I took the assignment of reviewing Delia Ephron’s new novel, Siracusa, not because I’m a fan of the author’s (this is, in fact, the first book of hers I’ve read) but, because, well, I’ve twice visited Siracusa—the seaside Sicilian city, better known to English speakers as Syracuse, where half the novel is set. I thought maybe reading the book might make me relive my experiences there, which in an unexpected way it did.
The operative word in the title of Larry Tye’s absorbing new biography, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon, is making. Admirers of the 1960s liberal standard-bearer and younger brother of President John F. Kennedy may be surprised to learn that Robert F. Kennedy began his public service career as counsel to the Red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy, never liked or trusted Martin Luther King, plotted to have Fidel Castro killed and was terribly intolerant of gays. Tye’s book offers extensive and deeply analytical coverage of the early, conservative work of the famous liberal and fully exposes the less-than-heroic aspects of the man many found ruthless and rude.
The first line of Jonah Lehrer’s Wikipedia page says nothing of his best-selling books, his Rhodes scholarship, his myriad contributions to Wired and The New Yorker or the fact that he has spent most of his adult years as a pop science wunderkind. What it mentions, first and foremost, is Lehrer’s plagiarism scandal, which precipitated his fall from grace four years ago this summer. Lehrer himself acknowledges this fact early on in the author’s note to his latest book, A Book About Love: “I broke the most basic rules of my profession. I am ashamed of what I’ve done. I will regret it for the rest of my life.”
Annie Proulx’s new novel, Barkskins, takes on a vast subject: the destruction of the forests of North America and, by rapacious extension, the world—even of life itself on our sizzling little planet. It’s perhaps an irony that a whole forest must’ve been felled to produce the paper pulp the print edition of this 700-plus-page epic required. In this case it was worth it.
When looking back upon the Manson Family murder spree of 1969, one question continually mystifies us: How did one man persuade a bunch of peace-loving hippies to kill in cold blood? This is the question at the center of Emma Cline’s debut novel, The Girls, a fictional account of life at a Manson-like ranch in the late 1960s, as told by a young cult girl.
Chuck Klosterman’s new book, But What If We’re Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past, poses one central question: If so many of our ideas throughout history have been debunked, is it not likely that much of our present “knowledge” will ultimately be overturned as well? What if everything we hold to be true is exposed as a primitive misconception?
The most exciting New Year’s Eve of my life was in 2000. At 14 years old, I wasn’t counting down to a new millennium—I was counting down to Y2K, afraid that computers would crash, planes would fall out of the sky and malfunctioning nuclear reactors would explode and destroy us all.