Books

Stalked, Virtually

James Lasdun’s memoir on the terrifying frailty of reputation in the Internet era.

Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux
O ur lives rarely turn out the way we plan. Perhaps it’s to counter this pervasive sense of uncertainty that so many people feel compelled to write memoirs of perseverance, reframing the shifts their lives have taken into a sure-footed narrative arc. But confusion is the reigning feeling in James Lasdun’s new memoir Give Me Everything You Have (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). A highly regarded, New York-based British novelist, essayist, and poet, Lasdun writes about being stalked for more than six years, unable to do a thing about it. “I’m not so sure of anything anymore,” Lasdun tells us early on in the book. His memoir is a portrait not of growth but of paralyzed shock at the Internet’s capacity to turn one of his best students into an encroaching virtual monster. Give Me Everything You Can is Lasdun’s last-ditch effort to finally stop his stalker, a former student whom he calls Nasreen, after several failed attempts to involve the police. Every day, Nasreen, an aspiring Iranian-...

Riding Downton's Coattails

HBO's adaptation of Parade's End premieres tonight—too bad the show stole its soapy predecessor's formula but none of the fun.

AP Photo/HBO, Nick Briggs
AP Photo/HBO, Nick Briggs F irst published as four separate novels ( Some Do Not. . ., No More Parades, A Man Could Stand Up--, and Last Post ) between 1924 and 1928, Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End is one of the earliest and greatest entries in the swan-song-for-old-England genre that became ubiquitous once the 1956 Suez crisis turned Gone With Gunga Din into an ongoing national dirge. The whole cul-de-sac filled with rue is still with us today in, for instance, Alan Bennett's more melancholic plays, not to mention a certain popular soap opera whose glibness I've been known to deprecate while granting I'm still hooked. But there's something to be said for revisiting Stonehenge. I doubt anyone who's read Ford's masterpiece can ever forget his pained, eternally solicitous hero, Christopher Tietjens, the stolid but suffering incarnation of traditional English values under bombardment both figurative and literal by 20th-century situational morality and the ultimate calamity of World War I...

Social Climate Change

Emily Bazelon's look at how bullying—once known as "kids will be kids"—came to be seen as a crisis.

Flickr/Twentyfour Students
Flickr/Twentyfour Students L ike all mammals, human beings can be cruel. As we create hierarchies, we use social or physical power to hurt, manipulate, and get what we want. But unlike other mammals, we periodically reconceptualize our cruelties, declaring behaviors that were once acceptable to be crimes against God and humankind. Campaigners transformed slavery, once seen as biblically endorsed, into the sin of sins. Wife-beating and marital rape, once judicious uses of husbandly authority, are now illegal domestic violence. These behaviors continue, of course—we’re still mammals—but they’ve switched categories, from acceptable to punishable. Consider bullying. Until recently, learning to handle even the nastiest of schoolmate struggles was treated as a normal part of childhood, a kind of social vaccination. If you couldn’t navigate the treacherous waters of a school lunchroom, how would you ever swim through office or factory politics? In her carefully reported Sticks and Stones ,...

Goodbye, Petraeus

The general’s gone, but a new book on his big idea is essential for the coming defense debates.

AP Photo/Christopher Berkey
AP Photo/Christopher Berkey Fred Kaplan’s book is newsworthy, but not in the way you might assume. Kaplan’s years of research and writing for The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War had evidently come to their end shortly before November 9 of last year. On that date, Kaplan’s title character, the retired four-star general and national hero who had been renowned for his advocacy and management of the 2007 troop surge in Iraq and dreamed of by many Republicans as an eventual presidential candidate, resigned as CIA director after the revelation of his affair with a much younger former Army officer, Paula Broadwell. Kaplan alludes to the sudden, shocking collapse of the omni-competent, hyper-disciplined “mystique that had shrouded David Petraeus for nearly a decade” only in a page-long postscript to the book. In it he half-convincingly argues that although the affair took the military and political worlds by surprise, it should be seen as just one...

The Past, Reclaimed from Right-Wing Myth

Now can we get to work saving the future?

Flickr/freshwater2006
(Photo: Flickr/freshwater2006) T he Tea Party’s name was one of its organizers’ most brilliant choices. Furor at George W. Bush’s bank bailouts and Barack Obama’s electoral victory might have taken any number of forms less charged with history. It could have grown into a movement to Stop Paying Your Neighbor’s Mortgage, as CNBC’s Rick Santelli urged in the on-air rant that galvanized rank-and-file conservatives in early 2009. It could have harked back to the property-tax revolts of the late Carter years or to any of the loosely organized right-wing splinter groups from which so many Tea Party organizers were drawn. Some early organizers proposed to call this the Porkulus movement, with pigs’ heads and free government “pork” as its icons rather than the 1775 “Don’t Tread on Me” flags that soon dotted the protest rallies. But with nostalgic restoration as its theme, the Tea Party made a bid for foundational history as well as politics. To wrest back Obama’s America from the brink of “...

