| |1. The Vietnam war and its legacyЧт., 18 янв.[−]
The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam. By Max Boot. Liveright; 768 pages; $35. Head of Zeus; ?30.
BECAUSE the Vietnam war was the first that the United States unequivocally lost, American treatments of it are often couched as might-have-beens. Liberals look for moments when America might have avoided the war; conservatives search for ways that it could have been won. The latter temptation grew after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, when America again became mired in guerrilla conflicts. In the late 2000s, neo-conservative authors began arguing that America could have triumphed in Vietnam (and, by extension, could win in Afghanistan and Iraq) by committing to so-called “counter-insurgency” strategies, which involve political nation-building rather than relying solely on firepower. Practitioners of counter-insurgency (including H.R. McMaster, who later became Donald Trump’s national-security adviser) rose to the top of... Continue reading
|↑|2. Leonard Bernstein at 100Чт., 18 янв.[−]
European tradition, American incarnation
IF YOU were a well-heeled Massachusetts lady in the late 1920s and wanted your hair fixed like the movie stars, there was one man to turn to: Samuel Bernstein. In 1927, this entrepreneurial immigrant, who had arrived in New York from Tsarist Russia aged 16, acquired the only local licence to sell the Frederics Permanent Wave machine for curling hair. Like many businessmen of the times, he expected his eldest son to follow him into the family firm.
But Louis Bernstein, born in August 1918 and known to everyone as Lenny (he officially changed his name to Leonard as a teenager), had different ideas. The family had no musical roots to speak of, but ten-year-old Lenny found himself drawn obsessively to his aunt Clara’s piano. No matter that his father remained vehemently opposed to the notion that he should make music his life, there was but one path ahead.
For all his early misgivings, Samuel later conceded that his son... Continue reading
|↑|3. Giorgio Vasari, the man who created art historyЧт., 18 янв.[−]
Vasari made craftsmen into stars
The Collector of Lives: Giorgio Vasari and the Invention of Art. By Ingrid Rowland and Noah Charney. Norton; 432 pages; $29.95 and ?23.99.
TOWARDS the end of his life Michelangelo Buonarroti, the most famous artist of the Italian Renaissance, began burning his drawings. He did not consider them works of art in their own right so much as pictorial scaffolding. They aided the difficult process of deciding what a painting or sculpture would look like when it was finished and demonstrated his very real struggles to achieve aesthetic perfection. By eliminating these drawings he wanted posterity, when thinking of the great Michelangelo, to be confronted with a towering figure of insurmountable genius, one as cold and stiff as the marble he worked with—in short, a man who conjured up the great masterpieces in Western art with minimal effort.
That people can see behind this fa?ade is due to the timely... Continue reading
|↑|4. Esther Kinsky muses on a river in EnglandЧт., 18 янв.[−]
Esther Kinsky goes with history’s flow
River. By Esther Kinsky. Translated by Iain Galbraith. Fitzcarraldo; 368 pages; ?12.99. To be published in America this autumn by Transit Books.
IN HER post-war childhood beside the Rhine, the narrator of Esther Kinsky’s third novel learns that “every river is a border.” Flowing water both divides and connects city and country, past and present. The “liminal habitat” that runs through “River” is the Lea: a tributary of the Thames that snakes its marshy, scruffy way through to north-east London. Tramping these post-industrial zones of makeshift enterprise, neglect and dilapidation, “bashed and bedraggled by the times”, the solitary heroine summons other rivers from her atlas of memory. She revisits waterways not only in Germany but Canada, Croatia, Hungary, India and Israel.
Although rooted in the author’s own long residence in London, “River” is a novel, not a... Continue reading
|↑|5. Personal pronouns are changing fastЧт., 18 янв.[−]
NOT so long ago a man could be jailed in Texas for sex with another man. In 2015 a county clerk in Kentucky was jailed for refusing to certify the marriage of two men. Gay rights in America proceeded at an extraordinary rate between Lawrence v Texas (2003), in which the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws, and Obergefell v Hodges (2015), which made gay marriage legal across the country.
Transgender rights came next into public view. “Transparent”, a successful television show, has put trans people at the heart of a complex universe. The case of Caitlyn Jenner, who had been an Olympic gold medallist as Bruce Jenner, helped bring not just visibility but greater acceptance. In liberal circles, being openly transphobic is becoming unacceptable, proceeding along the same trajectory—but much faster—as attitudes towards homophobia or racism.
With mores around sex and gender already on the move, it is little... Continue reading
|↑|6. A powerful dramatisation of the murder of Gianni VersaceЧт., 18 янв.[−]
THE 20th century may be considered America’s greatest, but gay men had a miserable time. Sodomy was a felony in every state until 1962, and it remained illegal in 13 states until 2003. Gay men were sacked from jobs in government and left to die in an epidemic many considered a punishment for their “sinful” behaviour. They were hounded out of bars, the only public places they could be themselves. They were beaten and arrested by gangs of untouchable police (the same tactics are used today in many of the 72 countries that continue to criminalise homosexuality). In short, gay men were kept out of the portrait of American society.
