Celebrating 50 Years
In February 1963, The New York Review of Books published its first issue, during a printer’s strike that had shut down seven New York City newspapers. Since then its in-depth essays on the arts, literature, politics, science, and history have established it as, in Esquire's phrase, “the premier literary-intellectual magazine in the English language.” This special section of our website, devoted to the 50th Anniversary, features talks with longtime contributors, selected reviews from past issues, reminiscences from former staff members, photographs and videos, and documents from the Review archives, as well as an interactive timeline of the Review’s first fifty years. We hope you enjoy this year-long celebration.
On April 3, 2013 The New York Review of Books and the Cullman Center for Scholars & Writers at the New York Public Library presented a panel discussion celebrating the Review’s 50th anniversary. Five regular contributors discussed their careers, their experience writing for editors Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein, and their predictions and hopes for the future of literary journalism. We are pleased to present the excerpts below from this program.
We conclude our National Poetry Month celebration with work by the critic Helen Vendler, who has contributed over fifty pieces in The New York Review, from her 1975 consideration of the poems of William Carlos Williams to her essays in the past year on Edward Thomas and Robert Hass.
On Translating Pushkin Pounding the Clavichord: Vladimir Nabokov discusses the challenges of translating Pushkin.
Elizabeth Bishop and Elizabeth Hardwick on Flannery O'Connor: A memorial to one of the great writers of a generation.
Jean-Paul Sartre on the Nobel Prize: Jean-Paul Sartre explained his refusal to accept the Nobel Prize for Literature. The English translation was made by Richard Howard.
On Albert Einstein
Robert Oppenheimer discusses the more personal side of one of the greatest scientists.
The Responsibility of Intellectuals: "Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions," writes Noam Chomsky.
Report from Vietnam I. The Home Program: Mary McCarthy in the first of four dispatches from the front lines in Vietnam.
The Occupation of Newark: Tom Hayden's epic on the riots and occupation in Newark.
The Black Manifesto: "It deserves to be printed not for the chance that it will alter our present history but with the hope that it can illuminate it," writes Murray Kempton.
Reflections on Violence: "Indeed this century has become, as Lenin predicted, a century of wars and revolutions, hence a century of that violence which is currently believed to be their common denominator," writes Hannah Arendt.
Lying in Politics
Hannah Arendt on the Pentagon Papers: "most readers have by now agreed that the basic issue raised by the Papers is deception."
The Beauty Treatment: Susan Sontag dissects several books on the art and function of photography.
How I Came to Dissent: Andrei D. Sakharov, nuclear physicist, explains the thought process to turning away from the Soviet Union.
The Road from Damascus: Frances FitzGerald on the relationship between Syria and Israel.
Letter from South Africa: "Concern is an over-all bundle of like feelings in unlike people: horror, distress, anguish, anger—at its slackest manifestation, pity," Nadine Gordimer writes from South Africa.
Mahler Now: "How long it took for Mahler to emerge, not from the shadows but from purgatory. A tenacious purgatory, which for a thousand reasons would not let go of him," writes Pierre Boulez.
On the Death of Mao: John K. Fairbank reflects on the passing of Chairman Mao.
Illness as Metaphor: "I want to describe not what it’s really like to emigrate to the kingdom of the ill and to live there, but the punitive or sentimental fantasies concocted about that situation; not real geography but stereotypes of national character," writes Susan Sontag.
Seamus Heaney on Robert Lowell: Heaney wrote, "In a room full of people, his quick scanning eyes could throw a grappling hook to the person he was meeting, as he came forward, half buoyant, half somnambulant, on the balls of his feet, his voice at once sharp and sidling."
Einstein and Israel
Isaiah Berlin explains how Einstein possessed the gifts of a philosopher and lent his great names to the movement for Israel.
The Return of the Khmer Rouge: "The pain of Cambodia is as intense as ever. A political solution to the country’s plight seems more distant than ever," writes William Shawcross.
Professor Nabokov: John Updike on the life and lessons of Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov.
A Misfit Master: John Pope-Hennessy on Duccio: "Duccio in the 'Maestà' extended the expressive possibilities of painted narrative. So large and various and comprehensive was the altarpiece that it dominated painting in Siena for almost two hundred years."