The Measure of All Things

How markets beat out citizenship to define our public life

I n the wake of the Great Recession of 2008, liberals were dismayed by the economic carnage but could at least rejoice that the dominant ideology of free markets had been exposed as fiction. The deepest vulnerabilities of unregulated capitalism had been cast into sharp relief; the groundwork was now in place for a return to robust regulation of the financial sector and a broader shift to the left. Yet as subsequent years have made clear, 2008 marked no such inflection point. The downturn helped usher Barack Obama into office, but his presidency has been defined less by liberal realignment than by the emergence of an Ayn Rand–inspired Tea Party movement that voted in a wave of conservative House members. After a moment of uncertainty, libertarian and conservative pundits recovered and blamed government regulation for the crisis. Well-connected Democratic bankers and ex-bankers helped craft a recovery plan that socialized risk, privatized gain, and did little to punish or correct the...

Camelot’s Begetter

Besides being the father of John, Bobby, and Teddy, Joe Kennedy left behind a tattered legacy. 

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo) Former Ambassador to Britain Joseph P. Kennedy has earnest words with granddaughter Mary Courtney Kennedy, 2, who sits on lap of her mother, Ethel Kennedy at Mc Lean, Va. on Nov 29, 1958. The occasion is a reception for Edward Kennedy and Joan Bennett in Bronxville, New York as following their wedding. Sitting on Amb. Kennedy's lap is Bobby Jr. 4; and David, 3, is between grandfather and mother and on right, are Kathleen, 7, and Joe, 6, all are children of the Robert Kennedys. E ven those smitten by the Camelot legend have never mustered much love for Joseph P. Kennedy. Upstart Boston Irish millionaire, early player in the movie industry, then the Securities and Exchange Commission’s founding chair under Franklin D. Roosevelt, he brought his public career to a banana-peel close by serving as our disastrous ambassador to Great Britain back when World War II’s clouds were eyeing their rainmakers. He might be a footnote today if he hadn’t fathered all those damned kids. As...

The Best of David Foster Wallace

When the novelist learned to escape his own mind, he got a little closer to the greatness he sought.

(Flickr/Courtesy of the Lannan Foundation)
M ay 2005, Kenyon College, Ohio. David Foster Wallace steps to the podium and looks out at the graduating seniors before him. He tugs at his academic robe and bends toward the microphone, hair falling onto his face. Sweat beads and drips over his body. “If anybody feels like perspiring,” Wallace says, “I’d invite you to go ahead, ’cause I’m sure goin’ to.” He reaches into his pocket for a handkerchief and begins to relate the first of several parables: “There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’” Laughter ripples through the convocation room. The gathered seniors, those who’d previously heard of David Foster Wallace, author of the scene-smashing, biblically large 1996 novel Infinite Jest , but like so many others hadn’t actually...

Want Less Inequality? Tax It

Revive the big idea of British economist Arthur C. Pigou! And apply it to America's most outrageous problem.

Courtesy of the Ramsey and Muspratt Collection
Courtesy of the Ramsey and Muspratt Collection Arthur Cecil Pigou F or the last two decades of his life, Arthur Cecil Pigou didn’t get much respect. Once considered Britain’s leading economist, he had come under caustic attack from a colleague at Cambridge—his friend and famous protégé John Maynard Keynes—for insisting that the Great Depression would correct itself without strong government intervention. By the mid-1940s, before Keynes died, Pigou had capitulated. But the dispute between the two, and Pigou’s eventual acknowledgment that Keynes might have a point, seemed to consign his own work to the dustbin. His student Harry Johnson remembers him as “a tall, straight figure, eccentrically garbed, glimpsed occasionally walking about the countryside.” In the hall where Pigou lectured on economic principles, one unknown undergraduate had carved into a desk “Pigou mumbles.” After the 2008 crash, it seemed Pigou might make a comeback. Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen, writing in The...

My Favorite Martian

(AP Photo/Katy Winn)
Herman Wouk, who won the Pulitzer Prize for The Caine Mutiny way back in 1951 and later gifted heartland America with The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, among other pop-culture landmarks, has just come out with a new novel at the preposterous—not to say preposterously entertaining—age of 97. The Lawgiver, it's called, and I seriously doubt book critics will decide this is their chance to take Wouk to the woodshed. Frankly, none of us wants to learn our withering review was the one clutched in his hand when ... well, you get the picture. Me, I wouldn't dream of making fun of The Lawgiver. Its mere existence leaves me too charmed for sober judgment. Even your instant scorn won't affect my affection for industrious, unfashionable Herman Wouk, who's seen more trampoline-happy hares soar past him in the Jewish-American literary firmament than any Pulitzer-winning tortoise you could name. I was itching to get my hands on a copy as soon as I heard this thingamabob was a novel...

