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Monday, March 7th


Missing You, Metropolis by Gary Jackson

Four-Color Metaphors

A review by Richard Oyama

For many boys, superhero comic books offer a temporary refuge, a parallel world in which to entertain fantasies of power and take solace in moral simplicities. As Gary Jackson puts it in "The Secret Art of Reading a Comic," echoing Auden: "The old comics were never wrong." It's a Platonic world where the tragic is effaced and elided: Captain America "falling and helpless / to watch Bucky / fragment into pieces" is an image you won't find illustrated in the early comics about the hero and his sidekick, though it's suggested all the same.

Jackson knows all this and more, but his debut volume Missing You, Metropolis, selected as winner of the 2009 Cave Canem Poetry Prize by Yusef Komunyakaa, also recognizes the fundamental aloneness of superheroes, and how their dual selves can function as a potent metaphor for what W. E. B. DuBois called "the double consciousness" of African Americans. Like mutants, black people in America are alien too. This theme is made explicit in a furious poem, ...

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo

The Thin Line

A review by Cass R. Sunstein

Why do human beings commit despicable acts? One answer points to individual dispositions; another answer emphasizes situational pressures. In 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stressed the importance of individual dispositions in describing terrorists as "simply evil people who want to kill." Situationists reject this view. They believe that horrible acts can be committed by perfectly normal people. The most extreme situationists insist that in the right circumstances, almost all of us might be led to commit atrocities.

The situationist view has received strong support from some of ...

The Vatican Exposed: Money, Murder, and the Mafia by Paul L. Williams

God's bankers

A review by John Plender

One of the more puzzling questions of the past century is how the Vatican came to be enmeshed in so much fraudulent financial activity. Michele Sindona and Roberto Calvi, Mafia-connected bankers, were trusted money managers for the Holy See who controlled the Vatican's investments. The cigar-chomping American Archbishop Paul Marcinkus avoided Italian investigators by making himself safe from extradition in the sovereign confines of the Vatican City. From the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano in 1982 to the insurance frauds carried out more recently by Martin Frankel in the United States, the...

Old People Are a Problem by Emyr Humphreys

The Alderman's dilemma

A review by Paul Binding

In the opening paragraph of his first novel, The Little Kingdom (l946), published when he was only twenty-seven, Emyr Humphreys describes a Welsh entrepreneur confronting the breaking morning:

"Across the water he saw the Wirral emerge from the early morning mist; become once more a solid and substantial rich-green sea-girt land, speckled with red roofed houses."

While Humphreys has gone on to write nineteen more novels and numerous short stories, this image haunts all his fiction. For even the most ambitious and optimistic Welsh writer there is always —...

Darlington's Fall by Brad Leithauser

Love's paper wings

A review by Ron Charles

A butterfly scientist discovers he must fall to soar
Here's a tough sell: a 300-page poem. And it's about lepidoptera. I suspect most readers would rather be stuck on the end of a pin — but wait. This novel in verse by Brad Leithauser catches the eye with all the charm and complexity of an Ozark Swallowtail.

"Darlington's Fall" tells the quiet story of a wealthy butterfly scientist at the turn of the century. If that's not alluring enough, it's told in 600 ten-line sonnets. Fortunately, Leithauser knows what he's up against: "It's long, I know, for a poem," he admits. "But it's ...

Stranger from Abroad: Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Friendship and Forgiveness by Daniel Maier-Katkin

Meeting of the Minds

A review by Michelle Sieff

Since 1982, when published Elizabeth Young-Bruehl published Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World, it has been widely known that Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger had an affair. He was Germany's leading philosopher of existentialism; she was a German Jew and one of his most promising students at the University of Marburg during the 1920s. But the winds of history blew their lives in different directions. When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, Arendt fled to France, then the United States. Heidegger joined the Nazi Party and became the rector of Freiburg University, where he dismissed Jewish ...

The Poems of Catullus by Gaius Valerius Catullus

Sparrows and Scrubbers

A review by Emily Wilson

Peter Green, an eminent historian of the ancient world, is one of the best translators of classical poetry in our age. He has done the definitive modern Juvenal, and his version of Apollonius of Rhodes's dense, allusive epic poem The Argonautica actually makes it enjoyable to read. His translations of Ovid's elegiac poetry are probably his masterpiece as a translator. He manages to re-create Ovid's verbal fluency and lightness of tone in a convincing English equivalent of Latin elegiac meter. Green's Ovid, like the original, is always readable, always clever, and frequently offensive. He has...

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