Interesting and well organized, with just a bit too much focus on New York and just a bit too much forgiveness and historical revisionism for some ofInteresting and well organized, with just a bit too much focus on New York and just a bit too much forgiveness and historical revisionism for some of the truly venal, mean-spirited, and wrong-headed figures of the time. France is extremely lenient with his friends, and can't even quite get up the steam to describe Fauci as the monster he was or denounce Martin Delaney’s disastrous Compound Q experiments with as much outrage as they deserve. His lack of interest in what was going on overseas and, especially, in San Francisco during those years betrays a tiresome NY focus and is a significant weakness of the book, as is the fact that France pretends that one of the most important AIDS journalists of the era, Celia Farber, simplly doesn’t exist. That, I would wager, is because Farber was an HIV skeptic, and HIV skeptics get approximately zero space in France’s book, despite the fact that they were (as a group) an important voice, especially in the first decade of the epidemic and that Farber was one of the most influential writers on AIDS on any coast (consider the few thousand New York Native readers, for example, vs. the tens of thousands who read SPIN). Informative throughout and pleasantly gossipy. France nonetheless displays his biases frequently; they are not infrequently annoying. There’s no analysis, for example, of what it meant to bring a group of well-connected, often wealthy white men (Peter Staley’s daddy’s yacht gets only a passing mention) to bear on the “taming of AIDS” nor of how their agendas shaped policy, practice, and the direction of “street” activism. There's nothing about the fatwas issued by and Stalinist behavior of certain TAG activists, and there's only between-the-lines commentary on the decidedly ambiguous impact that giving ACTUP and TAG activists insider roles on pharmaceutical company boards had on the movement. In general, in fact, France speeds past a thoughtful review of the circumstances that led to the demise of ACTUP (implying, instead, that it dissolved because it was no longer needed). The idea that protease inhibitors put an end to AIDS/HIV as a killer is naive and inaccurate -- or it is as long as one’s view extends beyond out white gay men. As in Martin Duberman’s recent *Hold Tight Gently,* France also gives Michael Callen the predictable hagiography but allows him precious little depth. One hopes that better books will come along to provide alternate points of view on the “AIDS years,” complicate the “happy ending” narrative, and analyze more dispassionately the sometimes questionable achievements of their sometimes dubious celebrities....more
There may be a great deal to admire in this book, but much of what is admirable comes at the cost of wading through occasional puddles of writerly treThere may be a great deal to admire in this book, but much of what is admirable comes at the cost of wading through occasional puddles of writerly treacle. Ostensibly an account of Macdonald’s mourning of the death of her father, which coincides with her project to obtain and train a large, predatory bird known as a goshawk, Macdonald’s memoir sometimes manages to get these two trains running on the same track and in the same direction to excellent, moving effect, but just as often seems to be a series of forced, overwrought connections and awkward, invented parallels. One of the most fascinating parts of H is for Hawk might have been Macdonald’s biography-within-a-memoir of T. H. White, who also attempted and failed to train a goshawk (his book about the experience appeared in 1951), but her armchair psychologizing about White’s repressed sexuality, psychology, flirtation with Fascism, interest in sadomasochism, etc., quickly begins to rankle for its superficiality. Toward the end of the book in particular, Macdonald becomes intent upon “writing beautifully,” which pumps an increasing amount of warm air into prose that already trends toward lavender. Her account of herself as a gruff, antisocial misanthrope who just wishes people would leave her alone (at least in the early part of her mourning) sounds an odd note for someone who is ostensibly hopeful that strangers will want to spend time with her, if only as readers. Nor is it difficult to tire of her comparisons of herself to a wild animal or her oddly naive disquisitions on the savagery of raptors; and her ultimate realization – that nature in its strictest sense is indifferent to the lives of human beings – may strike one as something less than profound. When Macdonald is on the money, she is very, very good; when she is not, she can be most irritating indeed. No less irritating, at least to me, is Macdonald’s insistence on the singular they, though absolutely no need whatever exists for it, and each sentence written in that style (“any person who ______ will find they ...”) throbs with its own clumsiness. She’s no millennial, so this is clearly a conscious decision—not, by far, the only bad choice Macdonald made in this book....more
