Monday May 9th, 2011

The Beat

A weekly roundup of noteworthy reviews from other sources.

H. Allen Orr writes an incisive critique of Sam Harris’ latest book, a book subtitled “How Science Can Determine Human Values.” And Jackson Lears takes a long look at the same book, not in the mood for taking prisoners: “His books display a stunning ignorance of history, including the history of science. For a man supposedly committed to the rational defense of science, Harris is remarkably casual about putting a thumb on the scale in his arguments.” . . . Richard Posner considers the public-relations side of the U.S. Supreme Court, and a few other issues besides: “The justices are competent and experienced lawyers, but nowadays are apt to lack the worldly experience that might help them in deciding the most important and controversial cases — the ones with large political or social resonance — wisely.” . . . John Self makes a book I’ve never heard of, about a man I’ve never heard of who seems like a ghastly human being, sound completely worthwhile: “After making me want to read the books again (or buy the ones I didn’t have), the greatest effect of this biography was to render me amazed that such a louche, unreliable and frequently addled character could have produced such tight, witty writing.” . . . Ian Brown’s new memoir is about his severely disabled son Walker. Roger Rosenblatt says, “Walker brings a strange, sweet love to his family, not because he exhibits love himself, but rather because he elicits their capacity for it.” . . . Laura Miller reviews Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test, a book that proceeds “with the excitable Ronson pinging wildly back and forth between finding psychopaths everywhere he looks (he’s particularly concerned that many political and business leaders might meet the criteria) and questioning the validity of psychiatric diagnosis itself.” . . . Nicholas Lezard reviews Helen Simpson’s new book of short stories: “Every five years she sends out a collection of her latest perceptions on the battle of the sexes, or the trials of parenthood. Twenty years after she started, life is getting no easier.”