The Music of the Swindle

Geoffrey O’Brien

Sony Pictures

David O. Russell’s American Hustle declares what it is about with disarming bluntness. The two con artists around whom it revolves confide to us in voice-over right at the start: Sydney (Amy Adams), aka Lady Edith Greensley, wanted “to become anyone else other than who I was.” Irving (Christian Bale) acknowledges that “we even con ourselves.”

Is Christie Using Nixon’s Playbook?

Elizabeth Drew

Paul Beaty/AP Photo

On the basis of what we know and what seems conceivable, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is not a Richard Nixon. But there does seem to be a pattern in Christie’s activities, and indications of corruption on a scale that could be unprecedented even for New Jersey. Christie has morphed from a “bully” into a man who has governed by creating an atmosphere of fear and retribution

Writers Into Saints

Tim Parks

Over the last ten years or so I have read literary biographies of Dickens, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Hardy, Leopardi, Verga, D. H. Lawrence, Joyce, Woolf, Moravia, Morante, Malaparte, Pavese, Borges, Beckett, Bernhard, Christina Stead, Henry Green, and probably others too. With only the rarest of exceptions, literary biographers present their subjects as simply the most gifted and well-meaning of writers, while their behavior, however problematic and possibly outrageous—Dickens’s treatment of his children, D.H. Lawrence’s fisticuffs with Frieda—is invariably described in a flattering light. Special pleading is everywhere evident, as if biographers were afraid that the work might be diminished by a life that was less than noble.

Guatemala’s Shameful Repudiation of Justice

Aryeh Neier

Moises Castillo/AP

If countries were ranked by lawlessness, Guatemala would score near the top. The country is ridden by crime and corruption and has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Now, a decision to remove Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz seems aimed at derailing her pursuit of those who committed genocidal violence in the 1980s.

Taking Down Picasso

Martin Filler

The real estate mogul Aby Rosen is planning to remove a historic Picasso stage curtain from the Seagram Building on February 9. The wall-sized, unframed canvas, which Picasso created in 1919 for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, has hung in the tower’s Four Seasons Restaurant since it opened in 1959. According to the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, Peg Breen, taking down the delicate work could be its death sentence. The Landmarks Conservancy is seeking a last-minute injunction to halt the removal.

Why Sochi?

Christian Caryl

Rob Hornstra/Courtesy Flatland Gallery

Why on earth would the Kremlin decide to host the Games in an underdeveloped place where terrorists lurk nearby—a place that The New York Times describes as “the edge of a war zone”? The answer is not as complicated as it may seem. Vladimir Putin comes from St. Petersburg. He rules from Moscow. But it is the North Caucasus that launched him on his path to the summit of Russian power.

China’s Way to Happiness

Ian Johnson

Ian Johnson

Are people in China happy?

Richard Madsen: The happiness level is diminishing. The pace of economic growth is not continuing like it was. You still have people becoming fabulously wealthy and crassly displaying it, but that also feeds into a deteriorating moral climate.

Syrian Torture: What the US Must Do

David Luban

Esa Alexander/The Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images

The atrocities committed by all sides in the increasingly violent Syrian civil war cry out for some form of international accountability. The “Caesar” photos, released in late January, up the stakes dramatically by providing remarkably specific evidence of mass murder and torture by agents of the Syrian government.

To Kill a Child

Stig Dagerman, with an introduction by Steven Hartman

Arne Sohlström

For a meager fee of seventy-five kronor Stig Dagerman was commissioned by Sweden’s National Society for Road Safety to write a cautionary tale as part of a campaign designed to get Swedish motorists to slow down on highways. What could have been an ephemeral and gimmicky work of public service fiction became perhaps the greatest short short story in the history of Swedish letters.

Obama’s Toughest Job

Jeff Madrick

Jim Goldberg/Magnum Photos

By making jobs the centerpiece of the speech, President Obama gave one of his best State of the Union addresses. But the jobs situation is not merely a concern. It is a crisis. Minorities and the young in particular have been battered. And the most necessary measure of all—continued fiscal stimulus to encourage growth—is not being entertained.