A small group of wildebeest stopped to watch us pass. They were headed to the larger herd. Their life was a process, a cycle, a never-ending circle. But wasn’t mine, too? All my life, I’d thought: If I can just make more money. If I can just birth this baby. If I can just get him through those scary first few months. If I can just make it through my first three weeks back at work. If I can just get my son potty trained. If I can just get a book contract. If I can just make it through the next eight nights sleeping alone in a canvas tent. If I can just. If I can just. If I can just.
Staring into the field of hooves pounding the earth, it was clear I had been denying myself this: The seasonal migrations of my life, the initiations, would never end. There would always be a proving ground to face. But acknowledging and embracing this was crucial to moving forward. It seemed a path to reduced anxiety, and I could surely use that. Letting go of the abstract idea that at some point my life would be more complete than it was that very moment felt like letting go of some sort of underlying constant fear I wasn’t aware I had. Standing in the center of the Serengeti, it was apparent: I would benefit from balancing my abstract human thoughts with the visceral, phenomena-centered viewpoint of the animals that lived there.
“Phenomenal” is defined as that which is amazing. It also means that which is directly observable to the senses. And what began as a tour of extraordinary sights had evolved into the story of how—in an abstract, digital world of overspecialization—I was becoming the expert witness of my own life. Each time I returned home—as I did for months at a time, in between two-week phenomena chases—I brought an expanded, global sense of wonder home to bear on my own backyard, alongside my family.
“They are going to cross,” my guide David said, nodding toward wildebeest that had lined the dirt road. Their pulse would quicken as they ventured out, but once they were back in the grass, it would slow. They’d move on, in every sense of the phrase.
David picked up speed in our safari vehicle, determined to reach camp before dark. I turned to watch the animals brave their crossing, but all I could see was a cloud of volcanic dust rising in our wake.
Elizabeth, New Jersey
April 17, 1975
It was just after midnight in birthing room 4C and Dr. Sherman, the mustached obstetrician presiding over the delivery, was sweating lightly into his cotton underwear, holding out his hands like a beggar, ready to receive the imminent cranium.
Without warning, the room was plunged into total darkness.
Though he had been delivering babies for more than thirty years now, Dr. Sherman was so taken aback by this complete loss of vision that he briefly considered, and then rejected, the possibility of his own death. Desperate to get his bearings, he wheeled around, trying to locate the sans serif glow of the emergency exit sign across the hall, but this too had gone dark.
“Doctor?” the nurse called next to him.
“The exit!” he hissed into the darkness.
All through the hospital, a wash of panic spread over staff and patients alike as life support machines failed and surgeons were left holding beating hearts in pitch-black operating theaters. None of the backup systems — the two generators in the basement, the giant, deep- cycle batteries outside the ICU, usually so reliable in blackouts such as this one — appeared to be working. It was a catastrophe in the making. Electricity had quite simply vanished.
In birthing room 4C, Dr. Sherman was jolted into action by Charlene, the expectant mother, who gave a single, visceral cry that let everyone know, in no uncertain terms, that the baby was still coming. Maybe the baby had already come, under shroud of darkness. Dr. Sherman instinctively reached down and, sure enough, felt the conical crown of the baby’s skull emerging from his mother’s vagina. He guided this invisible head with the tips of his ten fingers, pulling, gathering, turning so that the head and neck were once again square with the baby’s shoulders, which still lingered in Charlene’s birth canal. He did this pulling, gathering, turning without seeing, with only the memory infused in the synapses of his cortex, and his blindness was a fragile kind of sleep.
As he shepherded the child from its wet, coiled womb into a new kind of darkness, Dr. Sherman heard a distinct clicking sound. At first he thought the sound was coming from the birth canal, but then he located the clicking as coming from just behind him, over his right shoulder. Suddenly his vision was bathed in a syrupy yellow light. The father of the newborn, Kermin Radmanovic, who had earlier brought a transceiver radio and a telegraph key into the birthing room in order to announce his child’s arrival to the world, was waving a pocket flashlight wrapped in tinfoil at the space between his wife’s legs.
“He is okay?” asked Kermin. “He comes now?” His accent was vaguely Slavic, the fins of his words dipping their uvular tips into a smooth lake of water.
