MixedThe New RepublicDrawing on several dozen interviews with its subject over four years, Whole Earth comes across as something like a third-person memoir ... Stewart Brand is an earnest and serious-minded person. Nevertheless, one of his moments of illumination, as related by Markoff, caused me to laugh out loud.
Patricia Highsmith, Ed. by Anna von Planta
PositiveThe New RepublicThe publication of a document like Highsmith’s Diaries and Notebooks would be an event in the case of any major writer. It provokes a special interest in Highsmith’s case, because it is in the nature of diaries and cahiers to engage in precisely the psychological and philosophical reflection, the confession and self-scrutiny, that she systematically excludes from the pages of her fiction and denies her characters. The result of such a revelation, however, is less to clear up than to deepen the mystery of this writer of \'mystery novels\' ... An intensely private woman, who ultimately chose to expatriate herself to France and then Switzerland and live alone with her cats, Highsmith kept her psychological gems and philosophical gallstones to herself. And she stripped them from her work, too, leaving behind a shelf of psychological thrillers that withhold from harrowing situations the balm of any psychological reflection. None of her books is truly a \'mystery novel\' in the ordinary sense, since the reader is never in doubt as to who did, or didn’t, do what to whom. Her great contribution to the mystery genre turns out to be nothing else than her diaries and journals. Even these pages conceal with one hand what they display with another: \'It is curious that in the most interesting periods of one’s life, one never writes one’s diary.\'
MixedThe New RepublicPlenty of readers will react (as I did) with a sort of instinctive skepticism to Malm’s case that only widespread property destruction can forestall civilizational suicide, but his case deserves a hearing ... Eloquent as Malm is (in a second language, no less), his brief for \'ecotage,\' as he calls it, provokes a few natural objections. One is: Would it actually work? Particularly for an American audience, the specter of ecological sabotage is likely to call up images of the hapless campaigns of such radical green outfits as Earth First! and the Earth Liberation Front during the 1980s and 1990s. If peaceful protest, on Malm’s account, has proved unable to redirect the stream of events during the first two decades of this century, the eco-sabotage of the last two decades of the prior century surely matched and exceeded it for pointlessness. The militants involved spiked some trees, destroyed some SUVs, wrote out some graffiti, and (thrillingly, from my point of view at the time) burned down a ski lodge in the Colorado county where I grew up. But this delirious monkey-wrenching did approximately nothing either to derail the juggernaut of ecocidal capitalism or to convert the voting public to the cause. Its main result was long prison sentences for some activists, from a federal government intent on classing vandalism as \'terrorism,\' and exile abroad for others ... The events of the last year suggest (but by no means prove) that in fact peaceful protest and technocratic undertakings may be sufficient to induce leading powers to bring their emissions down to a survivable level, no property destruction required. And, ultimately, Malm applies the same standard of efficacy to sabotage that he does to nonviolent protest.
Thomas Piketty, trans. by Arthur Goldhammer
MixedThe London Review of BooksThomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century is an intelligent, ambitious and above all informative treatment of the problem. This accounts for much of the unusual excitement surrounding a lengthy, often dry economic tract. But there’s something else to the ‘Piketty bubble’: he is one of the very few contemporary economists eager to revive the old-fashioned spirit of political economy ...[a] lengthy, thorough and generally lucid book ... A clear and sometimes sarcastically witty writer...Piketty is both presenting scholarly findings before colleagues and urging political reform on an educated public ... nothing about the book is more impressive than the range and richness of its statistical information ... The book is more exciting considered as a failure than as a triumph. Piketty has bid a lingering goodbye to the latter-day marginalism of mainstream economics but has not yet arrived at the reconstructed political economy foreseen at the outset. His theoretical reach fumbles where his statistical grasp is sure, and he leaves intact the questions of economic value, distributive justice and capitalist dynamics that he raises.
Roberto Bolaño, Trans. by Natasha Wimmer
RaveLondon Review of BooksThis flat and lurid story is like an account that anyone might give of an acquaintance’s fate ... It’s something close to a miracle that Bolaño can produce such intense narrative interest in a book made up of centrifugal monologues spinning away from two absentee main characters, and the diary entries of its most peripheral figure. And yet, in spite of the book’s apparent (and often real) formlessness, a large part of its distinction is its virtually unprecedented achievement in multiply-voiced narration ... True, the reader is liable to protest, somewhere before page 200, that this book isn’t about anything. Later on, it’s possible to recognize, with admiration, that Bolaño has found a way to keep the novel alive and freshly growing in the Sonora of modern skepticism—our skepticism, that is, as to what can finally be known or said of any life, and whose life is worth being represented, or considered representative, in the first place.
PositiveThe New RepublicPart of the value of Eisner’s biography is to situate a lastingly familiar and accessible body of work in its author’s exceptional experience of an irrecoverable recent past ... The decades since Neruda’s death in 1973...have seen the rout of international socialism as well as a radical shrinkage in the audience, or market share, for poetry. Neruda the earth’s universal poet hails from another planet ... \'Sube a nacer conmigo, hermano\' is probably the most famous line of the poem [\'The Heights of Macchu Picchu\']: \'Rise to be born with me, brother.\' History presents a choice, Neruda says, between dying alone each day or being born at last with our brethren. If the notion is embarrassing today, this does not seem entirely to our credit.
PositiveLondon Review of BooksThis compact novel, in which an emotionally buttoned-down new arrival recounts the downfall of another recent transplant who is, by contrast with him, an extravagant dreamer, has won admiring comparisons to that most American of novels, The Great Gatsby ... In Netherland, narrator and author appear to have the identical prospect before their mind’s eye, but their mind’s eyesight, as it were, remains obstinately farsighted, so that distant but well-defined figures...appear stamped against an indistinct middle ground dominated by the vaguely looming, obscurely perceived shapes of Hans’s work and family ... Without question, Netherland is the product of real intelligence and design, and an unusually well-written book at that, even if the prose shows more belletristic expertise than it does the features of a true individual style.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesLethem has fused his exact and melancholy sociology with the remembered life of a street and has testified, in a proof of Baldwin's hypothesis, to how intimately we experience not only family and friends and sex and drugs but also political and cultural landslides … Style and genre remain crucial to Lethem's sense of things, and the novelty and power of the book have something to do with his effort to look at the subjects of style and race together. By far the longest of Lethem's books, The Fortress of Solitude is essentially a double album … The Fortress of Solitude is what lots of contemporary novels mean to be and few are: both intimate and vast, giving us social and private realities without seeming to falsify either.