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29 july 2016

I'm no great expert on Reconstruction, but I've read standard histories including Eric Foner's definitive Reconstruction and more specialized books like David Blight's Race and Reunion. I was delighted (and distressed) to add Gregory Downs' After Appomattox to my list. Downs focuses on the political aspects of military occupation of the South in the immediate post-Civil-War period, and also studies the administrative and institutional details of that occupation. I found Downs' approach refreshing. Often there's a tendency either to overlook the role of the military in the Reconstruction period, or at best to treat military force as a kind of tap that politicians turned on and off and applied here and there in pursuit of their ends. Downs presents a more complicated intertwining of military and political dynamics.     read more

23 july 2016

I play jazz standards on my piano every day, working my way through my songbooks and then going back to the front of the books and starting over. The easiest composer in the American songbook to play is Richard Rodgers, many of whose tunes are like scale exercises – not that there's anything facile about knowing which scale exercises are going to sound inevitable for a singer or pianist. The hardest to play is Cole Porter, though he also gives you the most instruction. Irving Berlin is surprisingly complex. Jerome Kern isn't easy. George Gershwin is somewhere in the middle. Harold Arlen wrote some of the simpler of the great American tunes: "Come Rain or Come Shine," "One for My Baby," "Over the Rainbow."     read more

22 july 2016

Le photographe is a tense, superbly focused political thriller – perhaps I should say artistic thriller, because though it's set in the world of politics, political ideas (narrowly considered) are of no interest to its protagonist. Like Pierre Boulle's other novels, Le photographe manages to be an intellectual page-turner, never sacrificing thought for action or action for thought.     read more

21 july 2016

I saw the deeply impressive Munch and Expressionism exhibit earlier this year at New York's Neue Galerie, wrote away for the catalogue soon after, and have been saving it for a treat most of the summer. I'm going to save it as a treasure for years to come.     read more