Tribe is a magazine article, not a book – and readers are advised to take seriously the twice-repeated warning that the text is “unaltered” from the vTribe is a magazine article, not a book – and readers are advised to take seriously the twice-repeated warning that the text is “unaltered” from the version that appeared in Vanity Fair in 2015. As a magazine “think piece,” it was no doubt compelling in the way that “serious” journalism in Vanity Fair (as opposed to 750 well chosen words about hats) is always meant to compel: a writer “goes in” to explore in close-up a phenomenon or group of individuals that the reader is unlikely to have encountered and reports on them in muscular, trenchant prose. That’s fine as far as it goes, though the last person who managed to pull it off was David Foster Wallace, but Junger here is playing both investigative journalist and pop psychologist and, frankly, he barely has the chops for the second. The blurbs and advertising for this book promise a level of gravitas and of reflection that Junger never delivers. Quite to the contrary, one of the impressive features of this book is Junger’s habit of taking wild, largely unsupported leaps between pieces of information or events—and then proclaiming his flights over the chasm to be a “universal human phenomenon.” In other words, in a book that is supposedly a thoughtful exploration of “homecoming and belonging,” there’s more than a whiff of the kind of informal, “just thinking out loud” conversation one tends to have with the adjacent stranger at the bar, and the analysis is precisely that deep. Junger thinks a lot of things and has collected all kinds of interesting anecdotes, but that doesn’t mean he has particular insight into what he has observed or knows what to make of the sometimes quite random data points he attempts to string into a necklace. The result is sometimes irritating and, too often, merely shallow, including his discussion of PTSD. Then there is Junger’s groovy, unnecessary use of the singular “they,” which he deploys—as so many writers now deploy it—as a shibboleth of trendy, “with it” prose, as a feint at political hipsterism. In fact, Junger demonstrates that he is quite capable, as anyone would be who knew how to write in English, of constructing sentences in such a way as to avoid the need for the singular they. Except sometimes he doesn’t, which means it’s no more than affectation. Nor can he decide if singular “they” is actually singular, which leads him to write sentences such as “What would you risk dying for ... is perhaps the most profound question a person can ask themselves.” The leap between second and third person is, for starters, awkward and amateurish. Then comes the real issue: If “they” is singular and takes the place of “a person,” then shouldn’t it be “the most profound question a person can ask themself”? No? Because that sentence is intolerable in English? Exactly the point. If there is an editor at Twelve, Junger’s publisher, THEY should be tarred and feathered—multiple times, in keeping with the insistence on pluralizing what does not need to be plural....more
Kelly Cogswell's Eating Fire may be the definition of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, Cogswell documents the gleeful, intoxicating immediacy of lesKelly Cogswell's Eating Fire may be the definition of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, Cogswell documents the gleeful, intoxicating immediacy of lesbian “street” activism in the 1990s, but her memoir serves equally well as a eulogy for queer and progressive grassroots activism in general. The direct-action group she co-founded, The Lesbian Avengers, rose, made a significant splash (including internationally), splintered, and eventually disintegrated in precisely that period during which grassroots movements were breathing their last in the U.S.
The heady days of ACT UP, Queer Nation, die-ins at the headquarters of pharmaceutical companies, “actions” at the San Francisco opera house and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, “political funerals,” and many others were, whether their participants knew it or not, about to go the way of the dinosaurs, destroyed by the twin asteroids of social media and Bush-era fear-mongering. Nevermore would queer activism look the way it looked in the 1980s and 1990s; rarely, after 9-11 and the advent of the “War on Terror,” would Americans of any stripe rise up in concerted, coordinated, consistent efforts to challenge the rules of a rigged game.
Yes, there continue to be protests. Yes, there is “Occupy,” whose sell-by date was inborn in the way its very first actions were organized. Yes, there is Black Lives Matter, which, in its refusal of hierarchies and structure, has never, and apparently never will, become an organization that can do more than express outrage at the thousand circumstances that so much deserve expressions of outrage but which outrage alone cannot cure. Because who is not outraged? And because, once the people have vented their anger, what are they to do next? Black Lives Matter has not made clear that it knows, but neither have any of the other groups that have, in the last decade, “trended” and then largely collapsed under their own ideological purity, impatience with process, distrust of leadership, and refusal to compromise. They are, to generalize grossly, political groups that aspire to have an impact on political systems through a relentless, sometimes even puritanical rejection of politics.
Cogswell also writes, and well, about the trap of ideological purity, and one can only wish she had written more. In one memorable passage she describes the cancerous phenomenon that would eventually come to be known, in the Orwellian Doublespeak of the left, as “intersectionality”:
Nothing was separate, class or race. Gender. Sexual identity. Even place.... When The Gully [the online magazine dedicated to international queer issues that Cogswell and her partner, Ana Simo, published between 2000 and 2006] insisted that all these things were related, you should have seen the screaming all-caps e-mails including, “NOTHING is as important as class.” “NOTHING is as important as the environment.” “Even to mention such differences is an attack on a more egalitarian, color-blind world.” There was a contest of oppression, and they used every old lefty excuse in the book to silence people of color and women and queers.
Well, none of that has changed. Intersectionality, like many useful theoretical constructs applied to practice, began as an excellent shield (against ignorance, against tunnel vision, against intellectual and cultural hegemony, against the pitfalls of subjectivity), but it has ended as a swift and terrible sword, yielded with the jihadist’s inexorable sense of infallibility. In the ten years since the demise of The Gully, the only difference is that people of color and women and queers (along with trans and anti-marriage-equality activists) have become equally adept at silencing and shunning others through the joyous opportunities that online social media offer to screech at people with tainted perspectives.
In a brilliant essay, “Everything is Problematic: My Journey Into The Centre of a Dark Political World, and How I Escaped,” Aurora Dagny also describes what has become of activism in recent decades, identifying “dogmatism, groupthink, a crusader mentality, and anti-intellectualism” as the key causes of the death of mass movements. (My heartfelt advice is to read it: http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/everything-problematic.) Dagny goes deeply into territory that Cogswell mostly limns, though it is quite clear that she understood, years before Dagny wrote, exactly what was happening and precisely how dangerous it was going to be.
Her account of how The Lesbian Avengers became labeled a “racist, white group”—their punishment for losing what was, at its core, a turf war with a black lesbian activist in another city—is instructive not for what it says about the Avengers, but for what it says about the impact of accusations of "awareness crimes" and the near impossibility of remedying an organization's structural problems once they have been made. Like dunking, the ordeal once preferred for adjudicating the guilt of putative witches, the attempt to demonstrate innocence can itself be fatal. In the case in point, a person of color made the charge; therefore it had to be true (any curiosity regarding the accuser’s personal political agendas, fragile ego, or anxiety about losing control of her local fiefdom could, naturally, also be dismissed as racist).
In other words, whether or not the Avengers were “racist”—and to what extent or under what circumstances and against whom—was immaterial. Their actual work was unimportant (their first “action” in 1992 was in support of the “Children of the Rainbow” curriculum, proposed by then-chancellor of the New York City school system, Joseph A. Fernandez, as an attempt to “teach first graders to respect the city's myriad racial and ethnic groups”; the curriculum was immediately attacked by the right who termed it “as big a lie as any concocted by Hitler or Stalin.”) Intentions were no longer important. A genuine desire for self-criticism and improvement was not important. Truth itself was not important.
That lack of interest in truth, in intellectual debate, in evidence, in intentions, in nuance; that dedication to dogmatism, ad hominem attacks, litmus tests, and character assassination has only fermented and soured. It is now virtually (and I choose the word advisedly) all that remains of queer and progressive activism.
The last third of Eating Fire, in particular, is a tale of bitterness, disillusionment, and resentment, though it’s unclear how any account of activism in those years could end differently. The reader feels Cogswell’s pain and frustration deeply, even as the description of the years she spent in essentially Brownian movement fails to cohere into a compelling narrative. It would be too painful (and, perhaps, unfairly pessimistic) to dismiss all those years of activism as pointless, yet Cogswell doesn’t know quite how to say what they meant or what her and her colleagues’ work accomplished.
In his 1978 play, Fifth of July, Lanford Wilson has June Talley, the former student radical, say this to her teenage daughter about the social and anti-war movements of the late 1960s:
You have no idea of the life we led.... You’ve no idea of the country we almost made for you. The fact that I think it’s all a crock now does not take away from what we almost achieved.
A few lines later, June’s friend, Gwen, gently scolds the daughter: “Don’t knock your mother, ‘cause she really believed that ‘Power to the People’ song, and that hurts.”
Yes, the loss of idealism is agony.
One occasionally wishes Cogswell had had a better editor (such when she is in the “throws of” some experience) and a decent fact-checker (such as when she swallows wholesale the myth of the crusading journalist, Yoaní Sánchez, the Cuban dissident blogger and anti-Castro darling who has credibly been accused of being a U.S. State Department plant), but Cogswell’s desire to vent anti-Communism and to damn the Cuban government defeats the journalistic and political impulses she presumably avows. (“NOTHING is as important as Cuba’s mistreatment of queers.”)
