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The New York Review of Books

The New York Review of Books October 8, 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.

King of the World The Life of Louis XIV Philip Mansel “Mansel’s genius lies in unpacking the complexities of Louis’ royal court. The contrast is chillingly made between a starving country and the deplorable but engrossing ostentation of Louis’ most enduring creation: the Palace of Versailles.” —Financial Times Cloth $35.00 Elsewhere A Journey into Our Age of Islands Alastair Bonnett “Bonnett has written a most readable and sympathetic account of the various guises islands can take around the world and rightly points out the ecological consequences of human building projects.” —Literary Review Cloth $25.00 Invisible China How the Urban-Rural Divide Threatens China’s Rise Scott Rozelle and Natalie Hell “An important, clearly argued, and original work. Anyone interested in China’s economic and political future, and its impact on the world, will want to read this book.” —James Fallows, author of Postcards from Tomorrow Square Cloth $27.50 Music and the…

2 min.

JULIAN BELL is a painter based in Lewes, England. He is the author of What Is Painting? DAN CHIASSON’s fifth book of poetry, The Math Campers, was just published. He teaches at Wellesley. SARAH CHURCHWELL is a Professor of American Literature and Chair of Public Understanding of the Humanities at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. Her book Behold America: The Entangled History of “America First” and “The American Dream” was published last year. JAMES GLEICK is the author of The Information and, most recently, Time Travel: A History. VONA GROARKE’s seventh poetry collection, Double Negative, was published in 2019. JOSHUA HAMMER is a former Newsweek Bureau Chief and Correspondent-at-Large in Africa and the Middle East. His latest book, The Falcon Thief: A True Tale of Adventure, Treachery, and the Hunt for the…

1 min.
old world order

THE HABSBURGS To Rule the World “Probably the best book ever written on the Habsburgs in any language…. Lucid, comprehensive, and witty, it is not merely a pleasure to read but a complete education.”—TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT“It is impossible to imagine a more erudite and incisive history of this fascinating, flawed, and ultimately tragic dynasty.”—TIMES (UK)“The Habsburgs is gripping, colorful, and dramatic but also concise, scholarly, and magisterial. It is a chronicle of high politics and family intimacy involving religion, murder, incest, madness, suicide, assassination. History on an epic scale.”—SIMON SEBAG MONTEFIORE, author of The Romanovs basicbooks.com…

24 min.
our most vulnerable election

Will He Go?: Trump and the Looming Election Meltdown in 2020 by Lawrence Douglas. Twelve, 146 pp., $22.00 In October 1884, as a particularly ugly presidential race neared its end, Walt Whitman decided instead of voting to write a poem. “Election Day, November, 1884” argued that the most remarkable feature of the United States was not its stunning natural wonders—not the Mississippi River, nor the limitless prairies, “nor you, Yosemite” (however our current president wants to pronounce it). No, Whitman declared, the “powerfulest scene and show” was “America’s choosing day.” And not because of the men who were selected to govern: “The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the quadriennial choosing.” Elections matter because they are a central way in which we constitute ourselves as a…

13 min.
‘teeming with things unknown’

Goya: A Portrait of the Artist by Janis A. Tomlinson. Princeton University Press, 388 pp., $35.00 The art of Francisco Goya has stood as a beacon over the cultural landscape during the nearly two centuries since his death, at age eighty-two, in 1828. It is a source of light that glares. We think of the terrible dazzle on the shirt of the laborer in Goya’s vast canvas The Third of May 1808—the sure target for the squad lined up to shoot him. We think how the bright bodies of Goya’s Majas, both naked and clothed, pulse out their summons to lust as if lit from within. Witches, mules, and mutants jump up, abrupt islands of whiteness, from the dusky aquatint textures of the Caprichos: and when, in some of the Desastres de…

25 min.
the desk and the daring

Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader by Vivian Gornick. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 161 pp., $25.00; $16.00 (paper) The Romance of American Communism by Vivian Gornick. Verso, 265 pp., $19.95 (paper) Approaching Eye Level by Vivian Gornick. Picador, 164 pp., $15.99 (paper) The End of the Novel of Love by Vivian Gornick. Picador, 165 pp., $16.00 (paper) “From birth to death,” writes Vivian Gornick, in her memoir The Odd Woman and the City, we are, every last one of us, divided against ourselves. We both want to grow up and don’t want to grow up; we hunger for sexual pleasure, we dread sexual pleasure; we hate our own aggressions—anger, cruelty, the need to humiliate—yet they derive from the grievances we are least willing to part with. From there the divisions multiply. We long for experience, we shrink from experience;…