Thinking Big

In 1997, Bard College President Leon Botstein published Jefferson’s Children: Education and the Promise of American Culture. Botstein is a larger than life figure. A child musical prodigy, he attended the University of Chicago as an undergraduate and Harvard for a PhD in music history. He became president of Franconia College at the age of twenty-three and Bard in his late 20s. Along the way, Botstein became musical director of the American Symphony Orchestra. He founded the Bard Musical Festival and to this day runs the college. Bard has done extraordinarily well under his leadership. For most presidents, running a college is more than enough. Botstein also performs, conducts, and writes.

Jefferson’s Children calls for a major restructuring of American higher education. Botstein proposes starting school earlier at age 4. Children would finish with schooling by age 16 and high schools would be relegated to the dustbins of history. Students would then either go to college or enter the workforce. Botstein’s justification for these substantial changes are the inadequacy of our education, changing economic needs, and the earlier maturation of young people. Guiding his ideas are principles and maxims, Botstein’s philosophy of education.

The book is more extended discussion than structured thematic analysis. It is curious; it lacks an index, sources, and references. Nonetheless, Botstein writes with great urgency and a high degree of certainty. He is confident in his observations and ideas, which propel an ambitious agenda and multiple arguments.

There can be no doubt that Botsein’s ideas and passion for innovation are impressive. I also give him significant credit for his willingness to take on a big subject and to do so in an expansive manner. There are few public intellectuals willing to present broad ideas and ideals. Botsein’s appeal rests in his intellectual chops and ability to address complicated issues with extraordinary scope. Nuggets of insight are sprinkled throughout. As a structured argument, though, Jefferson’s Children falls short. It is more provocative than compelling.

David Potash

Unwinding and Dos Passos

Does anyone read John Dos Passos today? Way back when I was an English major in the early 1980s, I studied him along with many of the other major American authors from the first half of the twentieth century. His novels after World War I – and before World War II – were political. The U.S.A. trilogy was an attempt to capture the scope of America, good and bad, with a message for liberal/socialist values. Dos Passos wanted greater economic justice, and to elevate the hopes, dignity and needs of the “common man.”

It is very good literature. The short takes, narrative devices, and splintered perspectives of the three U.S.A. novels create a modernist masterpiece. It is not nonfiction, but there’s a truth to it that makes for good conversation and scholarship.

The U.S.A. trilogy figured prominently in the creation of journalist George Packer’s award-winning book, The Unwinding. Published in 2013, it is collection of carefully crafted biographical sketches. Some are short while others are long-form journalism. Taken collectively, they paint a picture of an America economy and culture abandoning its fundamental tenets of decency, hard work, and individual values. There many struggles in The Unwinding, a litany of failed dreams and broken promises. There are few heroes, many victims, and a few who came out on top financially. There is little holding the center of the narrative together.

I picked up the book to see if it could provide more insight into today’s political crisis and conflicts. Unfortunately, it did not offer much new. The stories are variations on a theme that we have read again and again. The book does, however, offer a framework of justification. It gives voice to frustration, restlessness and rootlessness, and people whose lives are disrupted by an indifferent economy. Traditional anchors are in short supply.

The challenge with the book is that Packer does not offer much by explanation. He does not suggest or propose. He describes – and does so ably, as one might expect from a New Yorker writer. But read as a work of nonfiction, more is needed here.  We do not need description of the missing center. We are rich in accounts of our failings and our decline. Instead, we need to better understand what has left us, why it no longer resonates, and whether or not we can do anything meaningful to re-establish some core values. Dos Passos, from the vantage point of the novelist, is clear about his values. Like him or not, he is clearly making an argument.

If we are to look backward, I expect more substance. If we are to look forward, I require data and arguments. The Unwinding, even with its lyrical observations, did not provide enough of either. Despite the book’s broad scope and close observations, it is an opportunity not fully realized.

David Potash

Labor and Farm Labor

My mother’s family hails from Van Wert County in western Ohio. Several of my relatives were farmers, working mostly corn and soy beans. As a child, in the 1960s and 1970s, my visits to the Ohio relatives often included trips to their farms. While I had fun in the barns and enjoyed sitting in the tractors, it was also a learning experience. The grown-ups talked of weather, debt, technology, prices and who was and was not turning a profit. I picked up that it was hard, risky and difficult work. In fact, it was well-nigh impossible to romanticize farming after spending an afternoon around hogs or listening to stories of bankruptcy.