While it may be possible to read Eating Fire as empowering, it is equally possible to read it as a kind of obituary for the world “we almost achieved.” The days of direct political engagement, of people’s movements, of effective mass action against deaf and uncomprehending structures of power may return, but it will not be soon. Rather, these are days of opacity, of the enthronement of lies, of terror-mongering and isolation, of sharded activism, of fracture and dispersal. In such times, it can be both a comfort and an unbearable heartache to recall the fire that once was, to bring to mind its warmth and light.
If your thing is reading the transcripts of disjointed, at times literally incoherent conversations between two middle-class, youngish, over-educatedIf your thing is reading the transcripts of disjointed, at times literally incoherent conversations between two middle-class, youngish, over-educated white bros who are desperately trying to show each other how smart they are, then this is the book for you. If, instead, you were hoping to capture something of the genius of David Foster Wallace, the writer, this fairly sorry attempt to capitalize on Wallace’s suicide will leave you unfulfilled. The reason for the week of interviews that Lipsky conducted with Wallace—as well as for his and Wallace’s occasionally uncomfortable forced companionship—was a magazine profile for Rolling Stone that never materialized. This book is the result of Lipsky’s attempt to salvage the material following Wallace’s suicide. That fact alone may give readers a slightly squirmy sensation down in the seat of their souls, and it might have been better if Lipsky’s pangs had been more acute than they apparently were. The attempt to play the entire enterprise off as post-modern (which he and Wallace preciously shortened to “PM” in the interviews) and meta meta doesn’t entirely work and, in any case, the question of Damocles dangles over the endeavor: If Wallace had lived, would it ever have occurred to Lipsky to dust this material off and shape it (presuming that’s the word) into a book? Though Lipsky seems to believe that he “got inside” Wallace, what’s patently clear is that Wallace never stopped being canny and that Lipsky never had a genuine moment during their many hours of conversation. Quite obviously, Lipsky couldn’t have had such a moment: he was a reporter, and his job was to consider, shape, and interpret what Wallace said, not to be his “friend.” (And, if fact, the two never heard from each other again, despite the bonding that supposedly occurred during their road trip.) I don’t mean to suggest that either man was never honest, however incidentally. Rather, every utterance, including the honest ones, was intended to produce an effect, and the self-consciousness of the interaction is initially discomfiting and ultimately unendurable....more
Decades ago, when he was reporting on the Simpson trial for The New Yorker, Toobin came across in his “as it happens” articles like an elitist, racistDecades ago, when he was reporting on the Simpson trial for The New Yorker, Toobin came across in his “as it happens” articles like an elitist, racist jerk. In this book, his snotty, arrogant, dismissive, airily white-supremacist worldview gets a much fuller airing. I don’t argue that Toobin is wrong about Simpson’s guilt. Rather, the obnoxiousness of his authorial voice and his clear presumption that the way he—a wealthy, connected, white man—saw the facts was the only way they could have been seen, doom the endeavor. His meager attempts to give lip service to “understanding” why black people might have been predisposed to distrust anything and everything the LA police department said or did in those years ring deeply hollow and, in fact, are all but drowned out by the constant reinforcement of his belief that anyone who did not share his position on Simpson was “blinded by race.” He, of course, was clear-eyed throughout. The result is an odd and disturbing take on the claim that white people like Toobin are above "seeing color.” And yet arguing that others can’t see beyond their race—when your own race is so critical to your perspective—is far from convincing. Toobin has sharp and critical words for just about all the principals, which only adds to the sense that Jeffrey Toobin and only Jeffrey Toobin was smart enough to see things the way they really were. If Toobin had been the prosecuting attorney, I’d have voted to acquit Simpson, too—perhaps for no other reason than to protest the fact that Toobin is an obtuse and grating tool....more
Even making allowances for the generally poor quality of writing in the “dinosaurs are in our midst!” genre, this is a very silly book. In fact, if itEven making allowances for the generally poor quality of writing in the “dinosaurs are in our midst!” genre, this is a very silly book. In fact, if it weren’t so silly, one might be tempted to call it slightly racist – or maybe more than slightly.
