Briefly Noted Book Reviews | The New Yorker
People, Power, and Profits, by Joseph E. Stiglitz (Norton). This urgent work, by the foremost champion of “progressive capitalism,” starts from the premise that Donald Trump’s Presidency reflects a deeper malaise—rising inequality caused by mismanaged globalization, financial liberalization, and destabilizing technological change. Unless these structural issues are addressed, Stiglitz argues, nostrum-peddling demagoguery will find a receptive audience. Although the book jacket displays a clenched fist, Stiglitz’s vision is a paean to moderation: “Properly designed, well-regulated markets, working together with governments and a broad array of civil society institutions.” In 2019, this kind of levelheaded pragmatism feels downright radical.
The Dictionary Wars, by Peter Martin (Princeton). In 1782, Noah Webster published a spelling book that aimed to do away with British “corruption and tyranny.” Declaring himself the “prophet of language to the American people,” Webster proposed a phonetic revolution, with “hed” for “head,” “wimmen” for “women,” “jail” for “gaol,” and so on. He soon had a rival lexicographer, Joseph Emerson Worcester, and what followed, as this riveting history documents, was a decades-long war over who would shape the linguistic future of the country. The conflict eventually went national, involving newspapers, academics, literary figures, and book publishers (including the wily Merriam brothers). The author navigates a complex story, bringing to life the passions and ideologies that shaped the early American lexicon.
The Red Daughter, by John Burnham Schwartz (Random House). Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, defected from the Soviet Union in 1967, leaving behind two children. Schwartz’s novel, told through journal entries, charts her encounter with America. “My translator desires me to buy new shoes,” Svetlana writes. “Apparently what one does in America.” Interspersed among the entries are notes from Peter Horvath (a young lawyer based partly on Schwartz’s father), who is appointed to chaperone Svetlana under C.I.A. cover to the United States, and who becomes her lover. Svetlana dwells less on her father’s evil than on her own wrongdoing in the abandonment of her children. In America, she goes on to marry, to bear another child, and to make many different homes, yet she belongs nowhere.
The Affairs of the Falcóns, by Melissa Rivero (Ecco). Set in New York City in the nineties and told from the perspective of Ana, an undocumented twenty-seven-year-old mother of two from Peru, this début novel captures the unrelenting anxiety of living without papers in the United States. In order to survive, Ana must compromise her home (by living with resentful relatives), her body (by sleeping with a moneylender), and her marriage (by keeping these secrets and others). Yet she will not return to Peru, where her class and skin tone make her an outcast. Struggling to sleep, Ana sees “her children clinging to their father, to each other, as if a deluge was about to overtake them and they were each other’s only salvation.”