This week in the New York Times book pages: a series of essays on "how to write" (here's the first). Writing blurbs, of course, is a special art. This essay by A.J. Jacobs may not be "wildly creative," to use one of his blurbing phrases, but it is amusing.
You'll also find reviews of Samuel L. Popkin, The Candidate: What It Takes to Win — and Hold — the White House (Oxford University Press) ("a kind of management bible for the business of presidential campaigning) (here), and Paul Thomas Murphy, Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy (Pegasus Books) ("rambles uninhibitedly and learnedly through 19th-century history into literature, penology, constitutional theory and even ballistics) (here).
The New York Review of Books is chock full of good stuff this week. To start, Sean Wilentz reviews American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation (Knopf), by Michael Kazin:
As a historian, Kazin, despite his sober judgments, exaggerates the importance of some radicals even as he ignores others’ genuine achievements—and does so at liberalism’s expense. His view of history acknowledges but diminishes the debt radicals have owed to liberals—just as it blinds him to the damage some leftists have willfully done over the last thirty years to liberal ideals and, ironically, to their own.
I've pulled the last paragraph, which is a bit unfair to Kazin. Read the review in full here (open access).
*To all those young children out there who read this blog*: please close your eyes and scroll down: The New Republic reviews (here) Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years (Public Affairs), by Geoffrey Nunberg. The book is "most valuable as an exploration of what the word means and why it came along when it did," according to reviewer John McWhorter. "[I]t is hard to confirm" the author's thesis that "a peculiarly vehement assholism [is] on the march." Also reviewed (here): The End of the Chinese Dream: Why Chinese People Fear the Future (Yale University Press), by Gerard Lemos.
In the Nation, historian Kim Phillips-Fein reviews Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power (Penguin Press HC), by Steve Coll. Here's a taste:
[Coll] documents the political, economic and global power of ExxonMobil, the largest privately owned oil and gas company in the world. Coll frames his story as a narrative of corporate life in the post–cold war era. The choice may feel odd at first: despite the company’s wealth—it has quadrupled its profits in the years since the cold war’s end—oil seems old-fashioned, mired in the physical world. Coll compares it with Walmart and Google, those denizens of the postindustrial economy. In contrast to these, ExxonMobil drills “holes in the ground,” and so its operations are inevitably “linked to the control of physical territory.” In this way, he suggests a different view of the contemporary economy: beneath the glitz and seductions of the service sector runs a river of oil, sluicing through the bright weightlessness of our online dreams.
Also reviewed: The Torture Report: What the Documents Say About America’s Post-9/11 Torture Program (OR Books), by Larry Siems (here).