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Saturday, March 4th


Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond

Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down

A review by Douglas Brown

Most people who have seen pictures of Easter Island's massive stone figures have wondered at how the stone was moved on a treeless island where you couldn't make rollers. Seeing pictures of the Anasazi ruins nestled into canyon walls in the American Southwest likewise triggers wonderment at where the people went, as does seeing Mayan ruins in Central America. In Collapse, Jared Diamond covers these "failed" societies, along with several others. Like Diamond's Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel, Collapse is a sprawling epic encompassing centuries of history while spanning the globe.

Diamond identifies five primary sets of factors in societal collapse: environmental damage, climate change, hostile neighbors, friendly trade partners, and how societies respond to their problems. He shows that each example of a collapsed society has a different combination of factors at its root, and it is very rare for only one factor to cause a collapse. For Easter Island, it was a case of ...

Evolution's Rainbow by Joan Roughgarden

Charm Schools

A review by Jerry Coyne

In Evolution's Rainbow, Joan Roughgarden, a distinguished population biologist, sets out to question Darwin's seminal theory of sexual selection. Until a few years ago, Joan Roughgarden was Jonathan Roughgarden. Her agenda, as a transgendered person, is explicit and ideological: she aims to dismantle the testosterone-soaked Darwinian view of male competition for females, and to replace it with an alternative vision, in which sexual behaviour is not only highly variable -- involving homosexuality, bisexuality and hermaphroditism -- but also mediated through cooperation instead of aggression...

Villages by John Updike

Twentieth-Century Flyby

A review by Tom Chiarella

What's interesting about reading a John Updike book is that every word, every scene, every vaguely misogynistic simile used to describe the unending daisy chain of oddly singular suburban fuck buddies, every pastoral snatch of, well, pastoral snatch, when told through the angry orange sunset of Updike's unflagging prose, reminds you of only what you are doing at that very moment. One sex scene roiling into the next, you almost want to say aloud, "I am reading a John Updike novel!"

So it is with Villages, which follows the life arc of Owen Mackenzie across the familiar landscape of Updike...

When Gay People Get Married: What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage by M V Badgett

Same Sex, Different Continent

A review by Sal Renshaw

Amid the intense controversy still surrounding same-sex marriage in the U.S., M.V. Lee Badgett speaks in a refreshingly tempered voice. Drawing on European precedents, particularly in the Netherlands and Denmark, her research tells us what many of us already knew: The skies don't fall when gay couples attain the right to marry, and heterosexual marriage doesn't lose its luster. Since the first wave of the marriage equality movement in Europe, which began in 1989 with the Danish acceptance of civil unions and saw the Dutch allow same-sex couples to marry in 2001, there has been no appreciable...

Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein by Julie Salamon

"Wendy" Shines Spotlight on Beloved Playwright

A review by Heller McAlpin

Playwright Wendy Wasserstein belongs to that rare group of beloved writers (which also includes Nora Ephron and Anne Lamott) who make readers feel as if they're talking to them personally, like intimate friends. When she died of lymphoma in January 2006, at 55, the overflow crowd at her memorial service in Lincoln Center's 1,080-seat Vivian Beaumont Theater was packed not just with scores of close friends (many as famous as she was), but with mourners who knew her only through her work -- including Uncommon Women and Others, The Heidi Chronicles (which won both a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony...

Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber by Many Farber

Manny Farber in the Cinema Trenches

A review by J. Hoberman

More than a movie connoisseur than a film critic, Manny Farber was a master of attitude, the original tough-guy aesthete. Reviewing for a variety of venues (possibly the only critic in history whose byline graced both Artforum and Playboy knock off Cavalier), Farber -- who died two years ago at the age of ninety-one -- developed a distinctively percussive style, as dense and slangy as the dialogue in screwball comedy. During World War II, when Farber was at The New Republic, no less a wordsmith than S. J. Perelman declared that "with men who know rococo best, it's Farber two to one." But...

The Devil's Larder by Jim Crace

A review by Brooke Allen

Jim Crace is one of the best novelists in Britain; in the United States he is hardly known. His work doesn't clamor for attention, like Martin Amis's and Salman Rushdie's; nor does it draw one in with conventional, reader-friendly narratives, like Pat Barker's and Ian McEwan's. On the contrary, its muted rhythms require a certain engagement from the reader, a willingness to read more slowly, to listen harder. Those who do so will be rewarded with fiction that is thoughtful, harmonic, and original. Crace never squanders a word or an image.

"I count myself to be a traditional, old-fashioned...

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