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

The Wendy Chronicles

A review by Adam Kirsch

The great subject for American Jewish literature has always been the family: its imprisoning intimacy, its guilt-inducing demands, and sometimes even its life-giving warmth. From Arthur Miller's Lomans, cursed by their dreams of success, to Henry Roth's David Schearl, depraved by the sexual tensions in his extended clan, the heroes of American Jewish fiction are generally martyrs to their families. If Judaism had saints, these writers' patron saint would be Jephthah's daughter, who was sacrificed by her father in accordance with a thoughtless vow.

Wendy Wasserstein may not belong in the ranks of the greatest American Jewish writers, but like Neil Simon before her, she helped to popularize the Jewish family romance by making it a subject for heartfelt and accessible comedy. And whether the characters in her plays are explicitly Jewish, as in The Sisters Rosensweig, or atmospherically so, like the heroine of The Heidi Chronicles, Wasserstein left no doubt that it was her personal...



Previously Reviewed by The New Republic
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Mightier Than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America by David S. Reynolds

As the obsolescence and even the demise of the book are widely foretold, it is all the more important -- and comforting -- to recognize how a book can change the world. It is hard to think of many that have done so more emphatically than Uncle Tom's Cabin. Lincoln is famously said to have greeted...


Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent by John Reader

There is no more tragic vegetable than the potato. Originating in the Peruvian Andes, it was first domesticated by the Quechua-speaking peoples, who could not help but become reliant on a highly nutritional foodstuff that could be grown in large quantities on small plots in regions inhospitable to...


Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler's Germany by Rudolph Herzog

Perhaps in response to the events of September 11, and the subsequent decade of terror attacks and the media spectacles made out of them, we seem desperate now to laugh. Mainstream comedy films often demolish box office records while movies that delve into the more tenebrous realities of existence...


Retromania Signed Edition by Simon Reynolds

"Who wants yesterday's papers?" sang Mick Jagger in 1967. "Who wants yesterday's girl?" The answer, in the Swinging 60s, was obvious: "Nobody in the world." That was then. Now we seem to want nothing more than to read yesterday's papers and carry on with yesterday's girl. Popular culture has become ...


Intellectuals Incorporated: Politics, Art, and Ideas Inside Henry Luce's Media Empire (Politics and Culture in Modern America) by Robert Vanderlan

Circles are integral to the romance of intellectual history, and magazines are integral to the history of intellectual circles. The New York intellectuals had Partisan Review and Commentary; T.S. Eliot created The Criterion and Sartre created Les Temps Modernes; Moscow's intellectuals had Novy Mir...


Druggist of Auschwitz by Dieter Schlesak

In the spring of 2002, with the September 11 attacks not far in the past and the Second Intifada still ongoing, New York magazine published a remarkable story by Amy Wilentz heralding the revival of Jewish fear. What made the piece especially memorable is that while all the concrete fears Wilentz...


The Sea: A Cultural History by John Mack

The most unfortunate feature of John Mack's new book is its subtitle. I can only hope that "A Cultural History" was the work of an editorial assistant who feared that Mack's effort would be sequestered on a shelf of academic or scientific tomes unless some popular tag were attached. Since cultural...


No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf by Carolyn Burke

Daffy Duck, plotting giddily to out-maneuver Bugs Bunny, takes a crowbar to the signs announcing "Duck Season Open" in the establishing scene of Chuck Jones's great Looney Tunes cartoon Duck! Rabbit, Duck! Our cue to the futility of the scheme, the detail that makes Daffy's cluelessness apparent...


The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by Steve Wick

William L. Shirer, born in 1904, was one of the twentieth century's great reporters. He witnessed many of the key events of the 1930s in Europe at first hand and wrote and broadcast about them in a graphic and accessible style, making their complexities comprehensible to his readers and listeners...


Our Kind of Traitor by John Le Carre

The week I opened up John le Carre's latest bitter excavation of the spiritual affinities of criminal Russians and their Western counterparts, ten Russian spies under deep cover for somewhat indeterminate purposes were rounded up in America. Meanwhile, in Siberia, the mayor of a fishing village on...


The Bible Now by Richard Elliott Friedman

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough

Edward Bancroft: Scientist, Author, Spy by Thomas J. Schaeper

The Lost Children: Reconstructing Europe's Families After World War II by Tara Zahra

Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin

India: A Portrait by Patrick French

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: 100th Anniversary Edition (Books of Wonder) by L. Frank Baum

Reading Obama: Dreams, Hope, and the American Political Tradition by James T. Kloppenberg

Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game by Rob Ruck

Age of Deception by Mohamed ElBaradei

A Quiet Revolution: The Veil's Resurgence, from the Middle East to America by Leila Ahmed

How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One by Stanley Eugene Fish

Spain: A Unique History by Stanley G. Payne

The Use and Abuse of Literature by Marjorie Garber

Pleasure Bound: Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism by Deborah Lutz

We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen

Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life by Nick Phillipson

Peculiar Institution: America's Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition by David Garland

Elizabeth Bishop and the New Yorker: The Complete Correspondence by Joelle Biele

Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying by Mark Regnerus

Selected Prose Works by C. P. Cavafy

The English Opium Eater: A Biography of Thomas de Quincey by Robert Morrison

Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper by Alexandra Harris

Caribou Island by David Vann

Theodore Roosevelt's History of the United States: His Own Words by Theodore Roosevelt

Molotov's Magic Lantern by Rachel Polonsky

An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin

What Ever Happened to Modernism? by Gabriel Josipovici

Young Mandela: The Revolutionary Years by David James Smith

Silver Roses (Karen & Michael Braziller Books) by Rachel Wetzsteon

Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor by Brad Gooch

When the Luck of the Irish Ran Out: The World's Most Resilient Country and Its Struggle to Rise Again by David J. Lynch

First Family: Abigail and John Adams by Joseph J. Ellis

Our Kind of Traitor by John Le Carre

Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America by Eugene Robinson


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