RaveThe Atlantic... what a gift it is, no less ambitious a project than its subtitle claims ... Graeber and Wengrow offer a history of the past 30,000 years that is not only wildly different from anything we’re used to, but also far more interesting: textured, surprising, paradoxical, inspiring ... is not a brief for anarchism, though anarchist values—antiauthoritarianism, participatory democracy, small-c communism—are everywhere implicit in it. Above all, it is a brief for possibility, which was, for Graeber, perhaps the highest value of all. The book is something of a glorious mess, full of fascinating digressions, open questions, and missing pieces. It aims to replace the dominant grand narrative of history not with another of its own devising, but with the outline of a picture, only just becoming visible, of a human past replete with political experiment and creativity.
J. M Coetzee
RaveThe AtlanticAs he passed his 70th birthday, J. M. Coetzee...embarked on a highly atypical series of works. His previous 14 novels, all shorter than 300 pages, possessed a spare, compressed intensity of language and design. Now he has completed a trilogy...that sprawls to more than 750. It is ruminative, meandering, and open-ended. Its prose is flat; its mood is often slack. It is strange, enigmatic, unsettling. And oddest of all, it is not about Jesus ... Like any good allegory—any good allegorical novel, at least—the trilogy invites us to read it on multiple levels ... the story is invariably told from the parent’s perspective—in the trilogy, from the perspective of Simón. Which means it takes the form of a baffled, anguished, desperate drive, not to be understood, but to understand: to leap the gulf from self to other, to penetrate the secrets of another soul. And that is Coetzee’s greatest theme of all, the thread that runs throughout his work, that structures his work ... It is no spoiler to reveal that The Death of Jesus narrates Davíd’s demise. Here, at last, the trilogy rises to stretches of power and beauty ... Coetzee is conducting a thought experiment. What does it look like when the truth arrives on Earth in the frail vessel of a human being? How can we recognize it? What do we grasp of it? In what ways does it change the world? ... When the truth arrives on Earth, Coetzee suggests, it takes the form of a question.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewA little pruning would have helped. The only point of opening an essay collection is to spend some time with an interesting mind, and Joshua Cohen—novelist, journalist, critic; prodigy, polyglot, polymath—has one of the most interesting minds in circulation. But half as long would have been twice as good ... The diary entries, sprinkled throughout, are pungent morsels of observation. But sustained ideas are harder to come by. Cohen is a drive-by intellectual who moves too fast to question his conjectures—if it occurs to him, it must be true—a verbal prestidigitator who’s inclined to let his language do the thinking for him ... Cohen is most at home, and Attention is at its best, in \'Abroad.\' The section is heavy on literary criticism, the mode in which he goes deepest, because he goes slowest, and in which he is able to bring his learning, as well as his artistic experience, most fully to bear. There are actual arguments here, often brilliant ones ... His solipsistic immaturity can sometimes bother me, but his truculent bravery often delights me.
MixedThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewThe Marriage Plot is yet a new departure — daylight realism, like Middlesex, but far more intimate in tone and scale … The novel isn’t really concerned with matrimony or the stories we tell about it, and the title, the opening glance at Madeleine’s library and the intermittent talk of books come across as attempts to impose an exogenous meaning. The novel isn’t really about love either, except secondarily. It’s about what Eugenides’s books are always about, no matter how they differ: the drama of coming of age … The story is wry, engaging and beautifully constructed. And yet it finally sells its characters short.
PositiveBookforumFranzen remains superb at rendering the psychological texture of everyday experience: the gyrations of the soul, the power struggles of domestic life, the chess moves of romantic behavior. But if the terrain, and the mind that maps it, are recognizably those of the earlier novel, the contours are different … The novel is named for our nation’s highest value and is everywhere a criticism of it. The desire for freedom, in Franzen’s view, is nothing other than an adolescent urge for irresponsibility and unconnectedness. The novel is full of people whose freedom not only makes them miserable, it makes everyone around them miserable, too.