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The New York Review of Books

The New York Review of Books November 5, 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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United States
20 Issues

in this issue

2 min.

MATTHEW AUCOIN is a composer, conductor, and 2018 Mac Arthur Fellow. His new opera, Eurydice, will come to the Metropolitan Opera in November 2021. FRANCISCO CANTÚ is the author of The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border. MAGGIE DOHERTY is the author of The Equivalents: A Story of Art, Female Friendship, and Liberation in the 1960s. She teaches writing at Harvard. ANTHONY GRAFTON teaches European history at Prince ton. His most recent book is Inky Fingers: The Making of Books in Early Modern Europe. COLIN GRANT’s books include Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey and His Dream of Mother Africa and, most recently, Homecoming: Voices of the Windrush Generation. NELLIE HERMANN is the author of the novels The Cure for Grief and The Season of Migration. She is…

65 min.
on the election

Elaine Blair When I was six, an aunt gave me a book of fairy tales in which I discovered Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Fir Tree.” The story, which I reread about a thousand times during my elementary school years, is about a little evergreen in a forest who longs to grow bigger and have things happen to him. The fir gets cut down in young adulthood to be a Christmas tree in a well-to-do house in town. He’s hung with candles, dried fruits, and toys. People admire him. Children search his branches for hidden presents. It’s the most fun he’s ever had, Christmas, and he can’t wait for it to begin again the next day. Instead he’s dragged up to an attic and left there for months with only mice for…

2 min.

ELAINE BLAIR is a regular contributor to The New York Review. DAVID W. BLIGHT is Sterling Professor of American History at Yale. His biography of Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom, received the Pulitzer Prize for History. CAROLINE FRASER’s most recent book, Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, received the Pulitzer Prize for Biography. VIVIAN GORNICK is the author, most recently, of Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-reader. MICHAEL GORRA’s latest book, The Saddest Words: William Faulkner’s Civil War, was published in August. He teaches at Smith. MICHAEL GREENBERG is the author of Hurry Down Sunshine and Beg, Borrow, and Steal: A Writer’s Life. LINDA GREENHOUSE teaches at Yale Law School and is a New York Times contributing columnist. A new edition of her book The U.S. Supreme Court: A Very Short Introduction…

19 min.
sound and fury

Music Lessons: The Collège de France Lectures by Pierre Boulez, edited and translated from the French by Jonathan Dunsby, Jonathan Goldman, and Arnold Whittall. University of Chicago Press, 662 pp., $40.00 In 2014, when I was an apprentice conductor with the Chicago Symphony, I first conducted that ensemble in public with an enormous projection of Pierre Boulez looming over me. Boulez, the revered and widely influential French composer and conductor, was nearly ninety at the time. He had originally been slated to lead two weeks of programs in Chicago, but his declining health prevented him from traveling; as a result, his conducting duties were apportioned among three young conductors, myself included. The orchestra’s administration compensated for the disappointment of Boulez’s physical absence through video interviews with the maestro about the music on the…

18 min.
karenina’s children

The Book of Anna (Karenina’s Novel) by Carmen Boullosa, translated from the Spanish by Samantha Schnee. Coffee House, 182 pp., $17.95 (paper) In 1899 Anton Chekhov wrote to Maxim Gorky, an up-and-coming writer whose stories had caught his and Tolstoy’s attention: The day before yesterday I was at L. N. Tolstoy’s; he praised you very highly and said that you were “a remarkable writer.” He likes your “The Fair” and “In the Steppe,” and does not like “Malva.” He said: “You can invent anything you like, but you can’t invent psychology, and in Gorky one comes across just psychological inventions: he describes what he has never felt.” In another letter, Chekhov advised Gorky against his tendency to write like “a spectator in the theater who expresses his delight with so little restraint that he…

20 min.
enabler in chief

On September 23, less than two weeks before he tested positive for Covid, Donald Trump made explicit what has long been implicit: he will not accept defeat in the presidential election. Asked whether he would “commit here today for a peaceful transferal of power after the November election,” Trump replied, “Get rid of the [mail-in] ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful—there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation.” Earlier that day Trump explained why he wants to appoint a successor to Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court before the election: “This scam that the Democrats are pulling—it’s a scam—the scam will be before the United States Supreme Court.” The plan could hardly have been laid out more clearly. If he loses, he will rely on…