Monthly Archives: June 2008

12 posts

Eugene Debs and the Fight for Free Speech

Debs was the great voice of socialism in the United States for the first two decades of the 20th century, a five-time presidential candidate for a third-party crusade against capitalism. He was a homegrown rebel, born and raised in Indiana, and a powerful speaker who knew how to translate socialism into an American idiom.

American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic by Joseph J. Ellis

Over the preceding two centuries, Ellis notes, a number of English, Scottish, and French thinkers had generated a large body of political knowledge that undermined the medieval worldview about government, society, and even human nature itself. Further, that the American people were the beneficiaries of this accumulated wisdom – “it had yet to be called the Enlightenment,” Ellis reminds us – which, although it had its origins in Europe, was now destined to enjoy its fullest implementation in America…

Frida Kahlo at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Art critics may speculate about the influences on Kahlo’s style or her place in modern art. In the end, these reflections, however valid some of the details may be, diminish Kahlo’s achievement. The truth of Frida Kahlo’s life is startlingly simple. She recorded the realty of her life without flinching, creating for herself a world that conformed to her insights and her experience. And in the process, Frida Kahlo’s art became Frida Kahlo’s life.

The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir

If you’re going to mix brains with bosoms, however, you have to be very careful stylistically. Readers don’t mind sex, we’re very fond of it in some cases, but we do mind when it’s over the top. And what jars in the racier bits jars overall. Underneath the adjectives and adverbs, there’s a streamlined, engaging book in here. It just needed a firm editor on passages like these

Einstein in Japan

The cult of Einstein reached the point where university officials in Fukuoka preserved the blackboard on which Einstein had scribbled during a lecture and forgot to erase. Shikanogi Masanobu, a professor in the humanities who sat in on Einstein’s lectures for six days, recalled: “I heard the quiet, serene sounds of his spirit. His thinking progresses steadily, quietly, like the melting of spring snow, without running, while sprinkling the meadow of knowledge with his jewels of mathematical equations.”

Remembering Nureyev by Rudi van Dantzig

More intimately, van Dantzig shows us the idiosyncratic human being that powered the death-defying leaps and diamond-cut footwork. Paranoid about the KGB and Scotland Yard, perennially late to any rehearsal or engagement, often rude to his female partners, free with his sexual life at dinner parties, Nureyev comes across as a royal pain in the ass.

Jennifer Sey on the Harsh World of Elite Gymnastics

From what I witnessed, and certainly in my experience, many of the high level coaches in the 80s deployed a particularly tough approach that would be considered by outsiders to the sport, emotional abuse. As a participant, the seemingly ‘aggressive’ tactics just seemed like the norm. And I just got used to it. It didn’t seem especially awful at the time as it is what most of my friends were also going through.

Gas City by Loren Estleman

The characters and the settings in Gas City are rife with intriguing promise that never seems delivered. The story seems one- two-dimensional, never fully realized. That’s why I was unable to remember much of the book. There are a number of good scenes, but with so many quality novels out and about, including several by Estleman himself, these brief flashes of excellence are not sufficient to recommend the book.