Inside the lobby of MAD magazine was an orange naugahyde couch, an old standing ashtray next to it, like the kind in train stations when people dressed up to travel, and a larger-than-life statue of Alfred E. Neuman, patron saint of adolescent parody, in a pith helmet and safari fatigues. Dad approached the nonplussed receptionist and, with all the insincere aplomb of the 1960s campus subversive he is and always will be, said directly, "We're here for the tour," and waited for the answer.
We got it.
The intersection of music and violence has inspired a spate of academic studies. On my desk is a bleak stack of books examining torture and harassment, the playlists of Iraq War soldiers and interrogators, musical tactics in American crime-prevention efforts, sonic cruelties inflicted in the Holocaust and other genocides, the musical preferences of Al Qaeda militants and neo-Nazi skinheads. There is also a new translation, by Matthew Amos and Fredrick Rönnbäck, of Pascal Quignard’s 1996 book, “The Hatred of Music” (Yale), which explores age-old associations between music and barbarity.
Jean Edward Smith’s biography of George W. Bush goes on sale a day before the former President’s seventieth birthday, and it’s safe to say that no one will be bringing it as a present to the ranch outside Crawford. Smith, a well-regarded practitioner of military history and Presidential-life writing, comes straight to the point in the first sentence of his preface: “Rarely in the history of the United States has the nation been so ill-served as during the presidency of George W. Bush.” By the book’s last sentence, Smith is predicting a long debate over whether Bush “was the worst president in American history,” and while the biographer doesn’t vote on the question himself, the unhappy shade of James Buchanan will feel strongly encouraged by his more than six hundred pages.
And yet, for all the overheated denunciations—a rhetorical comparison gets made between Bush and Hitler—“Bush” (Simon & Schuster) doesn’t feel like a hatchet job. Like Bush himself, it is susceptible to sudden changes of heart and tone, and it never quite gets over a sense of loss for aspects of the pre-9/11 figure that Smith seems to enjoy imagining, however sketchily, in the book’s early stages.
Tom Michell is a self-described callow youth when he arrives inArgentina in the 1970s to teach in a boys’ boarding school, “a country boy from the gentle Downs of rural Sussex” who is unprepared for life under Isabel Perón’s government, and the threat of a military coup. But The Penguin Lessons isn’t a history book, or a travelogue, either, although it does touch on politics and on Michell’s explorations: it’s the story of how, on one of his journeys, he found an oil-drenched penguin on the beach in Punta del Este in Uruguay, and smuggled it back to his school.
Forget love, forget war, forget decency and kindness or cruelty and apathy—it’s sausages that all of us, all over the world, have in common. Virtually every culture, tribe, nation, ethnic group has a sausage; most of them have many.