Dwight W. Hoover’s A Good Day’s Work: An Iowa Farm in the Great Depression is an academic’s memoir of farm life and labor. Hoover, an emeritus professor of history at Ball State, gives a remarkably clear-eyed account. He writes with great clarity and detail. It reminded me of John Kenneth Galbraith’s account of growing up on a farm: work, work and more work – with little promised and even less assured.

The book is organized around the seasons. Hoover’s mind for the details of farm work is amazing. We learn about the impact of a road and of an irregularly shaped field. These things make a difference. He also brings his historical lens to bear. The struggles of the Hoovers and the 100-acres is best understood locally and in the context of the Great Depression. Technology, too, plays an extraordinarily important part of the story. Hoover explains tools, machines, and changes wrought by machines. The purchase of a tractor was a significant economic investment and marked a significant change in how the Hoovers farmed.

Hoover explains his decision to leave a farming life in the context of his high school reunion. He is not recognized by his peers. He no longer belongs to the community. So, too, have the Great Depression farms changed. There is some wistfulness, but the harsh realities of farm life make his decision straightforward. Had Hoover remained on the farm, his chance of marrying would have been slim. Had Hoover remained on the farm, he would have seen his work change as technologies and conditions changed.

This is an interesting and thoughtful book, an important reminder of what the “Good Old Days” were really like.

David Potash

Remodeling the Happiness Store

Tony Hsieh is the charismatic founder of Zappos, the online shoe and commerce platform. In 2010, he authored Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose. It is part memoir, part business history, and part philosophical treatise. Hsieh famously wrote it in a few fevered weeks. The book was an immediate best-seller. Hsieh, who had recently sold Zappos to Amazon, was widely admired as a business guru and entrepreneurial genius. He made hundreds of millions and was still a young man, only in his 30s. The book is forth-right, funny, and unusually candid in what worked and what did not in the rise of Zappos.

Zappos, seven years ago, was widely recognized as a superb place to work. Hsieh’s book helps to explain how he understood organizational culture as brand and how he went about building a unique culture. “Create fun and some weirdness” Zapponians stated. I visited the Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas a few years ago. It was fascinating – from entry-way to HR to training to communication. The folks who worked there very much believed in the system, which placed customer service and human relations at the very center of the business enterprise. Happiness, Hsieh argued, can create great business culture and profits.

In late 2013, Hsieh announced that he was going to replace the traditional organizational structure at Zappos with a holacracy. There is no pyramid structure in a holacracy. Instead, teams (known as circles) make decisions, with the aim of making an organization flatter, more responsive, and more effective. It is not about happiness or oddness. Rather, it empowers these informed circles of workers with pursuing the company’s mission. Many at Zappos tried it and then rebelled. Hsieh has remained committed to the holacracy despite high employee turnover (a third of all those formally happy workers left). Zappos has left the list of best places to work. In fact, the business press has been fairly consistent in its criticism. The jury may still be out on the long-term future of the holacracy and Zappos, but signs are not promising. We can all be confident that few new business leaders will be rushing to recreate their own new holacracies.

Recently I took a look at Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness to gain some insight into the company, Hsieh and the story. Why was he so successful with Zappos in its early days and not today? Admittedly, by most business measures – income, wealth and prestige – Hsieh will always be considered extremely successful. But I see the longer arc of Zappos today as much a cautionary as an exemplary tale.

Hsieh is thoughtful, reflective, curious, and keen on grounding his work with meaning. He is an entrepreneur who wants to make money and to make a difference. He cares. Hsieh is talented and an unusually gifted promoter. He was also able to create, borrow, build and sell businesses multiple times, and to do so as the tech boom was reshaping the business landscape. Comfortable with risk, Hsieh invested (bet?) all of his money on his businesses at various times. He learned from poker, he wrote, as well from his errors.

Looking at the story with the benefit of hindsight, Hsieh was able to bring together a couple of characteristics at just the right time and in the right place. Putting customer service at the center of the business always makes sense. However, I believe that it will only fuel fast organizational growth when other factors are at play. There are plenty of customer focused organizations, like my local dry cleaner, that are not raking in revenue. What happened with Zappos was its focus and rise in a particular environment: the speedy transformation of retail to on-line shopping. Hsieh also brought great insight and curiosity to the table, enabling him to create a company and a company culture that stood out. This is no small feat.

