Mosh Pit Diplomacy

The New York Times, February 25, 2011

A review of "How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance," by Parag Khanna

The would-be foreign policy prodigy Parag Khanna made a splash with “The Second World,” by announcing with great fanfare what everyone already knew: that the international order was changing. Having described this grave new world, Khanna now claims to tell us how to run it. The result is another easy, breezy book. 

An Erratic Path Through the Storm

The Boston Globe, March 9, 2008

A review of “Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World,” by Samantha Power

Rather than set out to write the dual biography of a man and the world, Power should have focused on that man and the UN. As she zooms in and out between foreground and background, the space in the middle, where lies much of the most interesting material, stays out of focus.

The Faces of Tariq Ramadan

The New York Times, April 1, 2007

A review of “In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons From the Life of Muhammad,” by Tariq Ramadan

Muhammad may not have been as sober and sensible as Ramadan writes, but why take issue with this portrayal if it can help reconcile Islam with Western liberalism today? 

Words Can Kill

The Los Angeles Times, October 10, 2006

A review of "Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo Van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance," by Ian Buruma

Studying marginal people is one way to explore the limits of tolerance, as the book promises, but not to understand its core features, which is probably more important.

The Last Word: "I Knew Nothing"

Newsweek (International Edition), September 18, 2006

An interview with Khieu Samphan, the president of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge

Question: "Do you have any regrets?"

Answer: "I regret that so many lives were lost for nothing. Had we at least advanced economically, the unhappiness would have been good for something."

Question: "If today Cambodia were more like China, the experience would have been worth it?"

Answer: "Frankly, yes.

The Synesthetic Cookbook

The New York Times Magazine, December 11, 2005

A computer database of 60,000 recipes searchable by sensation and emotion, in addition to ingredient and cooking method, allows diners to go not only across cultures but also beyond them.

A search, admittedly perverse, for something ''sweet,'' ''salty,'' ''sour,'' ''meaty,'' ''dessertish,'' ''primal'' and ''sophisticated'' yields something called the Brunswick stew. ''Parboil two rabbits and four squirrels,'' the recipe directs. That's a primal dish, all right -- and a sophisticated punishment for trying to stump the program. 

Taming the Global Frontier

The Los Angeles Times, September 25, 2005

A review of "Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground," by Robert D. Kaplan

The book's central metaphor — that the world today is like the Wild West of 150 years ago — contradicts its basic assumption: that the United States is a benevolent power. Wasn't the march across what Kaplan calls "Injun Country" one of brutal conquest?

Postcolonial Tug of War

The New York Times, August 14, 2005

A review of "I Didn't Do it For You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation," by Michela Wrong

In her dogged optimism, Wrong resembles the Eritreans who, despite worsening conditions, can't seem to fathom that the president who brought them independence may be incapable of delivering democracy. 

Europe, Here We Come

The Los Angeles Times, November 14, 2004

A review of "Empire 2.0: A Modest Proposal for a United States of the West by Xavier De C***" by Regis Debray

More than other recent treatments of the American empire complex, this whimsical yet somber book, fashioned like a dialogue from another era, sharply captures the malaise of our time.