There are some fun reviews in this week's NY Times Book Review (and even other reviews worth skimming or reading than those described below):
1. A Yale Law School professor provides an insightful review
of Noah Feldman's, "Scorpions," which is about the four Justices FDR appointed to the bench, and how each sharply differed from the other in personality and philosophy. Each may have begun with the mandate to support New Deal policies, but quickly differences arose thereafter. Independent minds will do that...Somehow, I am not going to take the time to read the book, but for those not otherwise as familiar with the jurisprudence and politics of the era, the book appears to be a highly worthwhile read.
is a smart review of Joseph Ellis' new book about John & Abigail Adams. I have looked through this book and share the conclusion of the reviewer, Caroline Weber, which is that this is a book that did not need to be written at this point. There are plenty of biographies of both of these married figures, and I've read many of them myself. I love the Adams Family even more than the Addams Family
, which is saying a lot. I have long believed that perhaps the Adams' marriage survived because of long absences from each other, and they really may not have had such a loving marriage after all. I also believe that John Quincy Adams and Louisa Adams were more soul mates who spent much time with each other, compared to his father and mother. This is not to say John & Abigail detested each other, or that their marriage would have failed had John just stayed at home more often. It is just that some of the idealistic romantic phrasings in their letters carry a deep irony when considering the reality of their long separation, and when one considers that John rarely missed an opportunity to go off to Europe or New York or Philadelphia, while Abigail had to operate the farmhouse and rear the children essentially alone.
3. Thank God they made Joshua Cohen, author of an excessive book on Jews, review
another excessive book on Jews. Justice has been pursued and caught in that choice. Cohen, in a tastefully-written and ironically short review, saves us the time of having to read through the latest excessive book even as he praises it. And in doing so, he provides a couple of drive-by references to the overrated Philip Roth, and very overrated but now fashionably dead David Foster Wallace
, who wrote the unreadable "Infinite Jest." I am not against length in a book, having just picked up Ron Chernow's latest biography "Washington" (actually my folks bought it for me for an early holiday gift), and I just purchased the Branch Rickey biography by Lowenfish, with each clocking in at about 800 pages. However, when prose is dense either on purpose or for "literary" purposes, as with Wallace and as I recall, Cohen's book
, I smell a rat, which is that the author is not a good writer or the author is hiding mundane ideas behind something that is pretentiously written.
was a frustrating review because, while the reviewer may be right about the limits of a new book on the violence at the Mexican-American border involving the billion dollar drug cartels, she rightfully acknowledges the power of the book in setting forth what is happening. It is a true journalist's book, from her description of it. Still, she had the opportunity, but failed to provide more depth to tell us what she believes is causing this war to have escalated so horribly in the past three years. The disintegration of Mexican society is one of those stories that produce shrugs in our nation, not a deep concern nor any coherent call for policy solutions. Contrary to the reviewer, the author of the book may be on to something when he talks about the effects of trade deals and global capitalism on a peasant society like Mexico. I think he may have something to tell us because here
is an excerpt from the book, which shows he is tying in the Cold War policies of the 1980s, where the CIA under Reagan openly promoted international drug cartels in their ideological struggle against the leftist revolutionists in Central and South America, which deepens my sense that the trade treaties of the 1990s may have well contributed to an unraveling of Mexican society of which drugs become a symptom, not a cause. As I recently stated in another post, the failure of Mexico's citizens to vote for Obrador
in 2006 is proving to been far more significant than even I felt at the time
. Obrador was actively speaking with labor economists in our nation about building infrastructure, putting millions of Mexican citizens to work in Mexico, and...well, that is a "what if?" for Mexico, isn't it?
is a smart review that allows us a glimpse of the thinking of a couple of smart establishment-oriented foreign policy analysts. It is safe and cozy inside that establishment, but at least the reviewer of the foreign policy book, and perhaps the author of the book, recognize what a screw up the Iraq II adventure has been. They show signs, dangerous for them in their personal ambitions, how our imperial adventures overall create more blowback than nearly anything else. Still, I think these fellows will pull back in time to promote their careers and help lead our nation in yet more wars, starting with Iran. Oy.
6. Stacy Schiff is a writer of creative and scholarly power who has now written a potentially controversial biography of Cleopatra. This
review gives us a good start on the subject and book, and does intrigue me. Still, I wonder, is the prurience still prevailing in our interest in this particular despotic ruler of ancient Egypt in a time of Roman imperial dominance? Having read all the way through, and definitely enjoyed, the Marcus Arelius biography from Frank McLynn
, I am doubtful whether I will find the bandwidth to read the biography of Cleopatra. She strikes me as interesting, but not compelling in terms of her impact on ancient history. She cleverly maneuvered with both Caesar and Antony, and was as famous for her ritual suicide as anything else, but is there really that much more to the story?
Bonus review: Garry Wills has a memoir out, and the other day, the Times reviewed
it. Whimsical, yet scholarly is how one may describe Wills, who is one of those rare people who moved Left rather than Right as he aged.