Imagine you had to pick one person to represent a certain era. Who would you choose for the 1920s? The 2000s? The 1780s? It’s an interesting thought exercise, and in Arthur Ashe: A Life, Raymond Arsenault presents a compelling case for why Ashe, more than anyone, lived a life that most reflected his time. A black man coming of age during the Civil Rights Movement, a soldier during the Vietnam War, a leading anti-apartheid activist, a victim of AIDS during the early days of awareness of the disease—at nearly every turn of his life, Ashe was front and center with some of the most important issues facing the nation.
Carl Jung is back. Well, in a minor way. In the sense of, like, never having entirely disappeared since his death in 1961. Jung is the little train engine of psychology: still in service, still hauling freight and passengers on a narrow-gauge railroad off somewhere in the distance. Never the main line, but maybe for that reason never an abandoned line, either. And every 10 years or so, something causes readers to notice that Jung somehow endures, chugging along as he always has.
One cannot help but read Judicial Fortitude as a creature of its moment.
Released as it is in the midst of confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Peter Wallison’s work is an unabashed call to arms for the new conservative judiciary. His analysis is far from novel—theorists have raised similar concerns for decades. But it comes as the conservative legal movement is about to clinch its greatest victory in 40 years: a Supreme Court majority.
Jonathan Neumann has written a splendid book. The first-time author has produced a devastating broadside against Jewish radicals who have co-opted tikkun olam—a Hebrew phrase meaning “to heal (or repair) the world”—to claim a special Jewish religious obligation to engage in left-wing politics. “This theology is a contrived religious system,” he writes, “a sort of New Age mysticism that distorts the biblical Creation story and Kabbalistic (Jewish mystical) motifs in order to portray the politics of social justice as an organic Jewish teaching.”
By the time the fire alarms sound at the Hudson Institute a few minutes into Tuesday afternoon, dozens of protesters have already been arrested for disrupting proceedings at the opening Kavanaugh confirmation hearing across town. So, though no one bothers to move even a little toward the exits, when the alarm turns out to be false one wonders, if just for a moment, whether this wasn’t a deliberate delay. After all, nationalism is, at least to so many these days, such a dirty word.
Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World is a gentle manifesto from Maryanne Wolf. At Tufts and UCLA and elsewhere, Wolf is a teacher and student of the reading brain, the miracle of neuroplasticity you are using right now, and Reader, Come Home is a celebration of books that have pages, and a declaration of careful revolt against acquiescence to the tyranny of screens, and while I, convinced by her writing, initially drafted by hand this little essay to you, you are reading this on a computer, or on your phone, or perhaps a tablet, and are wondering about now if this sentence will ever draw to a close, or if like Cicero’s colleagues in the Roman Senate you must really sit and wait in resignation for the syntactic labyrinth to unwind itself, until it arrives finally at a period.
In the fall of 1868, almost exactly 150 years ago, Louisa May Alcott wrote her famous children’s story Little Women, and just for the sake of that anniversary we should probably note one obvious fact about the beloved classic: It’s a rotten piece of work. Bloated by the demands of its publisher. Twisted by the dislike of the author for her own project. Alternately simpering and resentful. One half goop and the other half goo. Any sane child, settling under a tree to read, would fling the sodden mess up to hang itself in the highest branches, where the birds could use its pages for their nests. At least that way some of God’s creatures would find it useful.
The trouble with most of our attempts to tell the story of Rome—to deploy Rome as a metaphor in current events, for that matter—is that we tend to focus on the end points: the failure of the republic, the last days of the empire. The real puzzle of Rome, for historians and political theorists alike, is not its failure but its survival.