T H I S W E E K
January 13 2023
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T H E T I M E S L I T E R A R Y S U P P L E M E N T
Elizabeth Lowry The invention of van Gogh | Martyn Rady Orbán’s illiberal democracy
Peter Lake et al Getting the dirt on Henry VIII | Craig Raine Drunk on the page
A lonely leader The bleak vision of Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, by Ari Shavit
© David Silverman/ Getty Images
In this issue
In the gladiatorial arena of BBC’s Newsnight, inter- viewer Jeremy Paxman once seemed invincible. During the first Gulf War in 1991, however, a young Israeli spokesman, speaking fluent American English, bullied Paxman back and bested him. (He barnstormed the television networks in America too.) For many this was their first sighting of Ben- jamin Netanyahu, destined to become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. A high-achieving stu- dent at MIT, recruited as an economist for the Boston Consulting Group, and a brave soldier wounded in his country’s wars, the young “Bibi” had all the gifts. I met him when he was minister of finance helping to foster Israel’s remarkable tech sector. You couldn’t fault his intellect or his ambition, but as leader of his country he has fierce critics at home and abroad.
As Ari Shavit writes in his review of Netanyahu’s memoirs, Bibi: My story, Israel’s prime minister has a bleak vision of his people as political innocents, blind to the threat to their existence from a hostile world and in desperate need of his tutelage. To his foes Netanyahu is an insurmountable obstacle to a Palestinian state and is mired in allegations of corruption. His new coalition with the far right includes a nationalist minister for national security convicted for incitement to racism. Having achieved a second comeback to power, will he be devoured by “the tiger he rode on his way back to Jerusalem”, asks Shavit of Netanyahu and his extremist partners.
Viktor Orbán, prime minister of Hungary, is “the bad boy of European politics”, says Martyn Rady in his review of Tainted Democracy by Zsuzsanna Szelényi. Orbán began political life as a dissident against communism. His Oxford studies were funded by a scholarship from the Soros Foundation. Since then his Fidesz Party has steadily eroded civil society and the institutions that support it behind a democratic façade. The Central European University founded by George Soros has been driven out of Hungary, freedom of speech restricted, electoral law skewed and the independence of the judiciary undermined. Despite the whiff of antisemitism around his government, Orbán has been described by the Economist as “one of Netanyahu’s closest allies in Europe”.
The threat to civil society from social media is discussed in Susie Alegre’s Freedom to Think and Jamie Susskind’s The Digital Republic, reviewed here by N. J. Enfield. Software engineers, in Susskind’s judgement, have become unregulated social engineers: “Those who write code increasingly write the rules by which the rest of us live” – they adjust the Overton window “to give people permission to say or do what they may already be disposed to do”.
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6 LETTERS TO THE
8 ART HISTORY
24 IN BRIEF
ARI SHAVIT ABE SILBERSTEIN
N. J. ENFIELD
ANNA KATHARINA SCHAFFNER
PETER LAKE ET AL
COLIN GRANT DAVID BARNETT
ANDREW VAN DER VLIES MICHAEL LAPOINTE AMIR-HUSSEIN RADJY
STEPHEN ROMER MARLÉ HAMMOND
26 NATURAL HISTORY BARBARA J. KING
Bibi – My story Benjamin Netanyahu The Only Woman in the Room – Golda Meir and her path to power Pnina Lahav
George Orwell in Burma, Radical Labour, Woolf ’s good food guide, etc
Tainted Democracy – Viktor Orbán and the subversion of Hungary Zsuzsanna Szelényi. Before the Uprising – Hungary under communism, 1949–1956 Peter Kenez
Jo van Gogh-Bonger – The woman who made Vincent famous Hans Luijten; Translated by Lynne Richards
Pre-Raphaelite Wombat Séance
Freedom to Think – The long struggle to liberate our minds Susie Alegre. The Digital Republic – On freedom and democracy in the twenty-first century Jamie Susskind Chip War – The fight for the world’s most critical technology Chris Miller
A History of Fatigue – From the Middle Ages to the present Georges Vigarello; Translated by Nancy Erber
A real papist plot – How did Henry VIII’s love letters to Anne Boleyn get to the Vatican?
Empire of Light (Various cinemas) Theater in Deutschland, 1967–1995 Günther Rühle
A Wreath for Udomo Peter Abrahams. Mine Boy Peter Abrahams In the Upper Country Kai Thomas. A Dangerous Business Jane Smiley Al-Qata’i – Ibn Tulun’s city without walls Reem Bassiouney; Translated by Roger Allen
The Penguin Book of French Short Stories Patrick McGuinness, editor
The Drunken Boat – Selected writings Arthur Rimbaud; Edited and translated by Mark Polizzotti Listen to the Mourners – The essential poems of Nazik al-Mala’ika ‘Abdulwahid Lu’lu’a, editor and translator
The Last Days of the Ottoman Empire – 1918–1922 Ryan Gingeras
Parallel Public – Experimental art in late East Germany Sara Blaylock. Love Me Tender Constance Debré; Translated by Holly James. Girl Online – A user manual Joanna Walsh. On Travel and the Journey Through Life Barnaby Rogerson, editor; Illustrated by Kate Boxer. Hanged in Medicine Hat Nathan M. Greenfield. Cooking – Simply and well, for one or many Jeremy Lee. Hellfire – Evelyn Waugh and the Hypocrites Club David Fleming
Cornerstones – Wild forces that can change our world Benedict Macdonald Belonging – Natural histories of place, identity and home Amanda Thomson
Drunk on the page – Tightly rendered dialogue
Poetry declared dead (again), Inscription unfolded, Nightjars neglected, Wyndham Lewis rejected
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JANUARY 13, 2023
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