But the strengths of organizational building are not the same for organizational transformation. I think that the many ways in which organizational culture takes hold and shapes people, decisions, and actions are often under appreciated. When we try to make people behave differently, though, we come to appreciate just how powerful culture can be and how it limits change. It is always much easier to create culture anew than it is to change an established culture. This, in a nutshell, is what Hsieh has had difficulty realizing. A holacracy might or might not be an effective strategy for an online retail business. It might nor might not be a good system for any number of businesses. However, it will always be painful to try to change an organization to a new way of thinking.

Some organizations are created with an ongoing change mentality. However, I cannot think of any that have a change mentality and put their employees first.

I believe that the strengths that Hsieh brought to business creation – comfort with risk, innovation, thinking out of the box, eagerness to change – are not skills that help with changing organizational culture. He has vision, ambition and drive, exactly the skills needed to start a business and take it to the next level. Hsieh is interested in passion, in being real, and in finding a higher purpose.

My key takeaway from Zappos is not about organizational culture, or change, or finding happiness at work. Instead, it is all about the importance of situational leadership.

David Potash

Richard Rodriguez’s Path

The journey of a real intellectual – a thinker who asks hard questions and does not settle for easy resolutions – can often be lonely and difficult. It is also what makes their writing so important. Most of us do not query as deeply and we often do not like the answers we find.

Richard Rodriguez is a true intellectual. Extraordinarily gifted, he is a frequent critic and presence in the popular media. In his 1983 autobiography, Hunger of Memory, he charts his life from Sacramento, California, the child of Mexican laborers, to Stanford University. He did further graduate study in English at Columbia University and in London.

Rodriguez is extremely thoughtful about the quality of language and words. He is unsparing in describing the difficulty of his choices. This is no rags-to-riches feel good memoir. Instead, Rodriguez gives a hard account of the costs of forsaking one’s native culture for academic pursuits. He is no fan of affirmative action. He thinks little of bilingual education. Rodriguez is old school in every sense of the term. For good reason, this is a classic and challenging immigrant narrative.

David Potash

Costly Prize

Daniel Yergin writes big histories. Trained at Yale and Cambridge, his first book was Shattered Peace: The Origins of the Cold War and the National Security State. Way back in my Master’s program at NYU, I took a course from McGeorge Bundy, former National Security Advisor to Presidents Kennedy and President Johnson. One of the recommended books in Bundy’s course was Yergin’s Shattered Peace. I remember talking with Bundy about it. He did not place a ton of stock in the wisdom of any singular historian. However, he thought well of Yergin. Bundy greatly enjoyed asking students difficult questions about historical narratives. He liked to challenge us to think hard and critically about any thesis of explanation, anything that might render a complicated history simply or neatly. In other words, beware of summation – but if you have the facts (and Yergin did – at least in Bundy’s eyes), then feel free to go ahead with the big narrative. 

Those memories and more were with me when I recently read Yergin’s well-known epic on the oil industry, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power. It won a Pulitzer in 1992 and Yergin has issued slightly updated versions. A documentary about it was produced in the mid-1990s. It was a book I had known about. The suggestion of a colleagues, along with the rise of the leadership of the oil and gas industry in the Trump administration, was just the catalyst needed to tackle this massive work. It turned out as grand, exciting and troublesome as I anticipated. It also remains extraordinarily relevant to foreign policy and economics today.

Yergin takes the long view of oil’s history. No, he doesn’t start with the chemistry, And while we are on complaints, the book is short on maps. It would benefit, too, from more charts and tables. Yergin begins with two parallel nineteenth century historical narratives: oil exploration and production in the US, and oil exploration and production in Europe and Asia. It is not an easy device, but he handles the multiple international strands with skill.

Few historians are able to write as clearly, critically and effectively as Yergin. It is popular history that is carefully sourced and argued. He focuses on key individuals, sketches them quickly (and always with a few telling anecdotes or eccentricities), and frames the larger narrative through the actions and conflicts of a few. It is “great man” history – but Yergin is under no illusions that there are great men. They are smart, ambitious, greedy and comfortable with risk. They are in perpetual conflict: with nature, with market forces, with governments, and with each other. They are also, by definition, successful and important.