Everyone looked to where the beam of light had peeled back the darkness. There glistened the torpedo-like head of the child, covered in a white, waxen substance. The sight encouraged Dr. Sherman back into action. He first slipped his finger beneath the child’s chin, but when he felt no sign of the umbilical cord wrapped around the neck, he yelled, “Push!”
Excerpts and more are available at the links below!
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
A hilarious, thoughtful, and in-depth exploration of the pleasures and perils of modern romance from one of this generation’s most popular and sharpest comedic voices
The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl
The bestselling author of The Dante Club takes us deep into a shadowy era in publishing ruled by a forgotten class of criminals
Jacksonland by Steve Inskeep
A thrilling narrative history of two men–President Andrew Jackson and Cherokee Chief John Ross–who led their respective nations at a crossroads of American history
The Good Gut by Justin and Erica Sonnenburg
A groundbreaking guide to the surprising source of good health
The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson
Two sisters are suddenly sent from their home in Brooklyn to Barbados to live with their grandmother, in this stunning debut novel
Zero Zero Zero by Roberto Saviano
From the author of the #1 international bestseller Gomorrah comes a groundbreaking investigation of the international cocaine trade, as vicious as it is powerful, and its hidden role in the global economy
A Beautiful Question by Frank Wilczek
A mind-shifting book that braids the age-old quest for beauty and truth into a thrilling synthesis
Barbarian Days by William Finnegan
A deeply rendered self-portrait of a lifelong surfer by the acclaimed New Yorker writer
Undocumented by Dan-el Padilla Peralta
An undocumented immigrant’s journey from a New York City homeless shelter to the top of his Princeton class
The Man in the Monster by Martha Elliott
An astonishing portrait of a murderer and his complex relationship with a crusading journalist
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
A lonely young woman working in a boys’ prison outside Boston in the early 60s is pulled into a very strange crime, in a mordant, harrowing story of obsession and suspense, by one of the brightest new voices in fiction
The Road Not Taken by David Orr
A cultural “biography” of Robert Frost’s beloved poem, arguably the most popular piece of literature written by an American
Dana Thomas is the author of Deluxe and Gods and Kings. Full Bio
After McQueen’s graduation from Central Saint Martins, everyone around him urged him to stage a bona fide fashion show. It was time.
McQueen called the collection Nihilism because he said it was about anti-Romanticism. He turned the models into modern punks, bruised and smeared with dirt, their eyes made up to look drug-addict hollow, their hair savage Sid Vicious-like mohawks tinged with red.
A crowd of about three hundred filtered into the first-floor warehouse-like room as a sound track of house and riot grrrl music blared on the sound system.
When the show started, about half an hour late, the models exploded with a hard attitude and stormed past the crowd as the deejay played Nirvana, L7’s “Pretend We’re Dead,” and Cypress Hill’s “I Wanna Get High,” punctuated with silences. One girl pogo danced all the way down the runway. Another model, a student from Central Saint Martins also named Lee who had a boy/girl look, came out bare chested. Many of the models gave the crowd the finger as they walked by.
Like Galliano for his St. Martins degree show, McQueen played with the look of Les Merveilleuses, the late-eighteenth-century Frenchwomen who dressed in flowing, pale, sheer gowns. And like when Galliano reprised the look of muslin disease gowns for his Fallen Angels show, McQueen doused models with water to make the dresses cling to their skin. But where Galliano’s versions looked historic and costume-like and would have seemed strange on a woman in the street or at a party, McQueen’s take was defiantly modern and flagrantly sexual: sleek sleeveless ivory columns molded erotically on the breasts as if they were strapped in S&M harnesses; cling-wrap panties; trousers sliced down the back seam to reveal the buttocks; his signature bumster pants with waistlines cut so low the models had to shave their pubic hair backstage. One T-shirt, with his logo printed large across the breasts, had two smeared bloody handprints down the front, as if a violent murderer was leaving his mark on his latest victim.
If Galliano was a romantic, McQueen was a pornographer. The Larry Flynt of Fashion. He didn’t believe anything was off-limits. Nothing—nothing—was taboo. He accepted the brutality of human nature, thought it normal, didn’t try to suppress it. He didn’t want to put women on a pedestal like untouchable, unreachable goddesses. He wanted to empower them. He wanted to help them use the power of their sex to its fullest.
