Reviews and News:
Is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein “a warning against freewheeling scientific experimentation”? Ronald Bailey says no.
The paradoxical Renoir: He was disgusted at the “high, ridiculous prices” his art fetched in America but refused to exhibit his work at the Société des Artistes Indépendants because it would cause the value his “canvases to drop by 50%.”
Eric Cohen reviews Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed: “There is much to admire in Deneen’s book, which combines impressive learning in the history of political theory and genuine attention to the complex realities of contemporary life. And the cultural and political problems that worry him should worry all of us. But the book is also deeply flawed, and in the end its critique lacks the prudence, realism, and generosity of spirit that wiser cultural critics—like Irving Kristol and Leon Kass—have demonstrated in their own deep efforts to confront the problems of modernity.”
Nadezhda Mandelstam’s memoir of the persecution and death of her husband, the poet Osip Mandelstam, is “an invaluable account of the collapse of intellectual life and the terror and bleakness of everyday existence at the height of ideological tyranny.”
Joseph Bottum recommends a new collection of essays by Patricia Vigderman: “Vigderman has been something of a peripatetic figure. Her undergraduate degree came from Vassar in 1964, her Ph.D. from Tufts in 1998, and in the 30-odd years between, she taught a little, traveled a little, and wrote beautiful, odd little essays for small literary magazines. And now she’s taken on the Ancient World, recollecting the time she spent as a child with her parents in Athens back in the 1950s and contemplating her reactions both to revisiting the Greek site and to viewing the missing portions, on display in London since Lord Elgin shipped them to England in 1801.”
During a period dominated by American abstract expressionism and pop art, Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon quietly made realism new again.
Essay of the Day:
Josephine Quinn revisits the life of Julius Caesar in The New York Review of Books:
“When Julius Caesar was thirty-one years old in 69 BCE, so the story goes, and serving as a junior Roman magistrate in Spain, he once stood lamenting before a statue of Alexander the Great because he had achieved so little at an age by which Alexander had already conquered the world.
“He had good reason for concern. Although his recent election as a quaestor—one of the officials responsible for finances—had given him a lifetime seat in the Senate, Roman politics were more of a funnel than a ladder: twenty quaestors who had been elected at thirty years old could compete nine years later for eight praetorships, and then, three years after that, for just two annual consulships. To rise, you needed political friends, name recognition, and, in order to buy elections, a great deal of money.
“Caesar was already admired as an orator, but he was best known for his debts, and he was good at making enemies, especially among the powerful conservatives in the Senate. Furthermore, while he had ably fulfilled the standard military duties of a young Roman nobleman, he had attracted attention only for his first assignment overseas at the age of about twenty: a trip to Bithynia in northern Anatolia, where he had become friendly—many said extremely friendly—with its king, Nicomedes. Whether or not the rumors were true, this was the first hint of a lifelong tendency to test the bounds of Rome’s unwritten moral and legal codes.”
Photo: Sun pillar over Poland
Poem: John D. Smith, “Life of the Artist”
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This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard