All Reviews

Looking in Every Direction

Adam Thirlwell, Kapow!

reviewed by Sarah Emily Duff

Between 1989 and 2000, the journal History and Theory published one of the longest – and possibly most interesting – disputes within the historical profession. Over the course of the decade, Perez Zagorin, Frank Ankersmit, and, later, Keith Jenkins, debated the relative usefulness of postmodernism to historians. Historians like Zagorin, routinely accused by postmodernists of being at best naïve and at worst reactionary, have argued that since at least the 1960s few historians have been so... [read more]

Parallel Wars

Donny Gluckstein, A People’s History of the Second World War: Resistance Versus Empire

reviewed by John Newsinger

There is an apparently never-ending stream of histories of the Second World War. In recent times Norman Davies, Max Hastings, Anthony Beevor, Andrew Roberts, Michael Burleigh, Evan Mawdsley, and others have all produced substantial single-volume histories of the conflict. This reflects the enduring popular fascination that the war excites. While the predominant popular view is that the war was very much a conflict between Democracy and Dictatorship (a view complicated by the presence of the... [read more]

Exposé Reveals Little

Larry Siems, The Torture Report: What the Documents Say About America’s Post-9/11 Torture Program

reviewed by Hugh O'Shaughnessy

As the real history of the last years of British rule in Kenya has been seeping out recently with the cases of the victims coming at last to the British courts, I have been forced to think of what my own position as a junior infantry officer would have been if, as could well have happened, I had been sent to that country during my two compulsory years of National Service in the mid-1950s. Would I have been ordered to take part in any of the atrocities against black Kenyans that evidently took... [read more]

Intersecting Fact & Fiction

April Bernard, Miss Fuller

reviewed by Amanda Civitello

There exists in historical fiction an inherent tension between the factual and the invented. In her recent novel Miss Fuller, poet April Bernard attempts to reconcile a sense of responsibility toward the historical record with her novelist’s right to poetic license. Bernard’s originality and lyrical prose are more than worthy of her subject, the American Transcendentalist feminist writer Margaret Fuller, but the book, caught as it is between fact and fiction, never quite decides what kind... [read more]

The French Technique

Ian James, The New French Philosophy

reviewed by Marjorie Gracieuse

Ian James’ new book offers a compelling account of the most recent and interesting figures that constitute the actuality and singularity of the contemporary French philosophical landscape. It is a thought-provoking exposition of the conceptual work of seven living French thinkers, extending from Jean-Luc Marion to François Laruelle via Jean-Luc Nancy, Bernard Stiegler, Catherine Malabou, Jacques Rancière and Alain Badiou. Combining philosophical acumen and critical analysis, James’ book... [read more]

It Should Be Easy

Paul Krugman, End This Depression Now!

reviewed by Sam Caleb

Recently I went to see the excellently timed and executed production of Timon of Athens at the National Theatre. Harsh, unremitting and bleak, this under-read Shakespeare play casts its lead, Timon, as a somewhat profligate benefactor who falls prey to his beneficiaries’ unwillingness to equal his generosity. From fine dining and high-society back-patting Timon slumps to slumming it, pushing a trolley around an inner-city wasteland. After saying some rather misanthropic last words he then... [read more]

All You Need Is a Pair of Running Shoes

David Renton, Lives; Running

reviewed by Steve Platt

One of the defining images of the 2012 Olympics is of Mo Farah crossing the finishing line in the 10,000 metres final for his second gold medal. Arms spread wide, head pushed high and eyes popping in a mix of effort, excitement and sheer astonishment at the nature of his achievement, his face is stretched with a grin broad enough to swallow the whole stadium. It calls to mind an earlier iconic moment for British athletics at the Moscow Olympics in 1980. Sebastian, now Lord Coe and chairman... [read more]

Born Between Mirrors

Ben Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station

reviewed by Hugh Foley

What would it mean to have a profound experience of art? This is the question posed by Ben Lerner’s debut novel, Leaving the Atocha Station. After three collections of poetry - most recently the extraordinary Mean Free Path - Lerner has produced a Künstlerroman that, rather than charting the development of the sensitive artist, repeatedly questions the value of his project. This novel probes the purpose of poetry, ‘deadest of all media’, and art itself in a world where aesthetic creation... [read more]

An Imitation of Life

Sheila Heti, How Should a Person Be?

reviewed by Tom Cutterham

How much longer will publishers, booksellers and lawyers maintain the illusion of a border between fiction and non-fiction? There’s a disclaimer in the front of How Should a Person Be?, as in any other novel, that tells us that all the things portrayed are either ‘products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.’ But the legal angle is a red herring. Plenty of publishers have been sued for defamation in books that were sold from the fiction shelves. So what’s really at... [read more]

Keeping It Simple

Helen Sword, Stylish Academic Writing

reviewed by Gareth Carrol

Everyone who has studied at university level will be aware that academic writing can, at times, be incredibly dense, esoteric and generally quite hard to read. This can present quite a challenge to students making their way in a field, but it also has implications for academia more generally. Over-formal, stodgily written reports, theses and journal articles can make individual disciplines quite closed, with the potential result that important research and findings that deserve a wide audience... [read more]