PanWashington PostThere’s an essay early in David Mamet’s new book...that offers a tantalizing glimpse of what the book could have been, were the celebrated playwright’s brains not so irradiated by right-wing media and memes ... I can imagine a different book in which Mamet takes such insights and goes even deeper into the American unconscious, past and present, airing its hidden racial and sexual laundry ... Who better to tell us what acts of repression and self-deception are being performed right now by right-thinking leftists and liberals? God knows we could use it ... If only. Telling an author what he should have written is one of the cardinal sins of book criticism. In the case of Recessional, though, it seems like the only critically generous thing to do ... There’s nothing wrong, in principle, with this set of likes and dislikes, and I can imagine a collection of columns (there I go again) that is interesting and stylish enough to justify itself as a book. But Mamet in Recessional is a lazy writer ... There’s a slapdash quality to it all, an unearned confidence that his writerly instincts are so potent that a few anecdotes or observations strung together, tied up at the end with a callback to the beginning, will naturally coalesce into profundity ... He’s David effing Mamet, one of the great living playwrights of the English-speaking world, a brilliant man and an extraordinarily stylish writer. Even at 74, an age when all but the rarest of us are past our primes, he should be better.
MixedThe Washington PostIt’s disappointing but not terribly shocking that [Douthat\'s] great strengths as a short-form opinion writer, his genius for synthesis and his extraordinary judiciousness, become limiting flaws in his new book ... serious, honest ... There are good objections to Douthat’s tapestry of ennui and exhaustion, and Douthat engages them directly and thoughtfully ... White dudes like him have been moaning about decadence for millennia, usually just before they lead us to war or get their heads vigorously lopped off ... Douthat doesn’t vanquish these arguments so much as graciously acknowledge them, give them their due and then ask us to consider his perspective as well. And he repays our consideration with a glittering stream of associations and distinctions, resonances and rhymes that reinflect the world we thought we knew in fascinating ways ... is rich with insight ... If The Decadent Society is a good book rather than a really good or great one, it is perhaps because it’s too tight, too sane, too controlled ... as brilliant as it is in many ways, is too knowable to be beautiful. Too many of its joints connect too perfectly. Too many of its contradictions resolve neatly rather than quiver poetically in tension. In this sense it is as much a manifestation of decadence as an act of defiance against it.
MixedThe Washington PostIt’s a cold argument, and The Point of It All...has some ice in its veins. The acceptance of human suffering that enables Krauthammer to hypothesize Iraq as a retrospective victory for liberal democracy is rather ruthlessly deployed throughout the collection on behalf of a range of subjects. Krauthammer is hard-faced, in particular, in defense of America, \'mankind’s first-ever universal nation\' ... Krauthammer was also quite warm, even reverential, when he wanted to be. In columns in the new collection he is charming on fatherhood...and much else ... But mostly I find Krauthammer frustrating, a smart man and expert craftsman who lacked the intellectual grit to push at, or through, his own defenses and premises ... He was a facile writer of sentences, an excellent summarizer of ideas and a master architect of the op-ed, which is a notoriously difficult form. But he was a complacent thinker. Krauthammer stopped at the point when things threatened to become too complex or messy ... I think he introspected too little and forgave too much. But it’s worth admitting (as he would not, if he were in my position) that I might be wrong.