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This week: The arts of persuasion & controlled inebriation
Fiction: The Unseen World, by Liz Moore (W. W. Norton & Company): It takes a special touch to write an engrossing narrative based on a technical process like computer programming. With The Unseen World, the author Liz Moore creates an informative depiction of the digital realm while keeping her story rooted in character-driven drama. The novel follows the journey of a computer coding prodigy as she uncovers the hidden history of her mentally ailing father, piecing together the clues he inadvertently embedded in the body of his own programming work. Taken together with Moore’s previous releases, which depict the music industry and the trials of an aspiring professional athlete, the book establishes the author’s talent for staging drama within many complex corners of modern life. —MU
Nonfiction: Order, Order: The Rise and Fall of Political Drinking, by Ben Wright (Gerald Duckworth & Co): Churchill drank prolifically, but perhaps not as much as people assume. His famous whisky and soda was mostly soda, sipped periodically throughout the day and never rising to the strength of a standard cocktail. Most accounts of Churchill’s drinking, of which many survive, suggest that he was rarely drunk; rather, they tend to marvel at his ability to process alcohol in a prodigious manner. Churchill is but one figure to feature in Ben Wright’s Order, Order, a survey of drinking in British politics. Among the many amusing yarns is that of William Pitt the Younger, Britain’s youngest-ever Prime Minister, who drank port steadily throughout the day, as he had done habitually since his youth, having been prescribed a measure of the fortified wine as a tonic for his sickly constitution. One night in 1793, right after the start of war against France, Pitt and his political confidante Henry Dundas straggled into the House of Commons having taken liberally of the muse. One newspaper imagined the incident thusly: “I cannot see the Speaker, Hal, can you?/ What! Cannot see the Speaker, I see two!” Wright’s book is not all PMs, however. It also contains an unsentimental look at the perils of backbench drinking, which seems to claim a few MPs a decade. Life in Westminster can be lonely, especially for those pols from farther afield, and Wright doesn’t gloss over the fact that behind many diverting anecdotes lie crippling hangovers and destructive behavior. Well researched and breezily told, Wright’s book is an enjoyable romp through the properly lubricated halls of British political power. Look for a review of the book in a forthcoming issue of The New Criterion. —BR
Art: “Kurt Steger: Scribing the Void,” at Odetta Gallery (Through August 21): Who says you can’t move mountains? The Bushwick-based artist Kurt Steger has meticulously measured the contours of a rock outcropping in Central Park and crafted a twenty-seven-foot-long sculpture out of its negative space. A master carpenter, Steger installed a similar sculpture last spring in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park as part of the Flux art fair. This time around he has suspended his geometric barnacle as a single work in Brooklyn’s Odetta Gallery, with several gallery events sceduled during the run to “fill the void,” including, on August 7 at 3 pm, a performance of Bushwick Shakespeare’s The Tempest. —JP
Rhetoric: Winning Arguments: What Works and Doesn't Work in Politics, the Bedroom, the Courtroom, and the Classroom, by Stanley Fish (HarperCollins): Callicles would like this winsome new book by the literary critic Stanley Fish. So would Gorgias. Is it damning with faint praise to say that those celebrated—some might say “infamous”—sophists from Plato’s Dialogues would be among someone’s admirers? Not necessarily. Rhetoric, as Aristotle observed, is above all the art of persuasion, and this brief, intelligent book is a sort of practicum or guidebook to the subject as applied to everyday life. This book is dedicated to the memory of the philosopher Richard Rorty, a man from whose essential views about matters of epistemology and politics I am even more distant than I am from Professor Fish’s. In attempting to describe that distance briefly, a good start might be made by observing that Professors Rorty and Fish both would raise an eyebrow over the word “essential.” They repudiate that entire lexicon of epistemological and metaphysical optimism insisting, for example, that “There is no such thing as intrinsic meaning” (Fish) or, “Language goes all the way down” (Rorty). That said, this is a cheerful, cosmopolitan, stylishly written book that will beguile an idle hour and impart a few tricks of the literary trade. I don’t accept the premise, but I enjoyed the sojourn. —RK
From the archive: “Lord Acton’s revolution,” by Gerald J. Russello: On Lord Acton’s lectures on the French Revolution.
From the most recent issue: “Meanwhile, in Europe,” from Notes & Comments: On The Spectator’s celebration of free speech.