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MYTHOMANIA

TALES OF OUR TIMES, FROM APPLE TO ISIS

If you’re a fan of Barthes and of the Umberto Eco of How to Travel with a Salmon, you’ll likely enjoy this modest, minor,...

A deft updating of Parisian semiotics and midcentury cultural criticism for our own time.

Roland Barthes died in 1980, run down by a vehicle in what Walter Benjamin called the capital of the 19th century; having taken some of Benjamin’s ideas and run with them, Barthes was already long renowned for such centrifugal books as Writing Degree Zero and Mythologies. It is the second book that Oxford-based literary scholar Conrad (Verdi and/or Wagner: Two Men, Two Worlds, Two Centuries, 2014, etc.) takes on in this sometimes fresh, sometimes tired look at the hidden structures and unacknowledged tendencies of our own day: why is Apple’s apple an apple, after all? Ah, there we go back to the Garden of Eden, where, Conrad cleverly opines, “the ban imposed by God had nothing to do with the wickedly tasty properties of the fruit: it was an arbitrary demonstration of divine power, like an order not to walk on the grass or feed the pigeons.” As with all cultural criticism, there’s an element of the unworldly in Conrad’s essays: of course the Apple icon on the computer has nothing to do with the biblical story, and who thought it did? There are some tired tropes at work, too, among others laments for the death of the book, which seems to be stubbornly refusing to die even as books are written about its demise. But there are many smart things about Conrad’s argument, too, as when, in a moment reminiscent of John Lennon on the popularity of God, he writes that Steve Jobs—who, it should be said, is far from his only subject here, though a prominent one—“brought about an awakening more permanent and widespread than Billy Graham’s soul-saving campaign.” True enough, even if Conrad seems to take arch delight in tweaking noses as he says so.

If you’re a fan of Barthes and of the Umberto Eco of How to Travel with a Salmon, you’ll likely enjoy this modest, minor, but entertaining rejoinder.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-500-29258-7

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Thames & Hudson

Review Posted Online: Oct. 29, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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