Insurrections of the Mind: 100 Years of Politics and Culture in America

Edited by Franklin Foer. Harper Perennial, $15.99 trade paper (608p) ISBN 978-0-06-234039-9
New Republic editor Foer's sampling of essays published in the magazine over the course of its history spans major American wars, disastrous presidential administrations, and seismic political shifts, but adds up to far more than just a retrospective slideshow of the "American century." Taken as a whole, the book's selections, organized by decade, represent the magazine's mission to serve as a mouthpiece and conscience for liberalism. Writers from Rebecca West, to Virginia Woolf, to Leon Wieseltier explore a political philosophy which founding editor Herbert Croly termed "the attempt to mould social life in the light of the best available knowledge and in the interest of a humane ideal." Foer provides brief intros that set the context for each piece, and also sometimes acknowledges the magazine's failings, such as the support it offered Stalin in the 1930s. The rigorous analysis and thoughtful philosophizing otherwise displayed by the politically-minded essays extends to cultural criticism that includes Nabokov on translation, Margaret Talbot on Martha Stewart, and Zadie Smith on Kafka. Taken individually, the essays are often prescient (Andrew Sullivan's 1989 gay marriage piece "Here Comes the Groom") or witty (Philip Roth's "Positive Thinking on Pennsylvania Ave"). Considered as a whole, they sculpt a model of journalistic sophistication that honors George Orwell's dictum, in "Politics and the English Language," that "to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration." Agent: Elyse Cheney, Elyse Cheney Literary Associates. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/11/2014
Release date: 09/01/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 568 pages - 978-0-06-234040-5
Ebook - 608 pages - 978-0-06-234038-2
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