Poor in Early Christianity. SIMON CALLOW is an English actor and director who has written about Orson Welles, Charles Dickens, Charles Laughton, and Oscar Wilde. His latest book,…

19 min.
making order of the breakdown

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein. Europa, 322 pp., $26.00 Elena Ferrante’s novels, whatever else they’re about, are always describing the distance between two points: working-class Naples and the putatively better neighborhoods and cities and social worlds in which her narrators now move. It’s not simply that Ferrante has written about Naples, but that over the course of her work—now eight novels—she has so often sent her characters back and forth along the route between the impoverished old neighborhood and the new life that we know the landmarks well: the raucous and violent family of birth, the childhood wish for a way out, the scholarships, the flight, the studied assumption of middle-class manners. Here is a sampling of lines from Ferrante’s first three novels…

2 min.
all souls

1586 I was in the dictionary looking upthe distinction between necessityand need, or requirement, “the constrainingpower of circumstances.” The dictionarygives an example from Sidney and Golding:Of the necessitie that is conditionall,and not of the necessitie that isabsolute. Sidney met his end one morningwhen, writes Greville, by the banks of the IJssel,an “unfortunate hand” sent forth a bulletthat broke the bone in his thigh.So great was his thirst, he askedfor drink; but before it touched his lips,he saw a “poor soldier carried along”who “ghastly cast his eyes up” at the bottle.Sidney gave it to him. You, whose“necessity,” he said, “is yet greater than mine.”Within weeks, and with the “fixingof a lover’s thought on those eternalbeauties,” he died in Arnhem on the baker’s street. 2010 Is there point to critical interpretationthat gives us “what we…

23 min.
ball don’t lie

The Game Is Not a Game: The Power, Protest, and Politics of American Sports by Robert Scoop Jackson. Haymarket, 203 pp., $36.95; $16.95 (paper) Sports metaphors, as a rule, are silly and rarely accurate. Football is not really like war, regardless of what its legion of ex-players and commentators will tell you. Baseball does not provide a window into America—the gentle tension between laconic, quasi-agrarian pacing and the game’s values of grit and meditative cunning feels nostalgic to the point of absurdity now. There was a time when every salaried sportswriter would anthropomorphize every three-year-old filly into Joan of Arc, but those stories read like kitsch today. They may evoke some past, but no one under the age of sixty is sure if that past actually existed. Basketball has always generated a different set…

15 min.
who decides what’s beautiful?

A History of Art History by Christopher S. Wood. Princeton University Press, 461 pp., $35.00 The Barbarian Invasions: A Genealogy of the History of Art by Éric Michaud, translated from the French by Nicholas Huckle. MIT Press, 270 pp., $35.00 In recent months dozens of artworks have been defaced, damaged, or pushed into the drink during the protests initially set off by the murder of George Floyd. Directed at first toward monuments to the Confederacy, the rage expanded to encompass a swath of imperialist or genocidal Europeans, from Christopher Columbus to Junipero Serra. The response of local authorities has frequently been pragmatic and accommodating. The response of the Trump administration has been a bellicose (and perhaps unconstitutional) executive order and aggressive intimidation of those who would “impede the purpose or function of the MMS” (monuments, memorials,…

25 min.
trumps on the couch

Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary L. Trump. Simon and Schuster, 225 pp., $28.00 In 1996, at a boozy lunch in Manhattan, a Connecticut lawyer was told about the Trump Organization’s “punishment room” by an Atlantic City lawyer who said that he had represented Donald Trump’s casino interests. According to the story, the truth of which is unconfirmed, employees there devised ways to punish Trump’s enemies, including the journalists who wrote critically of him. One supposed method was to send the IRS a fake Form 1099, showing that the target had been paid a considerable sum for contract work. The aim was to trigger a bill or an audit when the IRS discovered the putative payee had not reported the income. The victim…