An Aesthete at War: Bruce Chatwin on Ernst Jünger during World War II.
The Responsibility of Scientists: "The integration of the scientific community has inevitably progressed beyond narrow professional interests and now embraces a broad range of universal issues, including ethical questions,”Andrei D. Sakharov wrote.
A Modest Proposal: George F. Kennan offers his opinion on breaking the nuclear impasse.
In El Salvador
"Terror is the given of the place. Black-and-white police cars cruise in pairs, each with the barrel of a rifle extruding from an open window. Roadblocks materialize at random, soldiers fanning out from trucks and taking positions, fingers always on triggers, safetys clicking on and off." Joan Didion reports from El Salvador.
On Derek Walcott
Joseph Brodsky on the poet from Saint Lucia: "Quite apart from the matter of his own unique gifts, Walcott’s lines are so resonant and stereoscopic precisely because this “history” is eventful enough, because language itself is an epic device. Everything this poet touches reverberates like magnetic waves whose acoustics are psychological and whose implications echo."
On Krazy Kat and Peanuts: Umberto Eco compares the early 20th century cartoon of a dog, cat and mouse to the adventures of Charles Schulz's Charlie Brown and friends.
A Mozart Player Gives Himself Advice: “Let this be the first warning to the Mozart performer: piano playing, be it ever so faultless, must not be considered sufficient." Alfred Brendel on playing Mozart.
Letter from the Gdansk Prison: A leader of the opposition in Poland, Adam Michnik was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. He wrote this letter while awaiting trial.
Women's Lot: Martha C. Nussbaum on the ideal of the educated woman: "If women are to be seriously educated, what sort of education should it be, and what will they become as a result?"
Fire on the Road: Ryszard Kapuscinski writes in response to the rally at Soweto, South Africa about the hazards of civil war, drawing from his experience reporting in Nigeria in 1966.
Edmund Wilson at Ease: Jason Epstein on the diaries of Edmund Wilson during the 1950s: he "had become a cultural journalist of an incomparably high order."
Reagan’s Highest Folly: Lord Zuckerman on Reagan's first step on the 'Star Wars.'
What Next?: Felix G. Rohatyn on the financial crisis: "In the case of financial market crises the difficulty in getting facts is compounded by the psychological factors connected with the market. Trying to outguess the markets may be interesting but it is highly uncertain. We really know very little about why the markets collapsed at this particular time."
The Best Years of Their Lives
Nicholas Lemann on Reagan: "Most of all, Reagan gives the impression to the people around him (except his wife) that they aren’t important to him. Apparently that crucial moment of politician-to-aide bonding when the boss kicks off his shoes, pours a couple of fingers of scotch, and bares his soul never happens with Reagan."
The Book Burning: Salman Rushdie's response to burning of 'The Satanic Verses': "The art of the novel is a thing I cherish as dearly as the book-burners of Bradford value their brand of militant Islam."
After the Massacres : Simon Leys on Peking: "The massacres stunned the world—and yet they should not have surprised anyone. The butchers of Peking are entitled to feel genuine puzzlement in the face of the indignation expressed by international opinion. Why should foreigners suddenly change their attitude toward them?"
Notes from Underground
Tatyana Tolstaya on why Soviet women are not feminists: "Each is present as a person, with his or her own point of view and taste. The opinion of any of these Soviet citizens can easily be argued with, and one can often object that a highly personal point of view is being given, and that the person talking is simply wrong and doesn’t understand anything—but the sum of these opinions of Russian women and men will, I believe, shake up the view of Soviet society that has formed in the West."
Iraq: The Road Not Taken: Edward Mortimer on Operation Desert Storm: "Was Bush right to halt the fighting when he did? Should he have ordered his forces to shoot down Iraqi helicopters taking part in operations against the insurgents?"
The Empire of Joseph Roth: Nadine Gordimer on the life and legacy of Joseph Roth: "After having reread all Roth’s fiction available to me, I am glad that I know him in the only way writers themselves know to be valid for an understanding of their work: through the work itself."
The True History of the Gulf War: Theodore H. Draper's epic reportage of the first Gulf War.
Deng's Last Campaign: Roderick MacFarquhar on Deng Xiaoping: "At eighty-eight, he reportedly spends much of his time amusing his grandchildren. It is only on major matters of national policy, such as voting in the UN on the use of force against Saddam Hussein, that the PSC consults Deng and does what he 'advises.'"
