It’s not very often that I pick up The New York Review of Books, but on those rare occasions, I’m always delighted with the diversity of articles and the insightful writing. The June 4th edition is no exception. In addition to the listing of what’s on at galleries and museums in New York City, reviews of some interesting books such as Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet by Gernet Wagner and Martin L. Weitzman, and a look at the complicated public and personal life of political mover and shaker Barney Frank in his new autobiography, there are some extremely well-researched articles on people (dead and alive), and politics.
One review that immediately engrossed me was by Jonathan Mirsky looking at the translation of the Russian book by Sin-Lin, Shattered Families, Broken Dreams: Little-Known Episodes from the History of the Persecution of Chinese Revolutionaries in Stalin’s Gulag. Sin-Lin tells the stories of members of the Chinese Communist party who either were “rehabilitated” when they stepped out of the party line, done away with, or learned to “wear an impenetrable mask.” In addition to the story of her parents, she tells of her own personal persecutions, and the stories of many others, finishing with “242 case histories of Chinese Communists persecuted in the Soviet Union and China” that Mirsky believes will help to shed historical light on “Stalin’s Great Terror” and the reign of communism in both Russia and China. Mirsky says it is a story “moving, frightening, [and] sometimes disappointing”.
I very much enjoyed Michael Massing‘s piece, “Digital Journalism: How Good Is It?” where he talks about the negative and positive effects of the “digital disruption” of the news industry. The majority of his focus is on The Huffington Post and its attempts to incorporate longer, in-depth reporting by well-respected journalists and build it’s own in-house news service, only to failure at every turn. I liked the idea of the three metrics of success: power, money, and “well-being, wisdom, wonder and making a difference in the world” and Arianna Huffington‘s view of herself as a “sleep evangelist” promoting the “power of pyjamas.” He outlines Andrew Sullivan‘s attempt to go it alone in the digital world without advertising after having incredible success with his blog at major journalism sites like Time and The Atlantic, which led to the subsequent complete demise of his online efforts and contrasts it with the current penchant for condensing thoughts “into Twitter’s 140 characters.”
There’s yet another article here about the amazing George Balanchine (1904 – 1983), ballet dancer, choreographer, and co-founder of the New York City Ballet, a 50-year partnership with Lincoln Kirstein. This is a detailed look at his immense talent, his intense personal life, and his identification with Cervantes’ character of Don Quixote which demonstrated his belief in a chivalric order — something he identified with ballet. Apparently, Balanchine remarked, “Ballet is a woman . . . Everything a man does he does for his ideal woman. You live only one life and you believe in something and I believe in a little thing like that.”
There are many other tantalizing articles in this issue that I haven’t got to yet, but will eventually in the coming week. It’s a great issue with lots of great reading!