Joseph Bottum

Review: Roger L. Simon’s ‘The GOAT’

A tennis pro pays a steep price to be the Greatest of All Time

It was three or four years ago that the word GOAT finally gnawed through the fence of minor sports blogs and started gamboling in the greener fields of television and newspaper commentary—GOAT, that is, as an acronym for "Greatest of All Time."

Review: ‘It Came From Something Awful’ by Dale Beran

The effects of the computer revolution can be malevolent

We're now a good 40 years into the computer revolution, and maybe the best way to understand what's happened would be to construct a scatter plot of the results. We need to graph everything onto a Cartesian plane, in other words, with a vertical axis for the personal effects computers have had and a horizontal axis for the social effects.

Review: ‘For the Good of the Game’

Bud Selig's memoir is more juiced than juicy

All right, let's get the bad news out of the way, right off the bat: This is a disaster of a book, by a man who was a disaster at his job. Oh, no doubt, Bud Selig truly loved the sport he would head from 1992 to 2015. He loved it to pieces. If you want proof of baseball's resilience, it can be found in the fact that the game somehow survived the butterfingered adoration of the hamfisted car dealer from Milwaukee.

Review: ‘The Vagabonds’

We all live like Henry Ford now

We live like kings these days, even while we bemoan our state like beggars. Generally speaking, the members of the American middle class possess a material splendor that would put to shame an 8th-century chieftain. Or a 12th-century princeling. Or even an early 20th-century industrialist.

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

The wonder of space faded under social commentary

"Beyond the circle of the moon," Aristotle observed, "there is no evil." It's one of those curious lines that reveal the divide between what we once were and what we now are—a divide marked by that almost over-famous "one small step" Neil Armstrong took on July 20, 1969, as he stepped out of the lunar module and walked upon the moon.

A Race Against Reality

Review: 'The Gifted School' by Bruce Holsinger

Who would bother trying to write a novel of social commentary these days? You know, like Dickens, with Bleak House (1853). Or Trollope, with The Way We Live Now (1875). Or even Upton Sinclair, with The Jungle (1906). However much novelists might think they've found the perfect metaphor—the ideal synecdoche—for laying bare a culture's hypocrisies and inner mechanisms, cultural revelations now come along faster than good novelists can write. Actual events will beat them to the point, and the real world will prove weirder and more telling than any imaginary world could have predicted.

The Art of a Glowing Screen

Review: 'I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution' by Emily Nussbaum

Yes, we've had some good painters over the years. A handful of distinctive poets. A smattering of brilliant novelists. But the greatest American arts—which is to say, the arts most distinctively American—prove surprisingly collaborative, when one stops to think about them. However much we pride ourselves on our muscular individualism, however much we think of art as the work of lone geniuses working alone in lonely garrets, America's archetypal contributions to world art have tended to be group projects and joint endeavors.

Social Media and Other Diseases

Review: ‘The Social Media Upheaval’ by Glenn Reynolds

There’s something fascinating about social media—the way it spreads, the way it mutates and transforms, the way it seeks its targets. A kind of organic activity seems to pulse within it, as though it were alive. As though it were a virus. An infection. We don’t join Twitter and Facebook. We catch them, like a disease.

Drawn to the Beat

Review: 'William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock ’n’ Roll' by Casey Rae

When Donald Fagen and Walter Becker joined to begin new recordings in 1972, they decided to call their band "Steely Dan," taking the name from a dildo—"Steely Dan III from Yokohama"—that makes a brief appearance in William S. Burroughs’s 1959 novel Naked Lunch. And from that stray bit of information, one could begin to construct a genealogy, a tree of inspirations and references, that takes us to a very strange place. Start with the fact that English-language rock 'n' roll, from the 1960s through the 1980s, remains the best-selling, most-listened-to music in the history of the world. Add the fact that just about every influential rocker has mentioned Burroughs's books, with half of them trekking across America at one point or another, on pilgrimage to meet the man. And we arrive at the conclusion that William S. Burroughs is the single most influential novelist who ever lived.

Better Than It Has To Be

Review: 'To Clear Away the Shadows' by David Drake

David Drake's books always seem to carry a blurb from the Chicago Sun-Times—a line extracted from an old review that claims Drake has a "prose as cold and hard as the metal alloy of a tank." He "rivals Crane and Remarque" as a writer of military fiction. And there you have it: The Red Badge of Courage (1895) and All Quiet on the Western Front (1928) are joined by Drake's tale of intergalactic mercenaries, Hammer's Slammers (1979).