Towards the end of the century, however, times were changing. The picture of acceptable America had expanded to include, even celebrate, some gay men. In particular Gianni Versace, a fashion designer from Italy, was able to let gay stigma slip like a silk gown to the floor. He had grown a business... Continue reading
|↑|7. Visualising the careers of musicians-turned-actorsВт., 16 янв.[−]
THE news of Harry Styles’s casting in “Dunkirk” (2017) was met with bemusement. It was hard to imagine the boyband heartthrob, with his Mick Jagger-esque locks and floral suits, under siege on the beaches of northern France (rather than under siege from hordes of teenage girls). Did a short comic turn as “Marcel the Marketing Guy” in a One Direction music video—seemingly the extent of his acting experience—qualify him to star in Christopher Nolan’s epic? Many assumed the decision was a ploy to bump box-office ratings; a tense, experimental second-world-war flick wouldn’t typically appeal to a younger demographic. Such was the extent of the backlash that Mr Nolan came to the pop star’s defence. “When I cast Heath Ledger as the Joker it raised a lot of eyebrows and caused a lot of comment,” he said of the villain in “The Dark Knight”, a role which earned Ledger a posthumous Academy award. “I have to trust my instincts, and Harry was perfect for this part. He pulled it off with incredible grace and reality.”
Of... Continue reading
|↑|8. Britain could become basketball’s latest global outpostВт., 16 янв.[−]
FOR ONE night a year the O2 Arena, London’s biggest indoor stadium, belongs to basketball. On January 11th the 20,000-seat venue hosted its eighth regular-season fixture since 2011, between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers, the former of whom are genuine championship contenders this season in the National Basketball Association (NBA). The topsy-turvy game, which the 76ers led by 22 points in the second quarter before the Celtics secured a 114-103 comeback win, was far from the only delight for the many fans experiencing their first match. With relentless music, cheerleaders, t-shirts being launched into the crowd and NBA legends walking out to salute the crowd during time-outs, the spectacle was somewhat more vibrant than a typical night of British sporting entertainment.
The country seems ripe for a basketball invasion. Tickets for the match sold out in 52 minutes, hampered only by a struggling website. The cheapest ones available via resale on the day of the game cost ?500 ($684). Away from the glamour of the NBA, the... Continue reading
|↑|9. Is art-connoisseur yet another job threatened by technology?Пн., 15 янв.[−]
THE patient is carefully positioned on a pristine rectangular table. A signal is given, and from behind a glass wall, a technician directs an X-ray machine overhead. Zapping begins. This is not a hospital. It is the conservation laboratory of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Visits here were part of the museum’s recent two-day symposium “Jewellery Matters”, which broke ground by inviting artists, makers, scientists, educators and collectors as well as the usual art historians.
The patient was a fanciful 17th-century pendant having its enamel analysed in order to find the actual date of its creation. In the 19th century demand for such pieces outstripped supply, and fakes (some magnificent) were produced to satisfy the market. Was this one of them?
The same X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF) equipment could be used to study a 16th-century Indian bronze statue, a Roman glass vase or a leaf from a medieval illuminated manuscript. As one technician describes it, it works this way: A precisely targeted beam enters the object... Continue reading
|↑|10. “The Post” is Oscar bait, but not necessarily interestingЧт., 11 янв.[−]
HERE’S a trick for home cooks who want to impress someone: find out what they like and give them more. Not bigger portions, but more of the good stuff in each dish. Make chocolate cake with extra chocolate, ragu with more meat and apple pie with lots of finely-diced apples and a glug of Calvados.
This is more or less what actors do in a Steven Spielberg film: they play the sorts of characters they are famous for playing, but with intensity turned up to just below “ham”. In “The Post”, Tom Hanks does his hail-fellow-well-met shtick (with an outer layer of crustiness, because he’s Ben Bradlee, a newspaper editor), but with more hailing and more meetings of fellows. Meryl Streep, as usual, is regally vulnerable as Katharine Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post, but with extra vulnerability in the film’s first half and climactic regality near the end. Matthew Rhys twitches and glowers even more than usual, which distinguishes him from Michael Stuhlbarg, who glowers then twitches. One welcome exception to this rule is... Continue reading
|↑|11. What makes humans inventive?Чт., 11 янв.[−]
The Origins of Creativity. By Edward Wilson. Liveright; 198 pages; $24.95. Allen Lane; ?20.
The Runaway Species. By Anthony Brandt and David Eagleman. Catapult; 287 pages; $28. Canongate; ?20.
DOES science spoil beauty? John Keats, an English Romantic poet, thought so. When Sir Isaac Newton separated white light into its prismatic colours, the effect, Keats wrote, was to “unweave a rainbow”. By explaining how rainbows occurred, the mystery and the lustre were lost. The idea that science and the arts are distinct, incompatible cultures is an enduring one. Two new books seem to cut to the heart of the matter: human creativity.
Edward Wilson, 88 and the author of “The Origins of Creativity”, is the grand old man of Harvard biology. His speciality is myrmecology—the study of ants. For a short book, “The Origins of Creativity” is brimming with ideas, many of which wander, as Mr Wilson’s writing often does, beyond the... Continue reading
|↑|12. The scientific debates of the Vienna circleЧт., 11 янв.[−]
Much discussed, little understood
Exact Thinking in Demented Times: The Vienna Circle and the Epic Quest for the Foundation of Science. By Karl Sigmund. Basic Books; 449 pages; $32 and ?25.
ON OCTOBER 21st 1916 Friedrich Adler, a theoretical physicist turned socialist politician, went to a famous restaurant in Vienna and ate a three-course lunch. Having lingered over coffee, he went up to Karl von St?rgkh, the imperial prime minister, who was sitting at a nearby table, and shot him several times with a pistol, killing him. Adler, the son of the legendary founder of Austro-Hungarian social democracy, calmly waited to be arrested. Something had to be done to change the general way of thinking, he claimed, and he had done it. At first condemned to death, he was pardoned two years later.
When the Nazis came to power in Austria, Adler, by then the secretary of the Socialist Workers’ International, held urgent meetings with... Continue reading