May 22, 2015

Now Playing

(Reviewed August 29, 2014)

A portrait of modern sanctity which — very oddly, in my view — asks not to be taken too seriously

(Reviewed August 27, 2014)

The movie it took twelve years to make — about a childhood that appears to be taking much, much longer

America: Imagine the World Without Her
(Reviewed July 31, 2014)

Another foray by Dinesh D’Souza into the lists in order to break a lance on President Obama — and Howard Zinn. At least the latter is effectively unhorsed.

(Reviewed June 30, 2014)

An austerely beautiful film by the Anglo-Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski that could hardly be a greater departure from his earlier My Summer of Love

ENTRY from April 29, 2015

Just over a year ago I wrote of the Twitter-bombing I had received on account of having written that the movie 12 Years a Slave would have been better, and even more effective as propaganda, if it had allowed itself to present an ever-so slightly more benign portrait of slavery in the ante-bellum South than the exaggeratedly moralistic one it had in fact presented. A few months later, The Economist got an even more severe bombardment for publishing a review of Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (Basic Books) which made much the same point — and subsequently made the career and fortune of Mr Baptist when the review had to be withdrawn (though you can still see it in a segregated "special page" of the website "in the interests of transparency") with a groveling apology from the editors for having run it in the first place.

A few weeks ago, the Times Literary Supplement (pay wall)— which once employed me as its American editor — got around to publishing its own review of Mr Baptist’s book by Ari Kelman, the McCabe Greer Professor of History at Pennsylvania State University and co-author of Battle Lines: A graphic history of the Civil War, to be published next month. Professor Kelman begins by recounting the story of The Economist’s dreadful faux pas and then proceeds to demonstrate, as he was clearly well-advised to do, that he has no intention of making any similar mistakes himself.

The firestorm greeting the Economist review revealed a publishing landscape re-oriented by ubiquitous social media, a US political climate superheated by several high-profile cases of police and vigilante violence against African Americans, a cultural moment in which critiques of capitalism were gaining renewed purchase, and a surprisingly deep engagement among some readers with the historiography of slavery. What the reaction to the Economist’s pan of Baptist’s work failed to do was enlighten observers about the content or quality of The Half Has Never Been Told, a book unusual, even courageous, for its enormous ambition and admirable breadth, but also occasionally confounding due to the author’s rhetorical choices.  Full Entry

Media MadnessMy book Media Madness, is available for order from Encounter Books. Less a polemic than an attempt to understand the origins of the mass media’s folie de grandeur, the book is a warning even to those who are deserting the big networks, newsweeklies and large-circulation dailies not to carry with them into the more attractive world of niche media the undisciplined habits of thought that the old media culture has given rise to. To order this book, click here.

Honor, A HistoryAlso available, now in paperback, is Honor, A History, which was first published in 2006. A study of Western cultural artifacts, from the epics of Homer to the movies and TV shows of today, it is focused on explaining why Western ideas of honor developed so differently from those elsewhere — and especially from the savage honor cultures of the Islamic world. The book then goes on to trace the collapse and ultimate rejection of the old Western honor culture from World War I until the present day and to suggest the conditions that would have to prevail for its revival.

Recent Articles

Scandal, or lack thereof April 30, 2015.
The media’s appetite for scandal is scandalously limited to only one side of the political divide — From The New Criterion of April, 2015 ... Full Article

The irony of p.c. March 31, 2015.
What do Jonathan Chait, Rotherham borough counsellors and the French Revolution have in common? — From The New Criterion of March, 2015 ... Full Article

The New Rules of Journalism February 28, 2015.
The old maxim about not picking fights with those who buy ink by the barrel doesn’t apply to dictators or terrorists — From The New Criterion of February, 2015 ... Full Article

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