Sunday, September 25, 2016

Times Literary Supplement, March 7th, 2003

The cover story reviewer opens by lamenting that "English readers without French" have had to make to do with an 1856 translation of Berlioz's "Orchestration Treatise" until Hugh MacDonald's 2003 new translation and commentary. Though the subject seems narrow, the review makes it sound like anyone with an interest in orchestral music would find much to enjoy and learn.

Christopher Hitchens reviews an anthology on the Berkeley Free Speech movement, with particular attention to the central figure Mario Savio and a dose of scorn for the contemporary version of campus leftist politics.

Pierre-Jean Luizard's La Question Irakienne is said to offer "an original interpretaton of Iraqi history" which focuses on the Sunni minority having taken power in the 1920s (with the assistance of the British), thereafter exerting a rule ranging from aristocratic to authoritarian over the Shi'ite and Kurdish 80% of the population.  He notes that those distinctions are more tribal than sectarian since the Sunnis who controlled the country were largely not religious.
The chapter on Saddam Hussein describes how he "plotted and murdered his way to the top," leaving so few of the experienced military alive and in power by the time of the Iran-Iraq war that the remainder were less than competent. Both writer and reviewer (we are just before the U.S. invasion) believe that in a post-Saddam Iraq, the military would have to be "closely controlled...completely reorganized...their power...very greatly reduced," a prescription somewhat at odds with the current view that the wholesale replacement of Hussein's army contributed to the failure of the U.S. endeavor and it would have been better to keep some of them.

John V. Tolan has written a book called "Saracens" on the rise of Islam and the European perception of it - some Christians regarded the Muslim invasions as divine retribution for the schisms within their faith.  A pair of books on Zelda Fitzgerald allow a discussion of the rise in her literary stock over the last third of the 20th century. Eric Homberger's Mrs. Astor's New York (Yale University Press) sounds like a very entertaining look at the development of New York's high society over the course of the 19th century.

Times Literary Supplement, February 27, 2004

George Steiner declares that then 46-year-old Pierre Bouretz's 1,249 page Témoins du Futur (Gallimard, translated 2010 by Johns Hopkins University Press) has "alter[ed] the intellectual landspace." As one only two years younger than Bouretz and profoundly impressed by Steiner as a teenager, such an accolade would seem to be a career apogee.
The book covers the thought of Hermann Cohen, Emmanuel Levinas, Ernst Bloch, Leo Strauss, Franz Rosenzweig, Gershom Scholem, Walter Benjamin, Martin Buber, and Hans Jonas (several of whom I won't pretend to have heard of) and specifically their engagement, as mostly secular intellectuals, with the Jewish Messianic tradition.
At least, I think that is what the book is about; Steiner can take almost any starting point and be off and running with his tremendously erudite and wide-ranging discussions. One only hopes the book itself has observations as bold as "Bouretz's investigation seeks out the fatal logic, the doomed appositeness of the flowering of Jewish the context of Imperial and Weimar Germany, a context which was to prove its annihilation."

Next up in this issue - a biography of Salman Schocken (1877-1959) whose publishing house, located and relocated from Berlin to Tel Aviv and New York as the century progressed, exemplified his profound and life-long commitment to Kultur, but made his money as one of the pioneers of the modern department store (according to the review, the Polish Jews of his native Poznan invented the model) and is probably best know for founding the liberal Israeli daily Ha'aretz.

Gershom Scholem, who reinvigorated the Kabbalah in the 20th century is the topic of a pair of reviews and we leave the focus on 20th century Jewish intellectuals with a look at Dutch cartographers of the 16th century, a history of the Sicilian mafia, the letters of James Thurber and a review of Cloud Atlas.