PositiveNew York Journal of BooksNot only does Stadler present an \'unfamiliar Woodie Guthrie,\' he presents history hidden by \'anti-communist panic.\' ... Guthrie, from what we learn, is part of a bigger picture, challenging the \'simple narrative\' of individual freedom of expression. The book could have gone further, but its questions are good.
MixedThe New York Journal of BooksThe book is personal reflections. There are stories within stories ... because of the book’s format, its explanatory potential is not exploited. It’s not clear, for instance, why we learn so much about Cohen’s skill at seducing teenage virgins ... not all aspects of a person’s life are equally interesting or relevant. Some are useless for knowing someone’s unique being and work, and why it mattered ... The book expresses the belief, in the age of limitless information, that facts are valuable in and of themselves. It’s not true ... Much is irrelevant or contradictory to what makes a life or art important. Posner includes it all. It will interest some, but perhaps at a cost: understanding why Cohen mattered, and will continue to.
MixedNew York Journal of BooksClark provides extensive detail about Plath’s life. Some details—Cold War US and 1950s attitudes toward mental illness—are fascinating and useful. But hundreds of pages about Plath’s \'heavy dating,\' including how she did her hair, chose her clothes, and what they ate, is tedious ... Plath’s art is explained, but its philosophical importance, and indeed urgency, is not fully clear ... The red comet gets a bit lost in details.
PositiveNew York Journal of BooksThis book is personal, deeply and bravely thoughtful, and creatively expressed. Yet it can serve as a tool for the politically engaged ... In a letter to Angela Davis in 1970, [James Baldwin] wrote: “we have been told nothing but lies\" ... Harding exposes some such lies, powerfully and clearly.
PositiveThe New York Journal of Books[LaFarge\'s] loving pursuit of the man behind such music is an intriguing collage of people, places, relationships, instruments, and national struggles ... well worth reading. It is instructive, engaging, and sincere. It would be a shame, though, to take the book’s central question about Chopin to have been answered. It is not.
Jorge G. Castañeda
PanNew York Journal of BooksDirectly or indirectly, foreigners who have soured in their initially great enthusiasm for the US have done so for this reason, according to Castañeda. But he does not offer much argument. A \'love-hate\' relationship by foreigners is a cliché, but in Castañeda’s view, it is irrelevant. He does not explain it ... quiet, white, middle-class lives, in the US, fueled slaughter abroad. Such lives promote values of power, greed, and self-absorption, falsely called \'freedom,\' making discrimination and violence inevitable. The \'unforgivable\' errors Castañeda identifies are a result of the same values. At least, this is how some have seen it, and not just foreigners. Castañeda has been in the US long enough to have noticed. That he does not consider seriously, or even notice the existence of such arguments, shows just how powerful is the liberal ideology he takes for granted.
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksThis book is highly worth reading, among other things, for intriguing detail about ancient life, not just in the \'Eternal City\' itself but in Athens to which wealthy Romans escaped and sent their children to be educated .
PositiveThe New York Journal of Books... a more universal story is also in this book. It is not as explicit as it might be ... Sheff tells us he is not a Buddhist but that nonetheless he admires Masters. The suggestion is of appeal that transcends religion. But we don’t get this story, or at least not without work ... The story about religion matters, but the underlying, understated and perhaps more interesting human story of essential human interconnection is needed more.
PositiveNew York Journal of Books... [a] wonderfully thoughtful and engaging book ... fascinating detail ... Ackman[n] might have provided more scaffolding. She ends with the glib remark that Dickinson shows us \'what its like to be alive.\' Maybe, but this needs explanation. At best, it’s understatement. For, when clues are interpreted, Dickinson challenges an idea of human beings that’s been around for hundreds of years.