Buy Believer before it comes out on February 10 and receive a bookplate signed by David Axelrod. Details here.
92ND STREET Y/In Conversation with David Remnick
91st. Street and Lexington Ave.
New York, NY
2/10/15, 7:30 pm
POLITICS & PROSE AT 6TH AND I/In Conversation with John Dickerson
at 6th and I
2/11/15, 7 pm
GREATER BOSTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
776 Boylston Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
2/13/15, 12 pm
HARVARD BOOKSTORE AT FIRSH PARRISH CHURCH/In Conversation with David Gergen
1446 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02138
2/13/15, 7 pm
PHILADELPHIA FREE LIBRARY/In Conversation with E.J. Dionne
1901 Vine St
Philadelphia, PA 19103
2/15/15, 12 pm
INSTITUTE OF POLITICS – UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO
1414 East 59th Street
2/16/15, 6 pm
UNION LEAGUE CLUB AUTHORS GROUP/In Conversation with Rick Kogan
65 W Jackson Blvd
Chicago, IL 60604
2/16/15, 11:30 am
LAPL AT THE WALLIS THEATER/In Conversation with Michel Martin (of NPR)
9390 N Santa Monica Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA
2/17/15, 7:30 pm
COMPUTER HISTORY MUSEUM/In Conversation with John Hollar
1401 N Shoreline Blvd.
Mountain View, CA 94043
2/18/15, 12 pm
JCC OF SAN FRANCISCO/In Conversation with David Plouffe
3200 California St
San Francisco, CA 94118
2/18/15, 7 pm
BERKELEY ARTS & LETTERS/In Conversation with Robert Reich
First Congregational Church
2345 Channing Way at Dana
2/19/15, 7:30 pm
TOWN HALL, SEATTLE/In Conversation with Steve Scher
1119 8th Ave.
Seattle, WA 98101-2738
2/20/15, 7:30 pm
2313 Red River St.
Austin, TX 78705
2/25/15, 6 pm
WORLD AFFAIRS COUNCIL OF DALLAS/FORT WORTH
400 Crescent Ct
Dallas, TX 75201
2/26/15, 7 pm
CHICAGO TRIBUNE / PRINTER’S ROW/In Conversation with Clarence Page
Chicago, IL 60611
3/3/15, 7 pm
Johnson often scoffed at the perception that he had extraordinary human skills that enabled him to move his colleagues. Indeed, he had lost some of his ability to directly shape this process when he moved from Capitol Hill to the White House. As president, he had to rely on legislators to do for him much of the legislative work he had once done for himself. About his power, he once complained, “The only power I’ve got is nuclear . . . and I can’t use that!”
The key to the success of the Great Society had less to do with the popularity of liberalism or the power of Johnson than with the changes between the summer of 1964 and the November elections that created unusually good conditions in Congress for passing bills. In other words, we need a less Johnsoncentric view to understand how this historic burst of liberal domestic legislation happened. We need to ask not only what Lyndon Johnson did that was so special but what legislative conditions existed that allowed someone with Johnson’s skills to succeed.
During this critical period, the power of the conservative coalition was diminished, first by the actions of the civil rights movement, which in 1963 and 1964 placed immense pressure on legislators in both parties to pass laws that would benefit African Americans, and subsequently by the 1964 elections, which gave liberals the huge majorities they needed to prevent conservative committee chairmen from thwarting their domestic policy aims in Congress. Not only did liberal Democrats have the votes necessary to pass bills and kill filibusters, but Republican moderates, a sizable force in their party, were running as fast as they could from all positions that might allow Democrats to brand them as right-wing extremists in the wake of the ultraconservative senator Barry Goldwater’s landslide loss in the presidential election.
Johnson deserves his share of credit, but less for being a skilled politician who could steamroll a recalcitrant Congress than for taking advantage of good legislative conditions when they emerged. Moreover, Johnson’s success with domestic programs resulted from a risky political maneuver he undertook in 1964 and 1965 to maintain momentum for his legislation. Resisting all the opposition he faced from White House advisers and legislators, Johnson escalated American involvement in Vietnam. There were many reasons why he ended up listening to the hawks and embarking on a disastrous war, including his general agreement with the domino theory of communism, but one of the most important was a political calculation that a liberal Democratic president had to be hawkish on foreign policy in order to be successful.