Sunday Morning Review of Book Reviews: January 30, 2011
In today's NY Times Book Review:
1. Here is a well-written and insightful review of a new book by a sharp, fun and intriguing neuroscientist from UC San Diego. The reviewer is channeling Stephen Jay Gould in puncturing any over-generalization of how or why we behave the way we do, and how evolution is not as purposeful as we want to believe, with our wired desire for cause and effect. Still, I'd love to hear and meet the neuroscientist author, V. S. Ramachandran. I wonder if he attended the book chat at a local San Diego County bookstore with Eric Kandel when Kandel's science oriented memoir was released? I was there, and that was a great experience.
2. Here is a review as dull as the subject, Soledad O'Brien. Her claim to fame is that we don't really know her ethnicity...but she is definitely a player and corporate media "personality" with truly nothing remarkable to say. She is no different and maybe even more shallow than Tom Brokaw or some other fluff corporate broadcast media newsreader.
3. Here is an interesting review of counterfeiters and the development of paper money. I think the reviewer missed the way in which there was the equivalent to a nuclear arms' race where, in the instance of paper money, it appears the government was able to prevail. It is awfully hard to counterfeit current paper money in the US. It is also like the race between hackers and computer software providers to some extent...
4. And please don't waste your time reading this review of Branko Milanovic's book on inequality. The reviewer is a sadly typical corporate apologist and Milanovic seems to be obtuse in rendering the causes and effects of a poor distribution of wealth within societies. Also, the reviewer has the audacity to write: "The typical person in the top 5 percent of the Indian population, for example, makes the same as or less than the typical person in the bottom 5 percent of the American population. That’s right: America’s poorest are, on average, richer than India’s richest — extravagant Mumbai mansions notwithstanding." Really? Let's go to that Mumbai mansion and then Harlem in NY and see how that statement fares...
5. Scott Malcomson offers a smarter review of a book by a fellow who came of age during the Clinton years, who wonders at the hurbis over markets and capitalist ethos that described so much of the Bush II years. Malcomson rightly criticizes the author for having "too private" an explanation as opposed to a systemic reason for the failures of the worldview of leaders such as Reagan, Thatcher and Clinton--yes, Clinton is a Reaganite, folks, as is Obama. They are like Eisenhower, who lived in FDR's shadow.
6. Want to read a review that starts riveting, only to descend into the muck of uncertainty? Here is James Traub's review of constitutional lawyer Stephen Carter's new book that exposes what Glenn Greenwald has done as a daily journalist writer: Expose the fact that Obama has been as bad as Bush II in terms of civil liberties. Because Carter and Traub are courtiers, they won't say what Greenwald does. Therefore, my advice: Read Greenwald, not Stephen Carter.
7. Here is a review that left me wanting to know more specifics in what the authors were saying. Is it really just bias of referees that produce more traveling calls against visiting teams in basketball games? On a separate subject raised in the review, I can say that having watched enough sports over the decades, I believe handing the ball to Kobe can be overdone--and there are now those saying Kobe is not the clutch shooter we think he is. But really, I've seen enough of Kobe to know he is the guy you want to give the ball to when the game is on the line. So he's human, too, and misses sometimes? Is that really a surprise? The surprise is how often he wins games, and that is something to behold.
8. And last, and maybe least, here is Paul Berman's insightful essay on a man not really worth reading at all: Irving Kristol. Berman's review is worth reading because he exposes the fact that Kristol's youthful writing is shallow, and his middle aged writing even more shallow. Kristol deserves to be primarily recalled as a courtier, not an intellectual like Daniel Bell or Alfred Kazin. Readers of this blog know how much I detest Paul Berman for his red-baiting of the late I.F. Stone and Berman's overall bed-wetting imperialist apologetics since Al-Queda attacked the Twin Towers and the Pentagon nearly a decade ago. Nonetheless, while Berman's review is excellent and ultimately devastating as to Kristol, the review is, for say my son's age, something of an inside-baseball subject. The Jewish intellectuals of the mid-20th Century have receded into History and we who recall their heyday must work hard to discern for the younger generation who deserves to be read--Bell, Kazin and (honorary Jew) Michael Harrington--and who we should not bother with, starting with Kristol and the still alive Norman Podhoretz.
The best American essayists of the mid-to-late 20th Century, though? Gore Vidal, I.F. Stone and Noam Chomsky. They will be the ones most read in the year 2250 as historians sift through the wreckage of the American Empire.