Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Article excerpt

Notes on a Foreign Country, by Suzy Hansen (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Hansen, a reporter, moved to Turkey in 2007 and found that, as she probed her subjects' anxieties and blind spots, she was compelled to question everything she presumed to know about being American. Anchored in the work of James Baldwin, who spent several emancipatory years in Istanbul, her memoir is a piercingly honest critique of the unexamined white American life. Hansen finds a willful innocence in American assumptions, an obliviousness to history and to the burdens of imperial power. She comes to see the anti-Americanism she encounters as "a defensive crouch," rooted in "bewilderment that an enormous force controls your life but does not know or love you."

Scale, by Geoffrey West (Penguin). Undergirding this sweeping work is the observation that biological and social systems respond similarly as they grow in size: an animal twice your size usually requires seventy-five per cent more calories to stay alive; as the population of a city doubles, the number of gas stations rises by around eighty-five per cent. However, cities, unlike biological systems, also manifest super-linear growth: double the size of a city and the crime rate jumps by about a hundred and fifteen per cent. Touching on subjects as diverse as Godzilla's infeasibility and the long-term survival prospects of human civilization, West demonstrates that laws of scaling are remarkably universal.

Reading with Patrick, by Michelle Kuo (Random House). The author, a Harvard-educated child of Taiwanese immigrants, volunteered for Teach for America in a small town in the Arkansas Delta. …

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