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Hot Frenchman

The Wonky Elite’s False Prophet

© Charles Platiau / Reuters

Thomas Piketty and his ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ are white hot, but he’s no ‘Tocqueville for Today’—and he and his fan club have Tocqueville all wrong.

In case you hadn’t heard, there’s a new Frenchman in town. Armed with progressives’ two favorite things—statistics and a European accent—the celebrity economist Thomas Piketty has hit American shores in support of his new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.Sadly for Piketty, his explanatory socialism is a nonstarter for every American except a handful of media, academic, and policy elites. In an ominous example of just how out of touch those elites have become, two of them have produced a wildly mistaken assessment of Piketty’s work—and haven’t raised so much as a peep of objection.

Ah, Paris

French Auto-Racer Turns Nazi Spy

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Francine Prose’s absorbing new novel tackles Europe between the wars, concentrating on a real-life cross-dressing former athlete who cast her lot with Hitler.

Will readers ever get enough of the debauched, smoke-filled nightclubs of wartime Europe? The warbles of Edith Piaf and Pierre Bernac? The tuxedoed Marlene Dietrich? Hitler’s golden girl Leni Riefenstahl? It seems the answer is no—World War II and its surrounding events continue to be a goldmine for writers and filmmakers. Francine Prose, in a testament to her talents, has managed to create a wartime saga that is both original and epic. And yes, it’s based on a true story.

Doggedly Dogmatic

Why the Tea Party Won’t Go Away

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Matt Kibbe’s autobiographical manifesto sheds considerable light—not all of it intentional—on the curious staying power of the Tea Party.

OK, I admit I opened Matt Kibbe’s Don’t Hurt People and Don’t Take their Stuff: A Libertarian Manifesto expecting to hate it. Kibbe is president and CEO of FreedomWorks, a leading Tea Party organization. You just have to read Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein’s extremely even-handed It’s Even Worse Than It Looks to see why the Tea Party wing of today’s Republican party is largely responsible for Congress’s current dysfunction.The book is coming at what must be an unnerving time for Kibbe and his supporters.

Capitalism by the Numbers

Charles Platiau/Reuters

Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ is a not so surprising best seller—it’s rigorously researched and arrestingly written.

Capital in the Twenty-First Century By Thomas Piketty‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ by Thomas Piketty. 696 pp. Belknap Press. $39.95 hardcover.Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century is a dense, data-intensive tome, clocking in at nearly 700 pages with more than 100 graphs and tables. That a book like this is a New York Times best seller speaks to the fact that the publication of Capital in the Twenty-First Century is, in some circles, an event.

Perfect Pregnancy!

From ‘Clueless’ to Clueless

Photofest

Diapers are ‘pseudoscience.’ Dairy leaves ‘toxic sludge’ in your uterus. And whatever you do, don’t use tampons! Plus six more claims from the actress’s new book of amazing promises.

Alicia Silverstone, the Clueless star and former Aerosmith video vixen, caused controversy in 2012 after posting a video of herself pre-chewing her son’s food and transferring it from her mouth to his. Now she has written a book urging you to do the same.In The Kind Mama: A Simple Guide to Supercharged Fertility, a Radiant Pregnancy, a Sweeter Birth, and a Healthier, More Beautiful Beginning, Silverstone chronicles what might reasonably be called her unconventional parenting advice: Bananas are “a naughty food for a baby,” the diaper industry is “pseudoscience,” and vaccines are essentially shots of “aluminum and formaldehyde.

Enigma

Brilliant, Mysterious Penelope

Jillian Edelstein/ Camera Press/ Redux

Before she died, she was hailed as England’s greatest living writer, but she had a hard road getting there—at one point she even lived on a freezing, leaky barge.

“If a story begins with finding, it must end with searching,” says the epigraph of Hermione Lee’s biography of the English writer Penelope Fitzgerald.  The line is one of Fitzgerald’s: she attributes it to the German Romantic poet and philosopher Novalis in her last novel, The Blue Flower, which re-imagines his early life. But Hermione Lee—an Oxford professor of English, who has also written biographies of Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton—thought it was a “very telling and moving remark” about biography in general: “You think you know why you are doing it and you think you know roughly what the person is like, but as you embark on the story you find more mysteries,” she said when I spoke to her on the phone.

Really?

Fix America in Six Easy Steps!

Todd Heisler/The New York Times, Redux

From campaign finance to political gerrymandering, the retired Supreme Court justice skips hard arguments in his new book in favor of unrealistic, poorly drafted solutions.

Reading retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’s new book, Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, I was reminded of an old Steve Martin routine from his standup days. “First, get a million dollars,” Martin explains in “You Can Be a Millionaire and Never Pay Taxes.” Then if the tax collector comes to your door asking why you didn’t pay taxes on your million dollars, just say, “I forgot.” Just like Martin, Justice Stevens wants to skip all the tough stuff, using his slim volume to offer overly simplistic solutions to some of the country’s most pressing problems, from political gerrymandering to Second Amendment gun rights and campaign finance.

Longreads

The Week’s Best Longreads

From the hunt for musicians who disappeared without a trace to a baseball player’s secret escape from Cuba, the Daily Beast picks the best journalism from around the web this week.

The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie John Jeremiah Sullivan, The New York Times Magazine On the trail of the phantom women who changed American music and then vanished without a trace.Yasiel Puig’s Untold Journey to the Dodgers Jesse Katz, Los Angeles The shocking saga of Major League Baseball’s most controversial player.Capitalism Unbound Timothy Shenk, The Nation Thomas Piketty and the new millennial Marxists on the scourge of inequality.

