Frank Dikötter’s The Cultural Revolution

Fittingly, the third and final work in historian Frank Dikötter’s trilogy of history books on modern china, The Cultural Revolution, was released exactly 50 years after Mao set the Cultural Revolution in motion, inaugurating a miniature civil war that would […]

John Williams’ Stoner

How does a literary masterpiece pass into obscurity? Blame the critics, the times, the society that had the good fortune to receive it first but lacked the judgment to cherish and champion it. In hindsight, it’s understandable – though no […]

John McPhee’s Draft No. 4

I know of no profession more demanding of reassurance than writing. Bricklayers, doctors, taxi drivers and taxidermists do not generally torment themselves about their crafts, or suffer long periods of sterility, or treat a bad day on the job as […]

Jeffrey Burton Russell’s The Devil

What has the devil done to merit a five-volume biography? If you had asked me just a few years ago, I would have scoffed, but lately I am not so sure. Perhaps the subtitle – Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity […]

Adam Zagajewski’s Another Beauty

It was a stroke of genius, on behalf of the New Yorker, to run Polish poet’s Adam Zagajewski’s “Try To Praise The Mutilated World” in the week following the collapse of the Twin Towers, when America – and indeed the […]

Cynthia Ozick’s Quarrel & Quandary

Asked to name America’s best living novelist, the late David Foster Wallace skipped over the usual heavy-hitters – Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, and even Thomas Pynchon – in favor of a celebrated but far less widely-read author: Cynthia […]

Richard Pipes’ Communism: A History

As a young boy, Richard Pipes personally witnessed Adolf Hitler’s victory parade through Warsaw, following the Nazi invasion of Poland. His family – more fortunate by far than most Jewish Poles – fled for the United States shortly after. That […]

Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero

Bret Easton Ellis’ first novel, Less Than Zero, was published while he was just 21 years old, an undergraduate student at Bennington College. It was allegedly assembled from journal entries, dating from his early adolescence, which accounts for its plotless […]

Frank Dikötter’s Mao’s Great Famine

In the four-year span between 1958 and 1962, some 45 million Chinese people lost their lives, mostly as a direct or indirect result of starvation. Within China, the figures have been downplayed or denied, and the causes obfuscated. Food shortages […]

E.M. Cioran’s The Temptation To Exist

You pick up Emil Cioran’s writing at your peril. Though he is sometimes witty, he is never very consoling, and if you have not yourself seen the things he describes, looking at the world through his eyes might be fatal […]