Maria Konnikova’s new book arrives just as the idea of “the confidence man” is back in the news. “Con man” and “con artist” are terms that have been bestowed by Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio on their party’s nominee for the presidency. But Konnikova, in The Confidence Game, is not interested in politics per se. Instead, in certain respects, she seeks to follow in the path of David Maurer, citing his research several times in her widely publicized work. Back in 1940, Maurer, a linguistics professor, published a close and candid study of a certain, and certainly fascinating, aspect of criminal…
Styles make fights, boxing analysts say. So it’s not surprising that more than three decades later, Roberto Durán’s first two fights against Sugar Ray Leonard, in 1980, still make for such compelling viewing. These fighters were opposites in so many ways. Durán was known for a style that stressed skilled infighting and hard, relentless punching. He scored 69 victories, 55 by knockout, in his first 70 fights. He was famous as the fearsome man with las manos de piedra—“hands of stone.”
Whit Stillman made his name in 1990 with Metropolitan, an Oscar-nominated low-budget charmer that remains fresh and enjoyable today. Stillman wrote and directed the film, which focused on a group of mostly well-heeled college freshmen who spend Christmas break frequenting elegant parties and late night bull sessions in what one character calls the “urban haute bourgeoisie” haunts of Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Back in the 1950s, when Mario Vargas Llosa was a university student in Peru, the standards for great literature were clear. Cervantes, Flaubert, Tolstoy, and such key 20th century novelists as James Joyce and Thomas Mann, observes Vargas Llosa in Notes on the Death of Culture, “wrote books that looked to defeat death, outlive their authors and continue attracting and fascinating readers in the future.” Novels like Ulysses and The Magic Mountain, produced through “indefatigable efforts,” required of their readers “an intellectual concentration almost as great as that of their writers.” In fact culture itself, notes Vargas Llosa in this relatively…
In his 1908 short story “To Build a Fire,” Jack London portrays a man trekking through the snow and ice in the Yukon. The man begins his journey with great confidence, even though he is inexperienced in such a harsh terrain. He has dressed warmly and brought food; a loyal dog follows at his heels. And London’s character remains confident, even as the temperature drops to 50 below zero and an “intangible pall” hangs over the intimidating scene. Bit by bit, though, his confidence slackens as he grasps the numbing fact that he cannot fend off the tremendous cold nor cope with the “strangeness and weirdness of it all,” that his own body will become totally frozen in an unforgiving landscape of “unbroken white.”
Colm Toibin, it often seems, is everywhere. He divides his time between Dublin and Barcelona, and teaches frequently in the United States. He publishes about a book a year—novels, short stories, literary criticism—and his essays and reviews on artistic and cultural topics appear regularly in a variety of publications, including the Guardian and the London Review of Books. He lectures widely and grants lots of interviews. With the possible exception of William Trevor, Toibin is Ireland’s best-known literary figure.
William Bulger was a “throwback,” reported 60 Minutes back in 1992, one of those colorful politicians who relished his job and seemed to know most of his constituents by name. Bulger had served in the lower house of Massachusetts’ legislature and as president of its Senate, and 60 Minutes showed him in all his anachronistic glory, crooning Irish ballads and marching in South Boston’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. Billy Bulger had grown up in “Southie” and never left, thriving in his public roles by mixing patronage and charm in the manner of his boyhood hero, the four-term Boston mayor John Michael Curly (inspiration for Edwin O’Connor’s famous 1956 novel, The Last Hurrah).
Bulger, however, did have one particularly “sensitive issue,” said the show’s longtime reporter, Morley Safer. It was his older brother Jimmy, a.k.a., Whitey, who happened to be “one of the most feared mobsters in Boston.” This Bulger was rarely glimpsed in public, said Safer, sticking mainly to the shadowy underworld where only criminals and cops were likely to go. You’d never see Whitey, the black sheep of the family, strutting with a shillelagh in a St. Patrick’s Day parade.
In September 1988, Michael Dukakis and George H. W. Bush met in their second televised presidential debate. Moderator Bernard Shaw of CNN began by inviting Dukakis, the Governor of Massachusetts, to imagine his wife Kitty as the victim of a horrible crime. “Governor,” asked Shaw, “if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?”
The question wasn’t entirely out of the blue; Dukakis’ opposition to the death penalty was well-known and Republican strategists had aimed to portray him as generally soft on crime. But clearly Shaw was not hoping to initiate a thoughtful discussion of law and order issues. The first debate had been widely described as dull; the CNN newsman seemed determined to make sure that this one was not short of dramatic pizzazz. Would the bland Dukakis squirm and sweat uncomfortably? Would he flare up in rage? Of course the question was tasteless. But a fraught response would make good TV.