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May 7, 2021

George Ernsberger - Columnist
Posted 5/7/21

THE FREE WORLD: ART AND THOUGHT IN THE COLD WAR by Louis Menand (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Well…that “war” isn't really the point, here—there's even a touch of irony in the use of the term; …

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May 7, 2021

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THE FREE WORLD: ART AND THOUGHT IN THE COLD WAR by Louis Menand (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Well…that “war” isn't really the point, here—there's even a touch of irony in the use of the term; those of us who have outlived it have mostly outgrown the concept. Still, it serves well enough to define a sector of our history. This is a seriously smart, worldly wise without heavy irony, account of a crucially formative chapter in our development: political, social, cultural, all of it. What has come to seem an unnecessary lot of it was preoccupied with what we took to be a great rivalry with the communist/socialist world (there are Americans, still, who think socialist and communist are synonyms; those Americans tend to use “socialist” for all of ‘em—oh, and never use the word “capitalist” at all). Menand is a New Yorker guy (the magazine, that is) and an English professor, and a gleaming example of all that can promise (let's be real, here: it can promise a lot) in both depth and clarity. His big new book is an education in that history as well as an evening-after-evening pleasure in the reading.

THE GOOD SISTER by Sally Hepworth (St. Martin's). Already a bestseller, this witty, sharply observed but full-hearted novel starts out fairly conventionally amusing, but gains depth and emotional strength as we read, as the two sisters, twins but far from identical, tell us their stories by turns. The two women are very real, one at a time and together, and that's worth a lot.

DANCE WITH DEATH: A BARKER AND LLEWELYN NOVEL by Will Thomas (Minotaur). Continuing this great series, a column favorite since its inception and if anything becoming richer as it proceeds. Victorian in period and setting, and meticulously faithful to that atmosphere, but with an underlying modern sensibility. Nothing that breaks the sense of time and place, but a certain unshowy sophistication, both as sharp-eyed social observation and simply as mystery fiction, could only have been created in this century, and not in those early years of the century we grown-ups have left behind.

ROBERT B. PARKER'S PAYBACK: A SUNNY RANDALL NOVEL by Mike Lupica (Putnam). Pretty sure I've never read one of this series, either by the great Parker or his successor Lupica. It's terrific stuff, a tough female private eye—yeah, slightly superhero-ish in that private eye way, but believable and likable—and not just a guy in drag, either. Lupica's really good at this, plotting as well as scene-making.

HARD CASH VALLEY by Brian Panowich (Minotaur). Trade paperback reprint of the big (and great), dark crime novel/western that I urged on you a year or so ago.

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