Yergin moves steadily through the 19th and 20th century, focusing consistently on the exploration, transportation, refining and sale of oil. His heart is with the wildcatters and the empire builders. By the post-WWII years we read about those that put together gas stations for sales, but Yergin has less enthusiasm for trends in marketing oil or its impact on the economy. In contrast, the global financiers, shippers, explorers and leaders – those are the men (and they are 99% men) – that are the heart of his history.

Read in a different light, The Prize is a helpful counter-narrative to other more well-known historical treatments of the past 150 years. Historians tend to cluster in camps. The Marxists look to the means of production. Some see race. Others focus on the rise of nationalism. Yergin looks at the big picture through the lens of energy, primarily oil. There’s much to recommend in this analysis.

Japanese expansion in Asia was shaped in great part by the island’s ability to capture and exploit oil. The Great War was driven by energy needs and competition for expansion. The US’s rise to a global economic power was powered in great part by America’s tremendous national resources – in particular, its oil. US relations with Mexico, as well as Venezuela, was again shaped by oil. The battles of World War II, Yergin notes, were again and again determined by a military’s ability to capture and use energy – oil.

The strands all come together in Yergin’s discussion of the colonization and exploitation of the middle east. It is distressing – with a great sense of foreboding – to see the fault lines being developed in the early part of the 1900s and then play out again and again. Shia against Sunni, Saudi Arabia against Persia/Iran, and all the ways that western powers fought to gain oil and economic advantage. Yergin’s long history gives a foundation and context that makes the wars of the past 10 years all the more understandable. Unfortunately, the history also points to no new possible resolutions.

This is not easy history. It is sprawling, messy, and consistently about conflict. There are few heroes. There may be great men, but missing is generosity, kindness, altruism or much hope for our better halves. Victory is often gained by those that have the most – or those that are willing to lose the most in order to prevail. It offers little by way of mankind thinking differently about energy or how best to use it. It also goes far in explaining much of our current problems – political, economic, international and environment. It is history as conflict. Yergin is completely up front about his agenda. There is good reason that he titled this book The Prize.

David Potash

Truth Stranger Than Fiction

I remember Wonder Woman when it showed up on television in the 1970s. Lynda Carter was cute but the series did not really resonate with me. I found it just a bit odd, kind of old-fashioned. I had no idea just how odd – or fascinating.

Jill Lepore, in The Secret History of Wonder Woman, explains the origins of the comic book and provides many good reasons for its strangeness. Her book has sold millions for very good reason. Sure, there’s sex, intrigue, drama, secrets and the excitement of comic books. The content is extraordinarily interesting. Lepore has done much more than report it, though. She tells a tale, raises questions, and gives us a narrative of talent and contradiction. It is really engaging popular cultural history at its best.

The story of Wonder Woman is actually the history of William Moulton Marston and his extended family. Marston was a polymath, a talented and gifted man with massive psychological issues. A mother’s boy who graduated from Harvard in 1915, paid his way through while writing screenplays, Marston also earned a law degree and a doctorate psychology. He invented the lie detector test (asking a subject questions while examining their systolic blood pressure), and bounced around Hollywood for years. He was a failure in higher education and, in many ways, harnessing his abilities for financial gain and stability. What saved him were the women he was able to bring into his life. He married to Elizabeth Holloway Marston, a hardworking, smart and highly competent woman in her own right. Olive Byrne, another smart and talented woman, was also a part of the family. Marston fathered children with both women, who maintained an elaborate fiction. Women were central to his home and professional life.

Lepore draws out the idealist circles in which Marston and his circle moved. Margaret Sanger was Olive Byrne’s aunt. John Reed was a friend at Harvard. Free love, feminism, women’s rights, psychology and science were recurring themes in the Marston milieu. All factored prominently in the creation of Wonder Woman, a product of the World War II environment. The comic strip Wonder Woman was immediately popular. Marston, sadly, contracted polio and died at the young age of 53. After the war and without his drive, Wonder Woman faded from the popular consciousness, only to be looked at anew in the 1970s with the rise of women’s liberation.

Woven throughout this complex history are idiosyncrasies, kinks, and strange coincidences – from Olive’s bracelets to Marston’s fascination with bondage. He did not acknowledge it but anyone reading Wonder Woman comics did. She and other women were constantly being chained, gagged, bound or otherwise constrained. It’s a strange narrative for a mother’s boy.

