James Wolcott is a columnist for Vanity Fair. (October 2018)


Superman’s Feet of Clay

Jim Brown, 1983

Jim Brown: Last Man Standing

by Dave Zirin
The title of Dave Zirin’s Jim Brown: Last Man Standing strikes a chord of valedictory tribute to a bronze idol embodying an era and an ethos soon to pass into history and gladiator lore. It’s partly that—how could it not be?—but Last Man Standing is not some jock aria or nostalgia trip. Zirin isn’t that kind of journalist. He utilizes a larger analytical toolkit. An NFL hall of famer, Hollywood star, and radical political activist, Brown represents a black pillar of lifelong achievement who has always cleaved to his convictions, but he’s also a questionable figure who’s never had to face the music, and by music I mean a #MeToo reckoning. Zirin wants to hasten the reckoning before Brown runs out the clock.

The Man Who Wanted Everything

Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine

by Joe Hagan
The first issue of Rolling Stone to bop me between the eyes at the newsstand bore a black border on the cover. It framed an obituary portrait of the guitarist Jimi Hendrix, the quantum mechanic of psychedelic rock, who had died of an overdose of barbiturates or sleeping pills at the age of twenty-seven, an early extinguishing more befitting a Romantic poet. The next issue of Rolling Stone also carried a black border, this one memorializing the blues rocker Janis Joplin, the queen of husky catarrh, whose death mirrored Hendrix’s: overdose at age twenty-seven. It was 1970, and a scant three years after the Summer of Love the counterculture was filling the coffins.

Southern Discomfort

Captain Maximus

by Barry Hannah

Lives of the Saints

by Nancy Lemann
After the coyote calls of Ray and The Tennis Handsome, Barry Hannah is carrying a more mellow tune in his new collection of stories, Captain Maximus. He seems to be bent over Wallace Stevens’s blue guitar, admiring his hands of rough leather as they strike “his living hi and ho.” …

Honest Floozies

Symphony for the Devil: The Rolling Stones Story

by Philip Norman

Dance with the Devil: The Rolling Stones and Their Times

by Stanley Booth
For two decades the Rolling Stones have sprawled across the sofa, bored and surly, their laps warmed by debutantes and groupies, their bloodstreams roughed up with drugs. If the Beatles have been embossed in legend as the merry ambassadors of Mod (brushed bangs and boot shine), the Stones have been …

The Secret Sharers

The Little Drummer Girl

by John le Carré
With The Little Drummer Girl, John le Carré has thrown off his winter cloak and let his limbs flex. Unlike the Smiley novels, which have a burrowing, circumspect determination, The Little Drummer Girl doesn’t read as if it were written with mittens. The book feels as if it were dashed …

Tom Wolfe’s Greatest Hits

The Purple Decades: A Reader

by Tom Wolfe
Not since Garry Wills uncorked his rather fanciful notions on the origins of the cold war in the opening pages of Lillian Hellman’s Scoundrel Time has a book been so fatefully torpedoed by its own introduction. Subtitled “A Reader,” The Purple Decades presents an ample selection of Tom Wolfe’s writings …


Edie: An American Biography

by Jean Stein, edited with George Plimpton
For a brief spell in the mid-Sixties, Edie Sedgwick was the debutante princess of piss-elegance, an Andy Warhol “superstar” whose fashion trademark was a snowy white mink draped over a dimestore t-shirt. Edie was always abuzz with debbie enthusiasm—as Warhol himself put it, even when she was asleep, her hands …

Straw Dogs

Virginie: Her Two Lives

by John Hawkes

Sabbatical: A Romance

by John Barth
When Lao-tse wrote that “the sage is ruthless and treats the people as straw dogs,” he provided an epigraph for the cruel frivolities of John Hawkes’s and John Barth’s latest fiction, in which the hapless characters are raped, carved up, burned with cigarettes, bestialized. Characteristically, Hawkes’s novel is a solemn, …