Tasty Reads

Food from Your Favorite Books

Dinah Fried

Not content with just reading the vivid food descriptions in her favorite novels, Photographer Dinah Fried decided to cook and style the iconic dishes, served with a side of literature.

Polished Act

Mark Twain, Writing Coach

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Young writers besotted by the image of a swaggering, confident Twain should take heart: Underneath that white suit lurked an author as insecure and neurotic as those who idolize him.

At twenty-five, I started to write a book about Mark Twain at twenty-five. His life was more exciting than mine. By that age he’d piloted steamboats on the Mississippi, witnessed the start of the Civil War, and fled his native Missouri for the faraway frontier of Nevada. There he met outlaws, hustlers, hunters, and homesteaders, and dodged bullets and bowie knives. His world was alive with incident and intrigue.My life, on the other hand, consisted of long hours at the New York Public Library, and choosing what kind of sandwich to buy for lunch.

Born Skeptical

Ehrenreich Gives God a Going Over

Futh/laif/Redux

Social critic, scientist, muckraking journalist, Barbara Ehrenreich has never been one to take things on faith. In her new book she takes a hard look at everything from religion to science.

When she was a teenager, the prospect of the eradication of the human species did not strike the future social critic and activist Barbara Ehrenreich as particularly troubling. Humans were generally overrated. “I have known people who are duller than trees, as well as individual trees that surpassed most people in complexity and character,” she writes in her new book, Living With a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth About Everything.

History Lesson

Was There Really An Empty Tomb?

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What makes Jesus different from the prophets of the world’s other great religions? The claim that he rose from the dead and left behind an empty tomb. But how much do we know about that?

The discovery of the empty tomb presupposes that there was a tomb in the first place, and that it was known, and of course that it was discovered. But if serious doubt is cast on whether there ever was a tomb, then the accounts of its discovery are similarly thrown into doubt. Christian apologists often argue that the discovery of the empty tomb is one of the most secure historical data from the history of the early Christian movement. I used to think so myself.

WHAT NEXT?

An Edward Hopper Novel?

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Gift of the T.B. Walker Foundation, Gilbert M. Walker Fund

Two authors inspired by a Hopper painting are writing a serial story and posting new additions online throughout the month of April.

Have you ever found yourself staring at a painting, building in your mind a world of people, events, and emotions captured in that moment?All this month two authors have been taking that daydreaming tendency to a new new level by serially publishing an online novella inspired by Edward Hopper’s painting “Office at Night.”The novella, by Kate Bernheimer and Laird Hart, is in conjunction with the exhibition Hopper Drawing: A Painter’s Process organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art and on exhibit at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis through June 20.

Tale Spinner

García Márquez’s Real Magic

Graziano AriciGraziano Arici/eyevine/Redux

Gabriel García Márquez, dead at 87, wrote a lot of great fiction, but nothing greater than One Hundred Years of Solitude. Maybe nothing is.

If we were to rank the first lines of every novel ever written, the opening of One Hundred Years of Solitude would still be hard to beat.“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”If, after reading that sentence, you’re not at least a little curious about what comes next, you should check your pulse.Gabriel García Márquez, the Nobel Prize-winning Colombian novelist who died Thursday at 87, wrote a shelf full of excellent novels and stories.

Memoir

How to Be Popular, ’50s Style

When 15-year-old Maya Van Wagenen had trouble fitting in at middle school, she looked to a popularity guide from 1951 for answers. Read an excerpt from her hilarious and brave journey.

In 1951, model Betty Cornell penned a self-help book for young women struggling socially: Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide. Cornell provided insight on everything from wearing white pearls and girdles to the proper ways to fix one’s “figure problems.” Before entering the eighth grade, then-14-year-old Maya Van Wagenen discovered Cornell’s tome in her father’s office. Van Wagenen, who had been having difficulties fitting in at middle school, decided to follow Cornell’s advice and embark on the new school year with a 1950s mentality.

STUFFED

Dead and Beautiful

Joanna Ebenstein and Pat Morris

Rats, squirrels, and dead kittens in their Sunday best… A new book explores the fantastic anthropomorphic world of Walter Potter, one of the pre-eminent taxidermists of Victorian Britain.

Yes, those really are stuffed kittens dressed in finely detailed Victorian garb at a wedding, and that really is a squirrel at the club playing cribbage with a cigar hanging out of his mouth.Welcome to the weird and strange tableaux by the once well-known taxidermist Walter Potter, the subject a delightful new book, Walter Potter’s Curious World of Taxidermy, by Dr. Pat Morris and Joanna Ebenstein.The book details Potter’s work as one of the more prominent taxidermists of the Victorian Era, whose work became the foundation for a museum of oddities visited by millions during its existence, including the Bloomsbury Set and Queen Mary, and was covered by media outlets from as far afield as China.

Straight Talk

Dishing With a Takedown Artist

Rob Kim/Getty

Holly Peterson cast a cold eye on the Park Avenue set in her bestselling novel ‘The Manny.’ Now she’s taken on publishing’s meritocratic strivers. And she’s just as frank face to face.

Holly Peterson’s life is an urban safari—she’s constantly observing (and then writing it all down), whether it’s how the machers of New York operate, something she gets to see firsthand power lunching with her father, Peter Peterson, founder of the Blackstone Group, or the strange behavioral codes of the Park Avenue set, her own environs and a species she detailed in her 2006 bestselling novel, The Manny, inspired by her own male nanny.In her new novel, The Idea of Him, Peterson has turned her attention to a different tier of New York society: the hardworking publicist and mother of two, Allie Crawford.

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