Beyond the anecdotes, what The Secret History of Wonder Woman does very well is highlight the many connections of intellectual and cultural change and production. Few successful things happen in a vacuum. Smarts always makes a difference. And sometimes it helps to be kind of odd, too.

David Potash

Going For The Gold

Lost in the critical cultural landscape? Adrift among competing theories? Reset your compass – most roads lead to Pierre Bourdieu. It doesn’t matter whether you think of him as a philosopher, sociologist, or French intellectual – his concepts outline the opaque and provide a consistently helpful path to understanding.

James English’s The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards and the Circulation of Cultural Value is a case in point. It’s a very clever book. English, a professor of English and Director of the Humanities Center at Penn, turned an inquisitive and slightly cynical eye on the world of literary prizes in this book. Stressing the explosion of cultural awards and prizes over the past century, English hopes to make sense of the interplay of different kinds capital among competing “worlds” of understanding. That may sound very theoretical – and English does love playing with theory – but the narrative nimbly avoids the abstract and obtuse.

The bulk of the book is about literary prizes and awards. The visual and performing arts are discussed, but English’s great love is for the written word. He marks the contours of the garden of cultural production, situating the prize or award as the site of judgment and currency. Works that win prizes gain cultural capital. The prize often is monetary – capital – and its award changes the work’s value in a cultural and economic realms. Books that win awards sell more copies. The process of judging and awarding tames the “messiness” of artistic or cultural production. They render the creative digestible. This is an economic study of a different sort of economy.

English looks at awards and prizes from many angles. The physical nature of the award falls under his microscope, as do the public events: the short list, the naming, and the acceptance speech. He considers the awards as sport and as a means of cultural national norming. He also has a humorous go at alternative awards and their inverse economy. Why do we spend time considering awards for bad fiction or acting? The book consistently asks the reader to reconsider the entire world of awards and prizes.

The book’s argument, however, is also constrained by slippery nature of awards themselves. Often the product of circumstance or caprice, each has its own history, its own story. An author would really have to focus if the aim of the study was to make more powerful and compelling arguments. English, though, is not all that interested in settling down. He enjoys the topic and the space that it offers. Awards in movies or music are different from literary awards. Televised awards, whose function, it would seem, to generate viewers and revenue, have a somewhat different set of priorities than those that would adorn a book with a shiny sticker. English moves lightly past these distinctions.

Also missing from the work are the rise of cultural arts fairs. Art – flat, 3-D and time-based, have a somewhat different field of expertise and economic system than literature. They gather cultural capital from where they are sold, who purchased them, and how much was paid. The Basel or Miami Art Fair can bestow prestige in ways that a book or humanities fair cannot. A book’s cultural capital is developed in very different economies. To be fair, however, English wrote the book several years ago and draws attention to the ever-increasing number of ways that cultural production is judged and granted “value.”

So we have all that on one side of the ledger, and on the other half is a thoughtful, provocative and informed looked at the accumulation of cultural capital in the literary sphere. While I am not sure of what unit of measure is best employed, it does tally a positive balance, worthy of your consideration. But whether I would award it a prize . . . . 

David Potash

Which Side Is The Other Side?

Natalie Y. Moore is a product of the South Side of Chicago. For those who do not know Chicago, “North Side” and “South Side” conjure up much more than a region. They embody a history, a mindset, and a way of life, separate and distinct from each other. They are often about race and ethnicity. Many who live in the city think of their home as a neighborhood, not the larger city. In all there are 77 of neighborhoods and together they make Chicago a fascinating and dynamic metropolis. Yet the sides of the city are not easily thought of as one, as expertly chronicled by Moore in her book, The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation. Racism and geography can create destiny.

south-sideMoore is a journalist. She reports on the South Side for WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR station. She has covered other cities and other countries. Her writing is in newspapers and national publications. Her investigation into the South Side is in great part informed by her reporting skills. She brings history, politics, economics, and culture to bear explaining the who, what, where, when and how of the South Side of Chicago. Starting with a clear-eyed look at the terrible history of racism in the city, Moore examines housing policy and practice. She describes red-lining, economic exploitation based on race, and the myriad of failure of the Chicago Housing Authority. Moore anchors housing in the local histories of neighborhoods unable to shake free from poverty. It is a story of generations trapped.

