My new Think Again column is called “The Continuing Curse of ‘On the One-Handism’” and it’s here.
Speaking of mixed feelings, it would be ontogologically impossible for any writing to be good enough to fully balance some of what has recently called attention to itself from the front of the book in The New Republic, but ever so ironically, the back of the book has, of late, come close. First was John Judis’s review of Ron Suskind’s book, which is the only piece I’ve read anywhere that makes sense of both its strengths and weaknesses (though it was badly mistitled), and in doing so, does the same for the Obama presidency. Now comes this brilliant assessment not only of my esteemed colleague Jeff Jarvis by Evgeny Morozov, but also goes on to poke an ozone layer-style hole in the entire enterprise of the "internet intellectual." It also demonstrates the unhappy truth that takedowns are much more fun to both read and write than praise.
Should it make one feel guilty to enjoy so hostile a review? Well, only feel smarmy in these cases if the case itself is smarmy. I don’t think either of these are, though Jehovah knows, Leon Weiseltier does publish more than his share of such takedowns. Still, when they’re good, they’re really good. Proof being in the pudding, etc., I rather agree with the really nice piece that Norman Birnbaum published about Christopher Lasch and I was glad to see it in The Nation, but it was not nearly as much fun to read as the above.
The question, I guess lies in the significance of the subject of the takedown. I read review in a recent NY Review—I think by David Thompson—of a book by Cary Grant’s daughter which was a waste of everyone’s time. So Cary Grant’s daughter wrote an insignificant book about her father in which she ignored most of the questions people want to know about him, but that perhaps his daughter would prefer not to discuss. So what? Why bother with the space unless you’re addressing larger issues or making a larger point.
It’s true that if he was going to beat up Clay Shirkey et al, he should have done so, rather than just lump them together with Jarvis, but I thought his arguments and criticisms were all reasonable… And I think he’s being perfectly reasonable here and doing the world a service.
Plus, the writing is quite good. Truly the best thing, I think, about TNR, besides John Judis and Jon Cohn and now Tim Noah, is the length of space it devotes to its reviews and unless it’s one of Leon’s hobby horses, their quality. Again, it does not begin to make up for Marty or the edits, but it is a compensation in terms of one’s time. They are much livelier than the long reviews that appear anywhere else that I can think of offhand, excluding perhaps Ben Shwarz’s section in The Atlantic, and then you have to accept Caitlin…