Uncle Sam Doesn’t Want You!: Robert Stone on gays in the military.
Clinton, So Far: Thomas Byrne Edsall on Clinton's first few months in the White House: "Has Clinton’s behavior during the first six months of his administration made impossible what he once seemed well-equipped to accomplish—the rebuilding of the power of the Democratic Party to win elections and to set national goals?"
The Real Thing
Garry Wills on Horace Pippin and Jacob Lawrence: "African American music and literature have always been appreciated since they draw on rich traditions of song, dance, and folk stories. But the visual arts had no such clear heritage, and recognition of great black sculptors and painters has been spotty until recent years, when the growth of black studies spurred a busy new trade in the work of African Americans—shows, auctions, and even forgeries."
Thomas’s Confirmation: The True Story
Garry Wills on the "selling" of Clarence Thomas.
The Beat of War: Murray Kempton on the journalists of World War II.
American Photography's Golden Age: Luc Sante reports on the history of photography in America from it's earliest adapters to the Civil War to photojournalism during the Great Depression.
Truth and Heresy about Aids: Richard Horton on Dr. Peter Duesberg astonishing claims about AIDS.
Assisted Suicide: What the Court Really Said
Ronald Dworkin's response to the June 26, 1996 Supreme Court ruling against assisted suicide: "The cases raised, moreover, not only the question of a specific right to assisted suicide, but a more fundamental constitutional issue as well—how to understand and enforce the 'due process clause' of the Fourteenth Amendment, which declares that states may not 'deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.'"
Not for Muggles
The appeal of the Harry Potter books, to judge by the flood of reviews and essays that have greeted their appearance, is wide and varied. They can be enjoyed, for instance, as the celebration of a pre-industrial world: Hogwarts Castle is lit by torches and heated by fires, and mail is carried by owls of different sizes, including 'tiny little scops owls.'" Alison Lurie on Harry Potter's appeal.
In the Midst of Losses: J. M. Coetzee on the poet Paul Celan: "Balked by what they took to be arcane symbolism and private references, reviewers called the later Celan hermetic. It was a label he vehemently rejected. 'Not in the least hermetic,' he said. 'Read! Just keep reading, understanding comes of itself.'”
The Future of Science, and the Universe: Steven Weinberg ponders the next developments in science and the universe.
Fixed Opinions or the Hinge of History: Joan Didion muses on life in post-9/11 New York City.
On the Front Lines: Tim Judah reporting from Iraq: "With war coming you might expect Mr. Omar to have begun some military preparations to take care of Shoresh and its people. But Mr. Omar does not look worried."
The White Man Unburdened: Norman Mailer on the war in Iraq: "The key question remains—why did we go to war? It is not yet answered."
Abu Ghraib: The Hidden Story
Mark Danner on the report from Abu Ghraib.
Welcome to Doomsday
"We are witnessing today a coupling of ideology and theology that threatens our ability to meet the growing ecological crisis. Theology asserts propositions that need not be proven true, while ideologues hold stoutly to a world view despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. The combination can make it impossible for a democracy to fashion real-world solutions to otherwise intractable challenges." Bill Moyers on the Evangelical menace.
The Supreme Court Phalanx
"The revolution that many commentators predicted when President Bush appointed two ultra-right-wing Supreme Court justices is proceeding with breathtaking impatience, and it is a revolution Jacobin in its disdain for tradition and precedent." Ronald Dworkin on Bush's two Supreme Court appointees.
What to Do About the Torturers?
David Cole on how the Bush Justice Department allowed torture.
Zadie Smith on the inception of Facebook, the Hollywood movie about it and how social networks are affecting a generation.
The Mad Men Account
“That a soap opera decked out in high-end clothes (and concepts) should have received so much acclaim and is taken so seriously reminds you that fads depend as much on the willingness of the public to believe as on the cleverness of the people who invent them; as with many fads that take the form of infatuations with certain moments in the past, the Mad Men craze tells us far more about today than it does about yesterday. “ Daniel Mendelsohn is not impressed with Mad Men.
Occupy the Rockaways!
Michael Greenberg returns to his hometown on the Rockaways after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.