I. F. Stone, The Trial of Socrates

The Trial of Socrates by I.F. Stone My rating: 4 of 5 stars If the independent left-wing journalist I. F. Stone had lived to write this 1988 bestseller in 2019 instead, he might have expressed its thesis this way: Socrates was an alt-right troll redpilling young men with corrosive irony and anti-democratic sentiment; therefore, democratic … Continue reading I. F. Stone, The Trial of Socrates

Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters

The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters by Frances Stonor Saunders My rating: 4 of 5 stars Someone once said that beneath or behind all political and cultural warfare lies a struggle between secret societies. —Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo (1972) This 1999 book by British journalist Saunders is the … Continue reading Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters

Fredric Wertham, Seduction of the Innocent

Seduction of the Innocent by Fredric Wertham My rating: 2 of 5 stars When I was younger—say in the late 1980s, early 1990s—the concept of free artistic expression was associated with the social and political left. The totalitarian states of international communism were discredited and second-wave feminism had clearly overreached in its anti-porn crusades; meanwhile, tirades … Continue reading Fredric Wertham, Seduction of the Innocent

James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin My rating: 4 of 5 stars The two essays collected in this book—both structured as letters, one to Baldwin's nephew and one "from a Region in [His] Mind"—assess the racial situation in America at midcentury. The second is the more historically interesting, as it is built around Baldwin's … Continue reading James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

Jonathan Spence, Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong: A Penguin Life by Jonathan D. Spence My rating: 3 of 5 stars I like the old Penguin Lives series of brief biographies; they were published between 1999 and 2002 and then abruptly discontinued. I used to read or peruse them back then—I remember reading the one on Woolf in full and maybe … Continue reading Jonathan Spence, Mao Zedong

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass My rating: 5 of 5 stars Revisiting this for the American literature survey I'm teaching; it's been about a decade. Upon rereading, what stands out is Douglass's careful attention to the social dimension of slave resistance, a theme of the book that can be overshadowed … Continue reading Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life