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【nybooks】The invention of David Bowie, the world of the Boston bombers, Margaret Thatcher's moral legacy



The New York Review of Books

This week on Our May 23 issue features Ian Buruma on the changes of David Bowie,Andrew O'Hagan on the moral legacy of Margaret Thatcher, Cass Sunstein on the life of Albert Hirschman, Joan Acocella on the ecstasy of Isadora Duncan, Jim Holt on the complexity of Benoit Mandelbrot, and Elizabeth Hardwick on Sylvia Plath. The NYRblog presents Martin Filler on LA’s alternate realities, Margaret Atwood on writers’ dreams, David Cole on Obama’s Guantánamo opening, and Francine Prose on Carlos Reygadas’s new film. Plus a preview from our next issue: Christian Carylreports on the world of the Boston bombers.


The Invention of David Bowie

Ian Buruma

Rock, English rock especially, has often seemed like a huge, anarchic dressing-up party. No one took this further, with more imagination and daring, than David Bowie. In his words: “My whole professional life is an act…I slip from one guise to another very easily.”


An Original Thinker of Our Time

Cass R. Sunstein

Albert Hirschman, who died late last year, was one of the most interesting and unusual thinkers of the last century. An anti-utopian reformer with a keen eye for detail, Hirschman insisted on the complexity of social life and human nature. He opposed intransigence in all its forms. He believed that political and economic possibilities could be found in the most surprising places.



Andrew O’Hagan

There was a vanity in Mrs. Thatcher, much copied by her followers, that the enmity she stirred up in people was merely a reflection of her toughness when it came to “getting things done.” But it was mindless of her to think so. Politicians have always been disliked and always blamed, but Thatcher appeared to many people in Britain to have no feeling for the people whose lives were hurt by her policies. No feeling and no understanding.


He Conceived the Mathematics of Roughness

Jim Holt

Benoit Mandelbrot, the brilliant Polish-French-American mathematician who died in 2010, had a poet’s taste for complexity and strangeness. His genius for noticing deep links among far-flung phenomena led him to create a new branch of geometry, one that has deepened our understanding of both natural forms and patterns of human behavior.


Ecstasy of a Modern Romantic

Joan Acocella

From childhood, Isadora Duncan saw herself as a liberator, opposed but never vanquished by philistines. In My Life she recalls that in elementary school she gave an impromptu lecture in front of the class on how there was no Santa Claus, whereupon she was sent home by an angry teacher. This was not the last of what, with pride, she called her “famous speeches.”


On Sylvia Plath

Elizabeth Hardwick

For all the drama of her biography, there is a peculiar remoteness about Sylvia Plath. A destiny of such violent self-definition does not always bring the real person nearer; it tends, rather, to invite iconography, to freeze our assumptions and responses. She is spoken of as a “legend” or a “myth”—but what does that mean? (1971)




Charles Simic on Danilo Kiš, Mohsin Hamid on drones, Timothy Garton Ash on free speech in Thailand, Daniel Mendelsohn on Herakles at BAM, Adam Kirsch on the figure of Abraham, Gordon Wood on François Weil’s history of geneaology, Adam Hochschild on the FBI’s war on student radicals, and more.


Someone Else’s Memories

Francine Prose

Carlos Reygadas’s new film Post Tenebras Lux is as challenging to summarize or describe as a film by Andrei Tarkovsky, the director who has most strongly influenced Reygadas.


Imelda’s Sweet Sauce

Ian Buruma

Turning the life and times of Imelda Marcos into a piece of musical theater set in a disco is almost too obvious. She was, after all, a disco queen herself, dancing the nights away under mirror balls installed in her various palaces and townhouses. And yet Here Lies Love, David Byrne’s imagining of Imelda’s inner landscape, mostly works very well.


My Psychic Garburator

Margaret Atwood

Most dreams of writers, like everyone else’s dreams, aren’t very memorable. They just seem to be the products of a psychic garburator chewing through the potato peels and coffee grounds of the day and burping them up to you as mush.


LA’s Alternate Realities

Martin Filler

Two complementary exhibitions in Los Angeles seek to bring the city’s unfathomableness into focus. The first explores how the city emerged through fitful initial development, explosive postwar growth, and a distinctive built legacy. The second examines a stunning array of unexecuted projects to show why the city didn’t become something else.


Guantánamo and Torture: It’s Up to Obama

David Cole

President Obama responded to a question about Guantánamo by calling it “not sustainable” and “contrary to who we are.” Coming after four years of near silence on the post-9/11 legacies of torture and indefinite detention, such recent statements by the president and vice president have many asking, What changed? And more importantly: Will the administration follow its rhetoric with concrete action?


The Bombers’ World

Christian Caryl

Conversations with those who knew Tamerlan Tsarnaev well yield a portrait of a man who was the lodestar of his family. His mother Zubeidat, in particular, seems to have adored him with an intensity verging on the pathological. “He was at the top of the family,” a friend recalls. “He was the biggest, the strongest, the one everyone loved. Everybody laughed at his jokes.”


Dialogues des Carmélites


Garry Willsrecommends Poulenc’s “meditative masterpiece” at the Met.


Revelations of a Fallen World


J. Hobermanrecommends the darkly comic, feel-bad movies of Arturo Ripstein.


Artist and Visionary


Sanford Schwartzrecommends the antebellum portraits of William Matthew Prior.


Carry your favorite books around the city or to the beach in our 50th anniversary tote bag.



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