Long before the city of lights became a nostalgia factory, Paris was a vast, teeming organism where all hustled and mixed company for business or pleasure. His subjects are rag-pickers, artists, sex workers, addicts, criminals, cops, merchants, shopkeepers, political agitators and the streets they prowled. These were folks who lived dangerous yet resourceful lives. With this masterwork, Luc Sante secures his place as one of the greatest historians of the underclass. He allows us to learn the truth about our past so that we may better serve our future.
Veteran journalist Glenn Frankel tells the story of the 1952 classic film High Noon against the tumultuous backdrop of the era of the Red Scare and Hollywood blacklist. Influenced very much by those times, the movie was conceived as a Western parable with a quiet political message defying the reactionary, toxic spirit of the era. The film’s success surprised many people, including its creators, and bitter arguments ensued over who was actually responsible for its greatness. A dogged and meticulous researcher, Frankel sorts through these disputes and provides a number of fresh facts, a good deal of clarity, and lots of fascinating trivia. But the larger relevance of the book, especially given present-day echoes to the blacklist movement and its fears of an America being usurped by outsiders, is what the story illustrates about how our politics and our creative enterprises can play off each other.
To explain Trump, Brexit, Timothy McVeigh, ISIS, and rising nationalist parties worldwide, Mishra traces globalization and its discontents back to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. His masterly synthesis of ideologies, movements, and political philosophies illustrates that modernity is a messy and uneven process. Even in the West, its transformation of societies has been disruptive and incomplete; as it’s reached other parts of the world, the jolt has been greater and all the more violent for the delay. While globalization has benefitted some, it’s left out many, and disappointed more. The continuous resentment it’s fueled hits especially hard where people have not only seen the promise of the new pass them by, but have lost the old traditions and faiths that kept life stable. With nothing to fall back on, many invent a glorious, mythic past, and commit themselves to regaining it—even as they use modern means and violence to do so. Mishra discusses Rousseau, Tocqueville, Bakunin, the German Romantics, Russian revolutionaries, and Italian Futurists in depth, clarifying the connections among them, and between their times and ours. His always telling and frequently shocking quotations not only elucidate the past but often sound like what we’re hearing today. The “age of anger” that started with modernity’s glittering promise isn’t over yet.