Our 5 Most Popular Posts: June 2024

  • July 2, 2024

We love every piece we run. There are no winners or losers. But all kidding aside, here are June’s winners.

Our 5 Most Popular Posts: June 2024

  1. Todd Kushner’s review of The CIA: An Imperial History by Hugh Wilford (Basic Books). “Telling the CIA’s story through key individuals’ personal experiences is highly effective. This technique brings the narrative to life and shows that human factors — e.g., culture, identity, and emotion — are important to ultimate outcomes. Willford contends that the culture of the CIA was shaped by the upper-class backgrounds of its early leaders, their tendency to lead an ‘imperial lifestyle’ overseas, their extreme masculinity, and their identification with the literature of empire, such as Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. The reader comes to see that iconic figures from CIA history are — in spite of their larger-than-life reputations — normal human beings with strengths and foibles.”

  2. Nick Havey’s review of James: A Novel by Percival Everett (Doubleday). “Twain’s characters are caricatures, for the most part, whereas Everett’s are more fully formed. That’s because Everett’s book, says the author himself, is about ‘people who are slaves,’ not slavery. Perhaps the most effective evidence of this is in James’ control of the English language. He and the fellow slaves he has taught have weaponized their mastery of English to protect themselves from the insecure and violent white folks around them. When James teaches the other slaves African American Vernacular English (aka Black English) as an act of community organizing, Everett is showing us that codeswitching can be magic.”

  3. John P. Loonam’s review of Orwell’s Ghosts: Wisdom and Warnings for the Twenty-First Century by Laura Beers (W.W. Norton & Company). “Beginning with a capsule biography, Beers makes clear that Orwell’s most famous books, Animal Farm and 1984, don’t capture the full spectrum of his views but are rather ‘the culmination’ of decades of political writing. His experiences at Eton, his time in India in service of the Raj, his investigations of poverty in Paris, London, and North England, and his experience of civil war in Spain made him as committed to socialism as he was anti-fascist, as much a truth-teller as a polemicist.”

  4. Patricia Schultheis’ review of Getting to Know Death: A Meditation by Gail Godwin (Bloomsbury Publishing). “On June 6, 2022, author Gail Godwin broke her neck. Weeks shy of her 85th birthday, Godwin, who lived alone, fell in her back yard while trying to water a withering dogwood. She recalls wondering, as she lay on her gravelly walk, if saving herself was worth the effort. ‘Do you WANT to make it? I’m not sure. Yes or no. I feel more curiosity than I feel resolve. That will have to suffice.’ Two months later, Godwin began her latest book, Getting to Know Death: A Meditation, an anecdotal recounting of her complex recovery, as well as an epistolary memoir and an eschatological examination of mankind’s universal, inevitable fate.”

  5. Kristin H. Macomber’s review of Night Watch: A Novel by Jayne Anne Phillips (Knopf). “Phillips has structured Night Watch around, well, structures. These include rustic cabins, with chicken coops and root cellars that conveniently convert to lookouts and hideaways. There’s also a hotel pressed into duty as a military hospital, where the wounded are ministered to, and where loved ones hope to find their missing-in-action sons, husbands, and brothers. But the most important physical structure in Night Watch is an institution grand beyond imagination, a majestic sanctuary established for citizens desperately in need of humane mental-health care. Starting with its cover art, the novel contains a series of images of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, an institution that once existed — and still partially stands — in Weston, West Virginia.”

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