The dinosaur in this case is a flightless bird, Titanis walleri, extinct in the early Pleistocene, carnivorous, fast, and big (fossils indicate a height of about 8 feet). Smith makes his Titanis 10-feet tall, gives them human-like forelimbs, and endows them with human thought and the capacity for a spoken (or, at least, sung) language. They have names like Walks Backward, The Scarlet, Egg Mother, and Egg Father, and they “think” things like, “Walks Backward knew what should be done. The Scarlet should be hunted down, at night, and killed. It was the only way, but it was not his place to decide such. The Egg Father and Egg Mother only could decide an act of that magnitude.” And then he SIGHS, because Smith’s creatures can do that, too.
OK, fine, so it’s fiction. Jaws wasn’t all that realistic either.
But there’s stretching scientific truth and then there’s just making stuff up. Though the only fossil evidence of T. walleri in Florida was found way up north in the state, Smith’s Titanis has survived in the Everglades. Also in the Everglades, according to Smith, are outcroppings of sandstone (no, really, there aren’t) and oolitic limestone (ditto, though oolite can be found in the lower Keys and some of the barrier islands off Miami). He imagines the Everglades as some sort of vast, thick forest of enormous trees in which large groups of 10-foot-tall animals could live undetected for millennia, which more than suggests Smith has never actually been to the Everglades. If he had, he’d have observed a vast area of grassy swamp in which anything over a couple of feet tall would have a hard time hiding.
With his Titanis, noble savages who are only trying to protect their culture and pose a threat to humans solely when they are threatened, Smith seems to be working out an extended metaphor about Native Americans and white interlopers. And yet there’s something disturbing about using enormous, human-esque birds, which do everything but say “Ugh!” and try to sell you blankets, as stand-ins for human beings. Meanwhile, the *actual* Native Americans in the cast are largely a feckless and inarticulate collection of types and stock characters.
At a technical level, the writing is amateurish and frequently ungrammatical, but most of the time it’s just clumsy, labored, and artless. Take these sentences: “Trees and bush pressed in all around, which was a good thing. Because all of that vegetation would muffle the sounds of gunfire, of which they were all certain there would be” (250), or this one, in which a “terror bird” attacks a man who has taken refuge in a tree: “Falling to the earth trailing a hot stream of jetting blood, other adult birds were on him” (330). Not only is that hapless man dangling from a tree, but so are Smith’s modifiers. The love scenes, meanwhile (naturally, Smith has grafted the obligatory heterosexual romance onto the whole mess), are always good for a giggle.
There’s no objective reason why science fantasy should also be writing you cannot take seriously. Sadly, it often does seem to work out that way....more
This is my third—and, I suspect, last—Hiaasen novel. Hiaasen clearly knows his state, and the Florida setting is interesting (up to a point). At the sThis is my third—and, I suspect, last—Hiaasen novel. Hiaasen clearly knows his state, and the Florida setting is interesting (up to a point). At the same time, he is so very pleased with himself and so very tongue-in-cheek that the entertainment value is occasionally eclipsed by one’s sense of irritation. Hiaasen is essentially a one-trick pony, and I’ve seen the trick. Here, Hiaasen once again provides his evasive brand of Libertarian-inflected, mildly anti-government/anti-corruption critique, a send-up of Florida politicians and developers that, like pulp-free orange juice, is guaranteed to be free of anything that could really stick in your teeth—or your craw. In a state that has and continues to suffer the depredations of the greedy and unscrupulous like no other member of the Union, Hiaasen’s choice to be apolitical (or, worse, to press that populist button of “they’re all a bunch of crooks”) becomes both suspect and, in its fashion, alarmingly slimy....more
Generally, when a book fails to satisfy me, I know exactly why. In the case of The Lowland, I find it hard to articulate what didn’t work. Rather, I hGenerally, when a book fails to satisfy me, I know exactly why. In the case of The Lowland, I find it hard to articulate what didn’t work. Rather, I have only the sense of having followed a story that was constructed, artificial, vague, calculated, and inauthentic, its characters’ emotional dilemmas and resolutions both cliché and unearned. A scene in which a character returns to her hometown after decades and observes that a tiny sapling planted by her father has become a tree three times her height is one example of Lahiri’s attempt to pass off a trite observation as deeply introspective. Yes, time passes and things change. Is anyone unclear on that point? Similarly, many of the book’s philosophical/existential reflections on the unintended (and intended) consequences of life choices, loss and grief, the arc of mortality, the nature of family connections come across as superficiality straining for meaning. Though not as crassly manipulative as the average Nicholas Sparks potboiler, and with much richer raw material as its foundation, The Lowland is still a novel more of psychological tactics than of emotional truth, and it left me profoundly unmoved....more
The most frustrating thing about Blue Labyrinth is realizing that not only aren’t Preston and Childs becoming better writers, they’re actually gettingThe most frustrating thing about Blue Labyrinth is realizing that not only aren’t Preston and Childs becoming better writers, they’re actually getting lazier and more set in their plodding, overwritten ways. This slow, dull book concerns a great-mystery-that-is-the-opposite-of-a-mystery: Pendergast has been poisoned. Will he live? (Spoiler alert: yes, because they’d be idiots to kill off the goose that lays the golden eggs, though simply “lays an egg” would be an accurate enough review of this groaner.)
