Magazine article The New Yorker

[ Briefly Noted ];

Magazine article The New Yorker

[ Briefly Noted ];

Article excerpt

Tommy the Cork, by David McKean (Steerforth; $25). When Lyndon Johnson was starting out as a congressman, in 1937, F.D.R. handed him a slip of paper. "Here's a telephone number," he said. "When you get to Washington, ask for Tom." At the time, Thomas (the Cork) Corcoran was a New Deal official whose modest title didn't convey his influence, but he soon left government and, with dazzling speed and cynicism, set up shop as the prototypical K Street lobbyist. Many lobbyists can solve regulatory problems; it's the rare one who can get the C.I.A. to buy an airline, hire Evita to hawk aspirin, and help orchestrate a military coup on behalf of the United Fruit Company. McKean, a Senate staffer who works for John Kerry, attempts to portray his subject as a fallen idealist--a tough sell, given that Corcoran doesn't seem to have ever had ideals to lose.

The Siberian Curse, by Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy (Brookings; $18.95). Solzhenitsyn once noted that Siberia offers "plenty of room in which to correct all our idiocies." For centuries, the vast expanse east of the Urals has been a place of mythic promise and peril, its frigid terrain and unending horizons essential to Russia's sense of itself. This incisive polemic, however, argues that if Russians hope to attain prosperity they should abandon their eastern territories, where not a single settlement is economically viable. Of all the political pathologies to emerge from the Soviet experiment, none were so grandiose and manifestly disastrous as the attempt to fashion an industrial utopia in the Siberian wasteland. The policy left nearly a third of Russia's hundred and forty-five million inhabitants stranded in places where even basic survival requires a constant and costly stream of supplies. The authors make their case vigorously, but they recognize that the bureaucratic barriers to leaving remain severe, and that national myths are potent. …

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