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Cecily Cecily

Writing Worth Reading

Watching The Eclipse

Virtuoso dissection of Mike McFaul’s doomed ambassadorship to Moscow, showing how he was plunged into a hostile environment without any of the necessary skills or experience and duly imploded. Spliced into the middle is a passage of current reportage from Moscow, interviewing various leading lights of Putinism — Kiselyov, Markov, Dugin, Prokhanov — who sound, without exaggeration, to be insane (11,500 words)

After The Crash

Commentary on the crisis in Ukraine, with remarks from former Kremlin spin-doctor Gleb Pavlovsky, who thinks Putin has gone too far: “The audience is warmed up and ready to go. It is waiting for more and more conflict. You can’t just say, ‘Calm down’. It’s a dangerous moment. Forty per cent of Russia wants real war with Ukraine. Putin himself doesn’t want war with Ukraine. Putin needs to lower the temperature” (1,110 words)

The New Yorker In The Forties

Immensely elegant essay, turning on the character of Harold Ross: “The war made The New Yorker. Ross knew it, even if the knowledge was tinged with regret … By the end of the decade, The New Yorker was flourishing, but Ross was a wreck. He suffered from ulcers, lung ailments, and general exhaustion. By the end of 1951 Ross was dead. The fifties were left to the men and women he had nurtured, hectored, cajoled, and, yes, inspired” (2,623 words)

Barack Obama: Going The Distance

Portrait of a President in the middle of his second term, and at a fairly low point in his fortunes. Healthcare is floundering; Snowden has shaken the country. It’s a sympathetic account, of course; Obama comes across, still, as a highly intelligent and likeable figure. But the mood is one of disappointment. What happened to the high hopes of 2008? What went wrong? Was there another way? (16,600 words)

Postscript: James Gandolfini 1961-2013

“He played within a certain range. Like Jackie Gleason, he’ll be remembered for a particular role, and a particular kind of role, but there is no underestimating his devotion to the part of a lifetime that was given to him. In the dozens of hours he had on the screen, he made Tony Soprano — lovable, repulsive, cunning, ignorant, brutal — more ruthlessly alive than any character we’ve ever encountered in television” (718 words)

The Culprits

Sensitive backgrounder on the Boston bombers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and their Chechen heritage. They lived an outwardly respectable life in America, and an inner one consuming violent propaganda on social media. “As the day was coming to an end, you could not help but feel something, too, for the parents of the perpetrators, neither of whom could fathom the possibility of their sons’ guilt, much less their cruelty and evil” (1,740 words)

Danse Macabre: Scandal At The Bolshoi Ballet

For better and worse, the Bolshoi is a microcosm of Russia: at its best, brilliant and extravagant; at its worst, vicious and turbulent. Even so, it was a shock to the dance world when the artistic director was almost blinded in an acid attack; and no less of a shock to find that one of the Bolshoi’s principal dancers had paid for the hit

What Obama Must Do About Guns

Obama showed deep emotion following massacre in Newtown. But emotion is not what’s needed. What’s needed is gun control. He said he reacted “as a parent”. He should react as a President

No More Magical Thinking

Did you enjoy Obama’s win? Good, because the celebration is over. Now the president must make a serious effort to tackle global warming. In deed, not merely words. Nothing less than a “sustained sense of urgency” will do

We Are Alive

Huge feature on Bruce Springsteen, still pumping it out at age 62. “His style in performance is joyously demonic, as close as a white man of Social Security age can get to James Brown circa 1962 without risking a shattered pelvis”


Timely analysis. “As an experiment in Jewish power, unique after two millennia of persecution and exile, Israel has reached an impasse. An intensifying conflict of values has put its democratic nature under tremendous stress”

Joe Frazier, RIP

“Despite all the psychological and racial dimensions of the Ali-Frazier fights in the seventies, I now see that struggle on an almost purely individual level, as a pure contest of inner strength, athleticism, and will”

State Of The Union

Book review that may obviate your need to read Jodi Kantor’s “The Obamas”. Her book serves up a few scoops of ice cream; Remnick gives some historical perspective on first couple dynamics. Nixon, predictably, comes out badly

The Civil Archipelago

Superb, and superbly readable, account of Russia under Putin. Captures cynicism, corruption and violence of the state; its historical underpinnings; and growing discontent following latest parliamentary elections

When The Towers Fell

New Yorker editor reflects on 10 years since 9/11. “We continue to reckon not only with the violence that bin Laden inflicted but with the follies, the misjudgments, and the violence that, directly or indirectly, he provoked”

Behind The Curtain

Commentary on Obama’s “leading from behind” style of foreign policy. Provoked ire of domestic critics but, in terms of outcomes, seems a decent result in Libya. A little modesty and understanding of difference are a good thing

A Man, A Plan

Editor calls Israeli ministers “anti-democratic, even proto-fascistic”. Says occupation of Palestinian territories is “illegal, inhumane, and inconsistent with Jewish values”. Urges Obama to visit Israel, present new peace plan


Profile of Israeli newspaper Haaretz, and its proprietor, Amos Schocken. Easily most liberal newspaper, arguably most important liberal institution in the country. But marginal, loss-making. May not last another generation

The Dictator Is Last To Know

“To watch Mubarak as he used every means of rhetorical deflection to delay his inevitable end was to watch a man so deluded, so deaf to the demands of history, that he was incapable of hearing an entire people screaming in his ear”

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