The Henry

original since 1984

Books

leave a comment »

disgraceDavid Lurie is hardly the hero of his own life, or anyone else’s. At 52, the protagonist of Disgrace is at the end of his professional and romantic game, and seems to be deliberately courting disaster. Long a professor of modern languages at Cape Town University College, he has recently been relegated to adjunct professor of communications at the same institution, now pointedly renamed Cape Technical University:

Although he devotes hours of each day to his new discipline, he finds its first premise, as enunciated in the Communications 101 handbook, preposterous: “Human society has created language in order that we may communicate our thoughts, feelings and intentions to each other.” His own opinion, which he does not air, is that the origins of speech lie in song, and the origins of song in the need to fill out with sound the overlarge and rather empty human soul.

Twice married and twice divorced, his magnetic looks on the wane, David rather cruelly seduces one of his students, and his conduct unbecoming is soon uncovered. In his eighth novel, J.M. Coetzee might have been content to write a searching academic satire. But in Disgrace he is intent on much more, and his art is as uncompromising as his main character, though infinitely more complex. Refusing to play the public-repentance game, David gets himself fired–a final gesture of contempt. Now, he thinks, he will write something on Byron’s last years. Not empty, unread criticism, “prose measured by the yard,” but a libretto. To do so, he heads for the Eastern Cape and his daughter’s farm. In her mid-20s, Lucy has turned her back on city sophistications: with five hectares, she makes her living by growing flowers and produce and boarding dogs. “Nothing,” David thinks, “could be more simple.” But nothing, in fact, is more complicated–or, in the new South Africa, more dangerous. Far from being the refuge he has sought, little is safe in Salem. Just as David has settled into his temporary role as farmworker and unenthusiastic animal-shelter volunteer, he and Lucy are attacked by three black men. Unable to protect his daughter, David’s disgrace is complete. Hers, however, is far worse.

There is much more to be explored in Coetzee’s painful novel, and few consolations. It would be easy to pick up on his title and view Disgrace as a complicated working-out of personal and political shame and responsibility. But the author is concerned with his country’s history, brutalities, and betrayals. Coetzee is also intent on what measure of soul and rights we allow animals. After the attack, David takes his role at the shelter more seriously, at last achieving an unlikely home and some measure of love. In Coetzee’s recent Princeton lectures, The Lives of Animals, an aging novelist tells her audience that the question that occupies all lab and zoo creatures is, “Where is home, and how do I get there?” David, though still all-powerful compared to those he helps dispose of, is equally trapped, equally lost.

Disgrace is almost willfully plain. Yet it possesses its own lean, heartbreaking lyricism, most of all in its descriptions of unwanted animals. At the start of the novel, David tells his student that poetry either speaks instantly to the reader–“a flash of revelation and a flash of response”–or not at all. Coetzee’s book speaks differently, its layers and sadnesses endlessly unfolding.

 

This dramatic narrative of breathtaking scope and riveting focus puts the “story” back into history. It is the saga of how the most ambitious of big ideas — that a world made up of many nations can govern itself peacefully — has played out over the millennia. Humankind’s “Great Experiment” goes back to the most ancient of days — literally to the Garden of Eden — and into the present, with an eye to the future.

Strobe Talbott looks back to the consolidation of tribes into nations — starting with Israel — and the absorption of those nations into the empires of Hammurabi, the Pharaohs, Alexander, the Caesars, Charlemagne, Genghis Khan, the Ottomans, and the Hapsburgs, through incessant wars of territory and religion, to modern alliances and the global conflagrations of the twentieth century.

He traces the breakthroughs and breakdowns of peace along the way: the Pax Romana, the Treaty of Westphalia, the Concert of Europe, the false start of the League of Nations, the creation of the flawed but indispensable United Nations, the effort to build a “new world order” after the cold war, and America’s unique role in modern history as “the master builder” of the international system.