Training her eyes on Chicago’s public schools, Moore paints an equally chilling picture of segregation. Chicago actively resisted calls and judgments to integrate its school system, despite marches and protests and well-meaning pressure from progressives of all stripes. Her chapter on CPS is titled “Separate and Still Unequal.” Class matters, too, and Moore is equally sharp when looking at grocery stores, food stores and restaurants across the city. On one level, her book is a study of the effects of systemic racism.

The South Side is more than a work of journalism, however. Moore is no embed reporting to a distant and curious public. She is fiercely proud of her city. She loves the South Side, warts and all, and wants readers to understand and appreciate it. A resentment to those that would demean it givers her prose attitude and passion.

Moore grew up in Chatham, an African-American neighborhood that had been an Italian, Hungarian and Irish neighborhood in earlier decades. After World War II the whites moved out and black families moved in. Chatham provided a solid foundation for Moore’s childhood and she found a home in Sutherland, an integrated CPS elementary school in nearby Beverly. For high school, she attended Morgan Park HS, which was known for its college preparatory program. When Moore was a student it was mostly black, with white and Hispanic students. (Today it is 97% black – segregation in schools for much of the city has significantly increased). Moore looks back on her high school education fondly and is proud to call herself a product of CPS.

She rails against the violence in the city – and is equally angered at those who label the city with a broad brush of little but racism, crime and despair. Fear is increasing, she writes, even as overall rates of homicide, measured not year to year but over the long-term, is down. Moore wants policy discussions about violence to be guided by facts, not emotion. She sees the underlying economic problems and high levels of unemployment as the real issue. Looking to leaders like Harold Washington, Moore believes that Chicago can build political coalitions to push back against racism and segregation.

Moore works to end her book on a positive note. She talks with activists, academics, artists and legislators, arguing that change is possible.

Don’t read The South Side to look for policy suggestions. Don’t study it expecting an agenda for future mayors and aldermen. Instead, Moore wants us to reconsider, reappraise and appreciate the South Side. She tackled the task with integrity and care.

David Potash

Gotham Art

Ever read a well-reviewed book and simply have it not click? You may like the topic and think highly of the author – but still, the book just refused to engage with you. Reading it becomes a chore and a source of frustration. It isn’t just that the book isn’t working. More troublesome is a worrisome sense of personal shortcoming – or at least that is what I feel. It has to be me, the reader, and not the book. Or maybe I just read too much into

That, in a nutshell, is what happened to me with Jed Perl’s New Art City: Manhattan at Mid-Century. Perl is a well-known art critic. I do not always agree with him, but I’ve read his pieces in the popular press and have been impressed. He produces a new book every few years, too, and they are usually well-received.

As for the New York City art scene, I am an engaged fan – historically and in terms of contemporary art. From the work of Samuel Morse in the early 1800s through PS1 in recent years, New York City has been a hive of artistic creativity. It has been a particularly important site for collaboration and competition for certain groups of artists at set times. The Ashcan School in the early years of the 1900s, Harlem in the 1920s, and the modernists after World War II stand out as exemplary case studies of the power of Gotham to shape artists and the art world. I’ve read, visited, viewed, talked and learned about art in NYC for many years. I picked up New Art City with high hopes.

Unfortunately, I could not make the book work for me. Perhaps it was the black and white illustrations of colorful and vibrant art. It might have been the encyclopedic nature of the tome: everyone who painted in NYC from WWII until the mid-1960s gets a mention, a paragraph or a chapter. Maybe it was an absence of any real discussion of what was going on in the city at the time: the changing physical landscape, the vitality of so many other forms of creative expression: music, dance, theater, and popular culture. It could stem from Perl’s linkage and comparisons of artist to artist from a critic’s perspective. I, however, wonder if the call and response was real (my instinct is that it is often the creation of critics). If Hans Hoffman truly was the gatekeeper to mid-century art, was it due to his teaching, his talking, or his work? Or it might be the lack of a clear reason to bounce from artist to artist to artist.

In the end, I stopped caring as artist after artist and painting after painting found its way into the narrative. Was everyone really rebelling against the abstract expressionists? Was de Kooning that charismatic? The island might serve as a good organizing principle for a book or exhibit, but that does not make it compelling. Even as I like Hoffman, de Kooning, Pollack, and so many others discussed here, New Art City just is not my cup of tea. And having giving the book time and consideration, I am also sure it’s not just me.

David Potash