I lost count of the number of times someone took a “shuddering breath” or was “thinking furiously,” and many too many scenes are described in such meticulous and unnecessary detail that I dare you not to fall asleep. Never will you read that someone just “pulled out his wallet,” for example. No. Rather, he "slid one pale, slender hand down the smooth, cool surface of the gray-pinstriped fabric of his bespoke trousers until he made contact with the slightly thicker diagonal of the carefully sewn pocket flap. Continuing slowly, he inserted his thumb and first two fingers into the opening and maneuvered them downward until he felt them touch the expensive leather of the folded edge of his wallet.” You get the idea. Are they getting paid by the word, or what?
One of P and C’s most irritating verbal flubs, however, is that they’ve never met a dangling modifier they didn’t love. That’s largely what I mean when I say they’re getting lazier. I can’t imagine that an editor (or 32,175 readers) hasn’t mentioned to them that they might want to revise these embarrassing howlers. They don’t know how or they can’t be bothered.
For guys with houses on several continents, that’s about as close as they get to saying openly what they apparently think secretly: “Just buy our books and STFU.” ...more
Perhaps the main thing one learns from Dreadful is why no had ever before attempted a full-length biography of Burns: He’s not much of a subject. MargPerhaps the main thing one learns from Dreadful is why no had ever before attempted a full-length biography of Burns: He’s not much of a subject. Margolick has dutifully collected anecdotes, correspondence, bitchy interviews, and all the paraphernalia of biography without breaking a sweat on actual analysis. Burns wrote one great book, one infamous one, and then a series of stinkers. Almost no one, it appears, liked him much, which doesn’t have to count for anything in a literary biography, but in this book it becomes an overwhelming presence because the “literary” story is exiguous to the point of disappearing. Burns himself seemed determined to engineer his dematerialization, and perhaps it would have been best to leave it at that. But Margolick is irritating for his own reasons: Either his Italian is poor or his Italian consultant had a tin ear, and his translations and explanations are more than occasionally wrong-footed; he can’t decide if the town of Livorno should be referred to as “Livorno” or “Leghorn” (as it is in older texts); his tossed-off characterization of the powerful Italian postwar political party, the Democrazia Cristiana, as "center-right" doesn't even begin to provide the information necessary to grasp the nature of Burns' complaints about it; he inserts footnotes where they are laughably obtrusive, rendered dubious by elision, and occasionally condescending; and his struggle to shoehorn Burns into the echelons of the other, deservedly more famous protogay writers of his generation fails because Burns simply wasn’t at their level. I admire The Gallery and was spellbound by Lucifer with a Book during my own coming out, but the Burns trail ends there, no matter how much we might wish it didn't. He didn’t write anything else worth reading. If he then kept his personal life nearly completely secret, lied and dissembled to almost everyone, took virtually no one into his confidence, repaired to Italy to dedicate himself to becoming a professional drunk, and stopped being able to write fiction, what exactly is the example to be discerned from his life or work? Late in the book, Margolick entertains the thesis that Burns’ talent was destroyed by homophobia, though I seriously doubt he gives the idea much actual credence beyond its usefulness as a marketing gimmick. All in all a middling effort that tries—gamely enough—to transform the idea of Burns’ “potential” into an account of Burns’ success. In that sense, Margolick’s biography dutifully parallels Burns' own life: the story of something that might have been....more
Hard to get excited about a book with such an obvious premise: huge numbers of animals and plants are going extinct at an alarming and accelerated pacHard to get excited about a book with such an obvious premise: huge numbers of animals and plants are going extinct at an alarming and accelerated pace; as a result, species diversity is rapidly dwindling. If you need further reason to be disquieted by the impact of human beings on the planet, there’s plenty of baleful knowledge here. Kolbert picks a dozen or so examples of species that are going or gone and, in a sense, provides their biobiography. As science writing, it’s interesting enough, but in the end there’s very little “there” there....more