Javier Cercas, Trans. by Anne McLean
MixedNew York Journal of Books\"In the end, he’s told the story to tell the story. He doesn’t say his (moral) story possesses merit, such as contributing to knowledge. He can’t say that. Legends can’t do that. Or so he believes, or thinks he believes ... Literature, and art generally, makes the expected unexpected. It becomes possible to care. It doesn’t mean fiction and truth are the same. But they’re not separate either. Nineteenth century Cuban philosopher José Martí referred to art as a sword. The intimate connection between art and truth was obvious to those whose truths—and indeed their humanity—were denied in theory. Europeans pulled apart art and science. Cercas follows along, at least in theory. His legends, or some, are useful. But he can’t claim relevance to (moral) truth. His unadmitted third story disallows it. And so, we’re left with stories for stories: European liberalism’s secret legacy of despair.\
MixedNew York Journal of BooksThe Last Ocean asks hard questions ... the book is eminently worth reading for its compassion, research, and practical insight ... In the background is the moving story of her father, cared for at home, who deteriorates rapidly after being hospitalized and refused visitors ... But philosophy, despite good intentions, gets in the way in this book. The (liberal) myth of a discreet self distracts and ultimately undermines the book’s otherwise caring and intelligent message.
Jonathan M. Hansen
PanNew York Journal of BooksThe material is old hat, except for love letters written from prison and details contradicting established belief ... Hansen doesn’t bother with the bigger picture. He mentions, repeatedly, the goal for \'Cuba Libre\' and independence. But he doesn’t explain the intellectual, cultural and historical context energizing that goal and making it believable, impossible though it seemed ... Hansen says Castro loved only one thing: the Revolution. He didn’t love Mirta, or Fidelito, or even Celia Sánchez ... For Castro’s quirks, the explanation is \'mood swings.\' The century and a half of re-envisioning the human world is missing ... missed opportunity. Hansen makes the mistake of many otherwise well-intentioned academics in the North: They assume that only the North produces ideas that energize and transform, motivating sacrifice, driving dynamic creation not just of politics but of the vision that explains it ... Hansen’s flippant speculation is boring at best, but with the privileged access he had to Cuban documents, it is irresponsible.
MixedThe New York Journal of Books... a controversial approach to healing, and the author is unaware. The Apology is valuable for what it shows about causes and effects of abuse. But its method and motivation raise questions ... It is unclear why it is personally liberating for the abused to tell such a story, so long after the fact, as if it is the father’s story, when in fact it is not ... There is no explanation of why the author assumes such an approach to personal healing. There is no defense of the approach against rival approaches ... This means the approach is taken to be self-evident. And this may be the most interesting feature of this book: its demonstration of the force of an expectation, rejected in theory by many feminists, about freedom as the control of a story about oneself: invented to conform to one’s own expectations ... shows how easily a controversial story about healing is assumed by some who care about those most undermined by that very story about human freedom: the vulnerable and abused.
MixedNew York Journal of Books\"... well-researched ... Perrottet tells stories: good ones ... Read this entertaining book, but don’t be beguiled by its supposed innocence. Resistance to humiliation, driven by historical awareness and dignity, against impossible odds, is not improbable. Its explanation would be the more useful story. That story is absent from this book and, worse, not known to be.\
Patrick Modiano, trans. by Mark Polizzotti
RaveNew York Journal of Books\"Sleep of Memory shows how literature trumps philosophy and political theory. Theory can’t show how our lives really are when the way they really are is not how we expect them to be ... [The book] takes us where we don’t expect. It shows what we’re conditioned not to expect by hundreds of years of misguided philosophy and humanism ... Read this book to find a way out of the modern liberal obsession with lines and dreams. They’re useless. Our memories \'blend images of roads that we have taken, and we can’t recall what regions they cross.\'\
Elliott J. Gorn
PanNew York Journal of Books\"Gorn explains the meandering of historical memory as if it’s just that: meandering ... This book would be better if [explored the idea of \'truth\']. Gorn asks rhetorically, \'Who ‘owns’ particular stories? . . . When does creative expression become exploitation?\' They are not rhetorical questions. They have answers depending upon who cares about oppression, dehumanization, and systemic violence.\