Stylishly but consistently wrong

  • The Last Empire: Essays 1992-2000
    by Gore Vidal, Doubleday 2001, 480 pp.

To describe this book as badly timed is an understatement. It isn’t just badly timed, it is atrociously badly timed, grotesquely badly timed, even obscenely badly timed. Although it is simply a collection of Gore Vidal’s essays, written between 1992 and 2000, and contains, among other things, entertaining portraits of Charles Lindbergh, Clare Boothe Luce and Al Gore, Jr, it does also have a larger theme, or rather a set of themes. Continue reading “Stylishly but consistently wrong”

After the fall of the Wall

  • The Oligarchs: Wealth and Power in the New Russia,
    by David E. Hoffman, Public Affairs Books, 567pp.

Up to a point, the life story of Alexander Smolensky reads like a morally uplifting, even spiritually enriching rags-to-riches parable. With an absent father and a mother whose Austrian background qualifed her, in Stalin’s Soviet Union, as an ‘enemy of the people,’ Smolensky grew up in poverty. Refused entry to higher education because of his mother’s background, he worked, in the early 1980s, in the shadowy, black-market economy, printing bibles at night. Continue reading “After the fall of the Wall”

Dancing to Greet the New Dawn

  • Isadora: the Sensational Life of Isadora Duncan
    by Peter Kurth, Little Brown & Company, 2002, 704pp.

Although she lived well into the era of silent movies, there are no filmed images of Isadora Duncan in motion. Because she was camera-shy, there are very few photographs of her either, and those that exist invariably show her draped in togas, striking dramatic poses. Continue reading “Dancing to Greet the New Dawn”

A History of Horror

  • Le Siècle des Camps
    Joel Kotek and Pierre Rigoulot, JC Lattes, 805 pages.

Contrary to what might be expected, the first recorded use of the expression “concentration camps” did not occur in either Germany or Russia. Nor, even, was the term originally English, as many also mistakenly believe. In fact, as far as it is possible to ascertain, the first person to speak of concentration camps or, more precisely, to speak of a policy of “reconcentración” – was Arsenio Martinez Campos, then the commander of the Spanish garrison in Cuba. Continue reading “A History of Horror”