Culture & Literature
The New York Review of Books

The New York Review of Books December 20, 2018

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.

United States
Read More
20 Issues

in this issue

3 min.

CHRISTOPHER BENFEY is Mellon Professor of English at Mount Holyoke. He is the author of Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family, and Survival. T. H. BREEN ’s new book, Revolution: A History of American Independence, will be published next September. 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. ANNE CARSON is a poet who was born in Canada and teaches ancient Greek, sometimes at NYU. Her most recent collection of prose and poetry is Float. ANNE DIEBEL works as a private investigator in New York. She was formerly the Robert L. Belknap Faculty Fellow at Columbia. TIM FLANNERY ’s next book, Europe: A Natural History,…

18 min.
the impersonator

A Very English Scandal a television series written by Russell T. Davies and directed by Stephen Frears The major surprise of Jeremy Thorpe’s trial in 1979 for conspiracy to murder was his decision not to take the stand—it seems that his counsel, George Carman, alert to his client’s histrionic tendencies, foresaw the dangers of Oscar Wilde–like showing-off and self-incrimination. No witnesses were called for the defense, and the narrative of events concerning Thorpe was entirely established by the prosecution: his affair, as a young MP in the early 1960s, with a stable hand and model named Norman Scott; Scott’s repeated attempts to go public with the story (all firmly smothered by the police as well as the press); and the subsequent conspiracy to murder Scott, who had become a threat not…

17 min.
the midterms: so close, so far apart

Political opponents of President Trump found much to cheer in this year’s elections: the Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives, most obviously; the elevation to Congress of so many women of diverse backgrounds (an ex-CIA officer, a Native American former mixed martial arts fighter); the capture by Democrats of seven governorships, including the crucial states of Michigan and Wisconsin; the gain by the party of at least 315 state legislative seats; the apparent shift of Georgia (with its sixteen electoral votes) from red to purple. But there are two major lessons to take away from the voting that will have a profound impact on elections in the near future. The first is that we have fully entered an era when they will be close and very hard-fought slogs, the two…

19 min.
time regained

Almost Nothing: The 20th-Century Art and Life of Józef Czapski by Eric Karpeles. New York Review Books, 492 pp., $19.95 (paper) Inhuman Land: Searching for the Truth in Soviet Russia, 1941–1942 by Józef Czapski, translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones and with an introduction by Timothy Snyder. New York Review Books, 447 pp., $19.95 Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp by Józef Czapski, translated from the French and with an introduction by Eric Karpeles. New York Review Books, 90 pp., $15.95 (paper) Eric Karpeles, a painter and an impassioned reader of Proust—he is the author of Paintings in Proust: A Visual Companion to In Search of Lost Time (2008)—had never even heard of Józef Czapski until a friend sent him a slim volume in French, Proust contre la dé chéance, which he has now…

1 min.
war song

1937Beckett gotstabbed bypliant spearof a stranger,one Paris night.Just missedthe lungs. He,lean warrior,spent twoweeks in hospital,descended upon byall the Joyces(James, Nora, Lucia)and some Becketts(mother, brother)and Suzanne,the girlfriend nobodyknew about yet(not even Sam),whom he would marryfifty years hencewith a flicker of shynessstill in his eyes—no,I made that up. Butwhat he does say,of the twoancient (Endgame) enemies:“that’s Suzanne and me!”Now don’t you wonderwhat remarks passedfrom Suzanne to Luciaor mother to Clovleaning over the bedin that battle-bright room?Well, it isn’t bright(battle) andno one isalive who remembers.Everything I can tell youabout that room orthose lavish soulsis just my ownfear of death blowing around on the floorboards.Blowing sand around.You know,in the old days,I, a poet,would lean backin my saddle,recite a poemof sublime sense,fill you with ferocity,then togetherwe’d ride offover the black sand,past moonlit ruins,to our destination,with…

14 min.
hive mentalities

Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees by Thor Hanson. Basic Books, 283 pp., $27.00 Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology by Lisa Margonelli. Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 303 pp., $27.00 According to Thor Hanson’s Buzz, the relationship between bees and the human lineage goes back three million years, to a time when our ancestors shared the African savannah with a small, brownish, robin-sized bird—the first honey-guide. Honeyguides are very good at locating beehives, but they are unable to break into them to feed on the bee larvae and beeswax they eat. So they recruit humans to help, attracting them with a call and leading them to the hive. In return for the service, Africans leave a small gift of honey and wax: not enough that the bird is uninterested in locating another hive, but…