Nate Silver, Artist of Uncertainty

(Flickr/Randy Stewart)
(Flickr/handcoding) W e’re heading into the last week of a tight presidential campaign, and polls are coming in too fast to count. Partisans everywhere are desperate for omens. But at moments like these, it’s people who care most intensely that the “right outcome” occur who run a high risk of getting it wrong—picking out positive polls for comfort, or panicking over an unusual and unexpected result they don’t like. Fortunately, our most prominent number cruncher has been giving us the straight story instead of capitalizing on this anxiety. In 2008, Nate Silver correctly predicted the results of all 35 Senate races and the presidential results in 49 out of 50 states. Since then, his website, fivethirtyeight.com (now central to The New York Times ’s political coverage), has become an essential source of rigorous, objective analysis of voter surveys to predict the Electoral College outcome of presidential campaigns. Publishers lined up to offer Silver a chance to write a blockbuster, and...

The Great Conservative “No!”

William F. Buckley’s heirs are starving on a red-meat diet.  

(Associated Press)
(AP Photo/Lou Krasky) William F. Buckley Jr. talks with former California Governor Ronald Reagan at the South Carolina Governor's Mansion in Columbia S.C., on January 13,1978 I n the ’80s and ’90s, the GOP basked in an atypical rep as “the party of ideas.” Thanks to the liberal project’s distinctly dilapidated charms once Jimmy Carter got done playing the concerned mortician, the rise of deep-pocketed think tanks and often sharp-witted neocon intellectuals—and, not least, Newt Gingrich’s endlessly self-fertilizing conception of himself as a brainiac—it wasn’t even undeserved. Revealingly, though, all that froufrou stayed disconnected from the party’s popular appeal. Unlike midcentury Democrats, for whom Adlai Stevenson’s intellectualism and the New Frontier’s Harvard pedigree were pluses, the Republican base never did develop much of a taste for white meat disguised as gray matter, preferring Gingrich the hyper--partisan to Gingrich the guru every time. Today’s conservative elites...

Way Down in the Hole

Every era has its great narrative art form, stories delivered via the au courant medium that simultaneously show us the small characters of individuals and the vast social panoramas that limn their decisions and lives. The Anglo-Saxons and ancient Greeks had epic poetry, its tropes, rhythms, and assonances perfect for delivery via roving troubador or bard. Urban Greeks and Elizabethans saw the peaks of their cultures’ theatrical drama, where everyone from the aristocracy to the masses gathered for social and moral insight peppered with bawdy jokes. Nineteenth-century England had its sweeping novels, ranging from Austen to ; the 1970s gave us Chinatown, Taxi Driver, Nashville, and their kin . We are living in the age of the great television series. From Hill Street Blues to The Sopranos , from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Rome , I know I’m not the only one who’s more eager to find out what’s happening with “my” characters and plotlines than to go see some cinematic blockbuster. (I might...

What's Up With Naomi Wolf's Vagina?

Relax, folks. I don’t have any firsthand experience with Naomi Wolf's Vagina , carnal or otherwise. Everything I know about it comes from what other people have told me. And let me tell you, am I ever grateful for those reviews, which tell me I never want to put my hands on it. In fact, as far as I can tell, the entire public purpose of Naomi Wolf, at this point in her brilliant career, is to be the target of other folks’ smart sentences. Let’s start by assuming that you’ve already got the basic outline and flaws of the book from Jaclyn Friedman’s review here . Every review I’ve seen has essentially the same gripes with the book. And can we take for granted that Naomi Wolf’s “feminism,” while it once may have had some political content, has now morphed entirely into narcissism, in which she mistakes her own emotions for meaningful thought? The Beauty Myth, the book that’s the foundation of her outsize reputation, rehashed things that had been written and said before by second-wave...

The Vagina Myth

Naomi Wolf's yoni worship isn't just silly—it's dangerous.

This summer, Michigan state representative Lisa Brown was banned from the House floor when she dared to say the word “vagina” in a debate about proposed restrictions on abortion. Just three weeks ago, Todd Akin revealed what many Republicans believe: If you get pregnant, it can’t have been rape. It’s been a year of politicians trying to force women to have medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds, and “personhood amendments” granting one-celled organisms more rights than women, as long as the cell resides in the woman’s uterus. If there ever were a cultural moment crying out for an impassioned defense of the vagina, it would be now. It’s beyond unfortunate, then, that Naomi Wolf’s new book Vagina: A New Biography is such a failure. Vagina: A New Biography By Naomi Wolf. Ecco Press, 400 pages, $27 Wolf is best known for her 1991 text The Beauty Myth, but more recently has made headlines for claiming that penetrating a sleeping woman represents a “model sexual negotiation” and...

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