What it means to be fat in France is for the first time up for discussion in France. “I decided to write the book,” she says, “because I no longer want to apologise for existing. Yes obesity has doubled in the past 10 years, that’s much too much. But it does not mean we discriminate against the obese in telling them they can’t work and insulting them.”
Gabrielle, who couldn’t even look at a picture of herself until six months ago, has prepared herself for this moment. “My publisher said: ‘You will be on TV and it will be hard.’ So, with a friend, we started doing pictures of me in a swimming pool so I could accept how I looked in a swimsuit.” (On France’s beaches, disgusted passers-by have told her to “Please cover up.”) “Because I was doing it for a purpose, it had meaning.”
On the southern edge of Paris, a five-thousand-square-foot basement houses the city’s lost possessions. The Bureau of Found Objects, as it is officially called, is more than two hundred years old, and one of the largest centralized lost and founds in Europe. Any item left behind on the Métro, in a museum, in an airport, or found on the street and dropped, unaddressed, into a mailbox makes its way here, around six or seven hundred items each day. Umbrellas, wallets, purses, and mittens line the shelves, along with less quotidian possessions: a wedding dress with matching shoes, a prosthetic leg, an urn filled with human remains. The bureau is an administrative department, run by the Police Prefecture and staffed by very French functionaries—and yet it’s also an improbable, poetic space where the entrenched French bureaucracy and the societal ideals of the country collide.
Bernie Sanders talks about economic inequality all the time, and it’s a message that resonates. You don’t need to be a socialist to worry about the divide between rich and poor in America. Many Americans across the political spectrum claim to be deeply troubled by economic inequality, and many say they support changes that would yield a more equal distribution of income and wealth.
But in his just-published book, On Inequality, the philosopher Harry Frankfurt argues that economic equality has no intrinsic value. This is a moral claim, but it’s also a psychological one: Frankfurt suggests that if people take the time to reflect, they’ll realize that inequality isn’t really what’s bothering them.
This is Taubman's second biography of an outsized Soviet leader, the first being his 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning Khrushchev: The Man and His Era. But this time Taubman's research included hours of interviews with his subject, 86 and living in Moscow. His admiration and even affection for Mikhail Gorbachev, last leader of the Soviet Union, are clear.
That might call into question the impartiality of a lesser biographer. But Taubman makes a convincing case that Gorbachev's profound "decency" — the word appears throughout the book — is fundamental to understanding him.
At the end of this memoir, in the acknowledgments, Claire Tomalin thanks her husband, Michael Frayn, for his patience in discussing “doubts and problems”, and for encouraging her to keep going when “I was close to giving up”. It is outside the province of the book to explore the doubts in detail or to explain why she almost ditched it. But as one reads, one speculates about the difference between writing biographies, as Tomalin has with questing brilliance – on Mary Wollstonecraft, Katherine Mansfield, Dora Jordan, Nelly Ternan, Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys, Thomas Hardy – and writing about herself. The book, absorbing, moving and marvellously written, will not let this question drop.