All Reviews

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]

A Political Monolith

Samuel Farber, Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959: A Critical Assessment

reviewed by Mike Gonzalez

For an earlier generation Cuba came to represent the return of a dream. After a decade of Cold War and the catastrophic stand-off between the US and Russia, the Cuban revolution of 1959 announced to the world that the giant had feet of clay. The anti-imperialist sentiment spreading through Latin America had made itself felt in those times as Rockefeller and Nixon were greeted by violent demonstrations wherever they went in the region. Yet until that 1st of January it seemed that the US could... [read more]

A Double Critique

Alain Badiou, The Adventure of French Philosophy

reviewed by Marika Lysandrou

Hater of democracy, nostalgic adherent to Maoism, dogmatic promoter of insurrectionary politics — these are some of the charges laid at Alain Badiou’s door. In The Adventure of French Philosophy his engagements with thinkers such as Sartre, Deleuze and Foucault, among others, do not in themselves acquit him of such charges but a consideration of his entire body of work certainly does. Although aspects fundamental to Badiou’s thinking — such as the role of philosophy in relation to... [read more]

The Last Word

Geoff Dyer, Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room

reviewed by Dan Barrow

It's the image, perhaps, of the back of a man’s balding head, bobbing slightly as he creeps towards a building where he neither wholly wishes to go, nor is wholly expected. Or a tracking shot of scattered coins, a Russian icon, lying on black and white tiles, under a glistering layer of water (a similar flicker – a film, notably, of flame in a grate – prompted Coleridge to reminiscence in ’Frost at Midnight’). Or a dog making its way without trepidation through the water on the... [read more]

Border Country

Étienne Balibar, Politics and the Other Scene

reviewed by Marc Farrant

At a recent event at the London Review Bookshop to mark the launch of Verso's sixth Radical Thinkers collection (which includes the reissuing of Étienne Balibar's seminal Politics and the Other Scene), the esteemed French philosopher responded to Nina Power's opening gambit on the nature and future of Europe with a further question of his own: 'are we in Europe?'. The remark was met with a rippling burst of hysterical laughter, largely emanating from Balibar’s most avid middle-aged... [read more]

The Extrovert and the Introvert

Mark Godfrey, Alighiero E Boetti

reviewed by Tom Snow

The work of late Italian artist Alighiero Boetti (1940 – 1994) has proven a difficult fit within institutional discussions of art since the 1960s. Frequent association with the Arte Povera group (the term, meaning literally ‘poor art’ or ‘impoverished art’, was coined by art critic Germano Celant in the late 1960s and subsequently developed throughout the 1970s), has seemed equally problematic insomuch as the term accounts only for the earliest elements of the artist’s widely varied... [read more]

Future Past Tense

Douglas Murphy, The Architecture of Failure

reviewed by Rosa Ainley

The joy of this book lies in the scope of its reference: from the 19th century to the as-yet unbuilt and unviewable. It takes as its first failure Victorian palaces of iron and glass and advances to Google Earth urbanism – renderings of impossible angles and locations which only a satellite can appreciate. The author’s powerful critique of the supposedly radical proponents of architecture is brutal and incisive, a welcome move away from the well-trodden cultural clichés. The Architecture... [read more]

One-Dimensional Universe

George Dyson, Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe

reviewed by Robert Barry

In 1983, the American film WarGames ended with a computer called Joshua suffering a nervous breakdown when it realised that thermonuclear war, like tic-tac-toe, is a game you cannot win. The whole thing comes about because of a conversation held about an hour and a half earlier between Joshua, voice synthed and hooked up to a stereo hi-fi system in a suburban bedroom, and a teenage computer hacker named David Lightman (played by Matthew Broderick). ‘Shall we play a game?’ asks the... [read more]