Verlyn Klinkenborg’s books include Several Short Sentences About Writing and Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile.
 (December 2019)

IN THE REVIEW

What Were Dinosaurs For?

A life-size model of the early Cretaceous tyrannosaur Yutyrannus huali; from Mark Norell’s The World of Dinosaurs: An Illustrated Tour. Originally part of the American Museum of Natural History’s 2016 exhibition ‘Dinosaurs Among Us,’ curated by Norell, it is twenty-three feet long and is now in the permanent collection of the Dinosaur Gallery at the Center of Science and Industry, Columbus, Ohio.

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World

by Steve Brusatte

Dinosaurs Rediscovered: The Scientific Revolution in Paleontology

by Michael J. Benton
As I was reading some recent books on dinosaurs, I kept wondering, “What were dinosaurs for?” It’s a ridiculous question, and I wondered why I was wondering it. After all, dinosaurs were “for” exactly what we are “for,” what every organism has been “for” since life began. Every species that has ever lived is a successful experiment in the enterprise of living, and every species is closely kinned at the genetic level with all other species. This is harder to grasp than it seems, partly because the logic of that Satanic preposition—“for”—is so insidious, so woven through the problem of time. Teleology is the moralizing of chronology, and nowadays science tries to keep watch for even the slightest trace of it, any suggestion that evolution has a direction tending to culminate in us or in what we like to call intelligence or in any other presumably desirable end point.

The Voice of the Landscape

Barry Lopez; drawing by Karl Stevens

Horizon

by Barry Lopez
In his first nonfiction book, Of Wolves and Men (1978), Barry Lopez described the appalling American slaughter of wolves—a long and ongoing vendetta driven by economic and political motives and by a quality of hatred that humans usually reserve for one another. “It seems to me,” he says, “that somewhere …

Green and Pleasant Land

Edward Hicks: The Cornell Farm, 1848

The American Farmer in the Eighteenth Century: A Social and Cultural History

by Richard Lyman Bushman

This Blessed Earth: A Year in the Life of an American Family Farm

by Ted Genoways
Industrial agriculture—shaped by the USDA, by chemical and seed companies, by the vagaries of domestic and export markets—relies on a picture of the family farmer to soften its image. It wants it both ways. It wants to celebrate its technical innovations, like genetically modified crops, computer-driven tractors, and satellite-monitored fields. And yet it also wants to foster our national nostalgia for farming and the men and women who do it. The contradiction is intolerable, especially to farmers.

A Horse Is a Horse, of Course

‘Dark Horse,’ Wyoming, 2005; photograph by Jack Spencer from his book This Land: An American Portrait, published by University of Texas Press

Farewell to the Horse: A Cultural History

by Ulrich Raulff, translated from the German by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp
In 1937, a car carrying Rebecca West got stuck in a snowdrift on a Croatian hilltop. “Peasants ran out of a cottage near by,” she wrote, “shouting with laughter because machinery had made a fool of itself, and dug out the automobile with incredible rapidity. They were doubtless anxious to …

NYR DAILY

An English Clergyman’s Advice for Quarantine

Trompe l'oeil with letters and notebooks, by Cornelis Norbertus Gysbrechts, 1665

Two hundred years ago, the Reverend Sydney Smith (1771–1845) wrote what is certainly the most famous private letter he ever composed. His thoughts need almost no alteration for modern times and are still excellent advice, perhaps especially for a world in quarantine. But to savor the letter more fully, it’s worth knowing something about the man who wrote it. In February 1820, Smith was forty-eight years old and living, with his family, in rural Yorkshire, two hundred miles equidistant from the two places—London and Edinburgh—where he felt intellectually and socially at home.

Pandemic Journal, April 6–12

Making face masks amid the coronavirus outbreak, Haarlem, Netherlands, April 4, 2020

The latest edition in a running series of dispatches by New York Review writers documenting the coronavirus outbreak with updates from around the world, including Verlyn Klinkenborg in East Chatham, Hugh Eakin in Minneapolis–St. Paul, Dalia Hatuqa in Amman, Zoé Samudzi in Windhoek, Ariel Dorfman in Durham, Nathaniel Rich in New Orleans, Christopher Benfey in Amherst, Mira Kamdar in Videlles, Arthur Longworth in Monroe.

Pandemic Journal, March 23–29

A running series of brief dispatches by New York Review writers documenting the coronavirus outbreak with regular updates from around the world, including Michael Greenberg in Brooklyn, Raquel Salas Rivera in San Juan, Aida Alami in Paris, Rahmane Idrissa in Niamey, Verlyn Klinkenborg in East Chatham, Tolu Ogunlesi in Lagos, Merve Emre in Oxford, Yasmine El Rashidi in Cairo, Keija Parssinen in Granville, E. Tammy Kim in Brooklyn, Adam Foulds in Toronto, Tom Bachtell in Chicago, Ivan Sršen in Zagreb, Sue Halpern in Ripton, Michael S. Roth in Middletown, Ben Mauk in Penang, Martin Filler in Southampton, Eula Biss in Evanston, Richard Ford in East Boothbay, George Weld in Brooklyn, Nilanjana Roy in New Delhi, Ursula Lindsey in Amman, Zoë Schlanger in Brooklyn, Dominique Eddé in Beirut, Lucy McKeon in Brooklyn, Yiyun Li in Princeton, Caitlin L. Chandler in Berlin, Nick Laird in Kerhonkson, Alma Guillermoprieto in Bogotá, Lucy Jakub in Northampton, Rachael Bedard in Brooklyn, Hari Kunzru in Brooklyn, Minae Mizumura in Tokyo, Jenny Uglow in Keswick, Sylvia Poggioli in Rome, and more.

The Uncrowded Country of the Bomb

Overview of Frenchman Flat, Looking West, Nevada Test Site, 1997

America’s underground tests of nuclear devices in Nevada—many hundred of them over more than three decades—left a pox-like pattern of craters in the desert some sixty-five miles northwest of Las Vegas. The landscape looks almost lunar. Some of the circles do indeed look like the top of a fallen cake or the entrance to a subterranean ant colony. But each one is a subsidence crater, the slumping cone that results when hundreds of thousands of tons of earth and rock are vaporized far below ground. In 1996 and 1997, the Department of Energy and the US Air Force allowed the photographer Emmet Gowin to take photographs of Nevada’s nuclear landscape from a helicopter. Now gathered in a new book, The Nevada Test Site, his images are a stark monument of deliberate ruin.