Offering an insider’s view of how the world is governed today, Talbott interweaves through this epic tale personal insights and experiences and takes us with him behind the scenes and into the presence of world leaders as they square off or cut deals with each other. As an acclaimed journalist, he covered the standoff between the superpowers for more than two decades; as a high-level diplomat, he was in the thick of tumultuous events in the 1990s, when the bipolar equilibrium gave way to chaos in the Balkans, the emergence of a new breed of international terrorist, and America’s assertiveness during its “unipolar moment” — which he sees as the latest, but not the last, stage in the Great Experiment.

Talbott concludes with a trenchant critique of the worldview and policies of George W. Bush, whose presidency he calls a “consequential aberration” in the history of American foreign policy. Then, looking beyond the morass in Iraq and the battle for the White House, he argues that the United States can regain the trust of the world by leading the effort to avert the perils of climate change and nuclear catastrophe.


The United States now imports more of its oil from Africa than it does from Saudi Arabia. How is oil and the money it brings to the continent’s treasuries transforming Africa? For his new book, Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil, John Ghazvinian traveled from the parched dust bowls of Chad and Sudan to the swamps and jungles of Nigeria and the Congo, and from the corridors of Washington to the gleaming offices of “Big Oil.” Does oil-producing Africa live up to the hype? Why is it impossible to buy bananas in Gabon, when they grow in profusion in the nation’s virgin rainforest? Can an underdeveloped country like São Tomé and Príncipe learn from other nations’ mistakes and avoid the “curse of oil”? What effect does the establishment of an oil-company compound in the middle of Chad have on the neighboring land and people? This week, we are publishing four excerpts from Untapped that answer these questions.

Since September 11, 2001, Seymour M. Hersh has riveted readers — and outraged the Bush Administration — with his stories in The New Yorker, including his breakthrough pieces on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Now, in Chain of Command, he brings together this reporting, along with new revelations, to answer the critical question of the last three years: how did America get from the clear morning when hijackers crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to a divisive and dirty war in Iraq?

Hersh established himself at the forefront of investigative journalism thirty-five years ago when he broke the news of the massacre at My Lai, Vietnam, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize. Ever since, he’s challenged America’s power elite by publishing the stories that others can’t, or won’t, tell. In exposés on subjects ranging from Saudi corruption to nuclear black marketeers and — months ahead of other journalists — the White House’s false claims about weapons of mass destruction, Hersh has cemented his reputation as the indispensable reporter of our time.

In Chain of Command, Hersh takes an unflinching look behind the public story of President Bush’s “war on terror” and into the lies and obsessions that led America into Iraq. He reveals the connections between early missteps in the hunt for Al Qaeda and disasters on the ground in Iraq. The book includes a new account of Hersh’s pursuit of the Abu Ghraib story and of where, he believes, responsibility for the scandal ultimately lies. Hersh draws on sources at the highest levels of the American government and intelligence community, in foreign capitals, and on the battlefield for an unparalleled view of a crucial chapter in America’s recent history. With an introduction by The New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick, Chain of Command is a devastating portrait of an Administration blinded by ideology and of a President whose decisions have made the world a more dangerous place for America.


The Worldly Philosophers is a bestselling classic that not only enables us to see more deeply into our history but helps us better understand our own times. In this seventh edition, Robert L. Heilbroner provides a new theme that connects thinkers as diverse as Adam Smith and Karl Marx. The theme is the common focus of their highly varied ideas — namely, the search to understand how a capitalist society works. It is a focus never more needed than in this age of confusing economic headlines.
In a bold new concluding chapter entitled “The End of the Worldly Philosophy?” Heilbroner reminds us that the word “end” refers to both the purpose and limits of economics. This chapter conveys a concern that today’s increasingly “scientific” economics may overlook fundamental social and political issues that are central to economics. Thus, unlike its predecessors, this new edition provides not just an indispensable illumination of our past but a call to action for our future.

Advertisements

Written by michaelhenryhersh

October 19, 2008 at 5:07 PM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: