Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Article excerpt

Briefly Noted

Lenin, by Victor Sebestyen (Pantheon). The Soviet Union's first head of state appears, in this enthralling biography, as "a thoroughly modern political phenomenon--the kind of demagogue familiar to us in Western democracies." Sebestyen's Lenin is not a coolly rational mastermind but a whimsical opportunist, who promised his followers everything ("bread, peace and land"), bypassed his own dogmas as it suited him, and flew into "petulant rages over minor matters." He scapegoated the vulnerable and evinced a particular animosity toward journalists, whom he lambasted for "sowing confusion by means of obviously defamatory distortion of the facts." His speech was peppered with obscenities, and, ideology notwithstanding, he "enjoyed the pleasures of a country squire's life." He even had small, ugly hands.

The Second Coming of the KKK, by Linda Gordon (Liveright). This account of the Ku Klux Klan's resurgence in the nineteen-twenties illuminates the surprising scope of the movement. Although it terrorized African-Americans in the South, its image elsewhere was more respectable. Members joined for status and to become better connected, and the Klan advocated temperance and sponsored family-friendly events. Still, it was vociferously anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and anti-Catholic, and was also the first national organization to reject evolutionary theory. Its eventual downfall, Gordon argues, had less to do with any public revulsion at its racism than with scandals and corruption: in 1925, an alcoholic Grand Dragon in Indiana was convicted of second-degree murder, after the suicide of a woman whom he had abducted and raped. …

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