The next best thing to a new history by Ian Buruma, twice named one of Foreign Policy’s top 100 public intellectuals, is a collection of his fine essays. Theater of Cruelty (New York Review Books, $29.95) contains twenty-eight pieces of commentary and criticism Buruma has published over the last two decades. Putting near-equal weight on the two halves of his title, Theater includes a look at the plays of Alan Bennett, Mike Leigh, and the dramatic adaptation of Anne Frank’s Diary as well as films by Fassbinder, Eastwood, Herzog, and Kurosawa, and considers the “theatrical” with an exhibit of David Bowie’s “outrageously beautiful” costumes. “Theater” here also means “theater of war,” and Buruma tests the cultural icons against humanity’s darker impulses. Admitting his “fearful fascination with power and cruelty,” Buruma is especially eloquent on events and people that tangle the lines of art and violence; was Leni Riefenstahl both a Nazi and an artist? Is such a hybrid possible? Similar questions arise with the Japanese painter Foujita, who joined the French modernists before the war but produced images praising Japanese militarism during it. While Buruma deeply admires art and artists, he understands they are not infallible. At bottom, his work is a warning to all that “cultural sophistication, alas, is no prophylactic against the allure of terrible ideas.”
Theater of Cruelty: Art, Film, and the Shadows of War Cover Image
ISBN: 9781590177778
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: New York Review Books - September 16th, 2014

In The Meaning of Human Existence (Liveright, $23.95) Edward O. Wilson starts at the beginning of it all; that is, somewhere between two to three million years ago, when the first homo habilis, our pre-human ancestors, banded together. He then retraces how that early move toward societies led, over the course of the next few million years, to changes in our cerebral cortex. The impact of communal life has been tremendous, Wilson declares, and he discusses individual and group selection within this template of social organization. His thesis, simply put, is that, “selfish members win within groups, but groups of altruists best groups of selfish members.” The two competing dynamics of natural selection—the good of the individual, and the good of the species—fostered the “genetic chimera” that we are today as creatures built of contradictions: endlessly creative, and at once the victims of selfishness and embodiments of ideals of honor and virtue. Wilson, one of our most accomplished and respected scientists, writes in an engaging, conversational tone. He explores the possibilities of the human mind and the importance of the group as well as considering the place of both in current value systems. This passionate little book presents the biological and evolutionary foundations of our genetic past as the key to understanding our beliefs, behavior, and future.

The Meaning of Human Existence Cover Image
ISBN: 9780871401007
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Liveright - October 6th, 2014

The Meaning of Human Existence Cover Image
ISBN: 9781631491146
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Liveright - September 7th, 2015