Elitist Book Reviews

Book Series :: The Age of Madness

A little hatred.

A Little Hatred

So, it’s been a while since we’ve had a book like this from Abercrombie. Real quick US publication timeline for those of you that aren’t immediately aware: 3 years since Sharp Ends (last short stories), 4 years since Half a War (last YA), 7 years since Red Country (last stand-alone), and 11 years since The Last Argument of Kings (last series book). Thus, I’d be painting the canvas pretty thin indeed if I were to say, for instance, that I was stupid-excited to finally read this thing. I won a contest over at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist back in the day and inherited all three books of the original First Law trilogy, published by Pyr. Was the beginning of my first love affair with the works of Abercrombie. Guy just knows how to do story right, and I was hoping that he’d continue that trend. His response was a little bit “Yes”… and a little bit “No”. Read the rest of this review »

The Trouble with Peace

The Trouble with Peace

I’ve been in a real funk lately. I know. Join the club, right? It seems like no matter which direction I turn, there’s always some new disappointment waiting to greet me. Hello, 2020. If I had any choice in the matter, and I could pick a single thing that this year might have left alone, it would have been my books. Yes, I know this is ludicrous. There’s no need to remind me of the fact that books published this year have long been completed, and that 2020 did nothing to affect them in the slightest. And yet. After reading this book, I’m seriously beginning to think that some part of me has been broken. It just doesn’t seem possible that my impressions of the story contained therein might be valid. Like in the slightest. But in the end, they are at least consistent in their nature, and for that I’m still holding onto the hope (barely) that something more will come of my current epic disappointment with The Age of Madness. Read the rest of this review »

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Libraries are full of books about great cats. This one is special.

Caleb carr’s memoir, ‘my beloved monster,’ is a heart-rending tale of human-feline connection.

Over the years, my wife and I have been blessed with 15 cats, three rescued from the streets of Brooklyn, three from barns near our home in Vermont, one from a Canadian resort and the others from the nearby shelter, where my wife has volunteered as a “cat whisperer” for the most emotionally scarred of its feline inhabitants for years. Twelve of our beloved pets have died (usually in our arms), and we could lose any of our current three cats — whose combined age is roughly 52 — any day now. So, I am either the best person to offer an opinion on Caleb Carr’s memoir, “ My Beloved Monster ,” or the worst.

For the many who have read Carr’s 1994 novel, “The Alienist,” an atmospheric crime story set in 19th-century New York, or watched the Netflix series it inspired, Carr’s new book might come as something of a surprise. “My Beloved Monster” is a warm, wrenching love story about Carr and his cat, a half-wild rescue named Masha who, according to the subtitle of his book, in fact rescued Carr. The author is, by his own admission, a curmudgeon, scarred by childhood abuse, living alone and watching his health and his career go the way of all flesh.

What makes the book so moving is that it is not merely the saga of a great cat. Libraries are filled with books like that, some better than others. It’s the 17-year chronicle of Carr and Masha aging together, and the bond they forged in decline. (As Philip Roth observed, “Old age isn’t a battle; old age is a massacre.”) He chronicles their lives, beginning with the moment the animal shelter begs Carr to bring the young lioness home because the creature is so ferocious she unnerves the staff — “You have to take that cat!” one implores.

Interspersed throughout Carr’s account of his years with Masha are his recollections of all the other cats he has had in his life, going back to his youth in Manhattan. And there are a lot. Cats often provided him comfort after yet another torment his father, the writer Lucien Carr , and stepfather visited upon him. Moreover, Carr identifies so deeply with the species that as a small child he drew a self-portrait of a boy with a cat’s head. He knows a great deal about cats and is eager to share his knowledge, for instance about the Jacobson’s organ in the roof of their mouths that helps them decide if another creature is predator or prey. His observations are always astute: “Dogs tend to trust blindly, unless and until abuse teaches them discretion. … Cats, conversely, trust conditionally from the start.”

Carr, now 68, was a much younger man when he adopted Masha. Soon, however, they were joined at the hip. As the two of them bonded, the writer found himself marveling at what he believed were their shared childhood traumas, which move between horrifying and, in Carr’s hands, morbidly hilarious: “I began to accept my father’s behavior in the spirit with which he intended it … he was trying to kill me.” Man and cat shared the same physical ailments, including arthritis and neuropathy, possibly caused by physical violence in both cases. Carr allowed Masha, a Siberian forest cat, to go outside, a decision many cat owners may decry, but he defends it: “Masha was an entirely different kind of feline,” and keeping her inside “would have killed her just as certainly as any bear or dog.” Indeed, Masha took on fishers and bears (yes, bears!) on Carr’s wooded property in Upstate New York.

But bears and dogs are humdrum fare compared with cancer and old age, which come for both the novelist and his cat. Carr’s diagnosis came first, and his first concern was whether he would outlive Masha. (The existence of the book gives us the answer he didn’t have at the time.) Illness adds new intensity to the human-feline connection: “Coming back from a hospital or a medical facility to Masha was always particularly heartening,” Carr writes, “not just because she’d been worried and was glad to see me, but because she seemed to know exactly what had been going on … and also because she was so anxious to show that she hadn’t been scared, that she’d held the fort bravely.”

Sometimes, perhaps, Carr anthropomorphizes too much and exaggerates Masha’s language comprehension, or gives her more human emotion than she had. But maybe not. Heaven knows, I see a lot behind my own cats’ eyes. Moreover, it’s hard to argue with a passage as beautiful as this: “In each other’s company, nothing seemed insurmountable. We were left with outward scars. … But the only wounds that really mattered to either of us were the psychic wounds caused by the occasional possibility of losing each other; and those did heal, always, blending and dissolving back into joy.”

Like all good memoirs — and this is an excellent one — “My Beloved Monster” is not always for the faint of heart. Because life is not for the faint of heart. But it is worth the emotional investment, and the tissues you will need by the end, to spend time with a writer and cat duo as extraordinary as Masha and Carr.

Chris Bohjalian is the best-selling author of 24 books. His most recent novel, “The Princess of Las Vegas,” was published last month.

My Beloved Monster

Masha, the Half-Wild Rescue Cat Who Rescued Me

By Caleb Carr

Little, Brown. 435 pp. $29

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Europe 1950-2017.

by Ian Kershaw ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 30, 2019

Though Kershaw doesn’t offer a wealth of new material, this is a terrific roundup by a trusted historian, featuring an...

The second installment of the eminent English historian’s comprehensive overview of modern European history.

Kershaw’s latest, following  To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949  (2015), is equally as massive as the previous volume, as he explores “the most striking legacy of the war for the immediate post-war world,” which was “twofold: Europe was not a continent divided down the middle by the Iron Curtain; and the new age was a nuclear era, with both of the superpowers in possession of super-weapons of mass destruction.” The astounding advances in material wealth and medical well-being across Europe, thanks to the miraculous economic recovery from the war, were accompanied by provincial attitudes that would take another generation to explode. These included blatant race-based discrimination; increased influence of Christian churches; and intolerance regarding homosexuality, women’s rights, and abortion, among other human rights concerns. While the Soviet Union was pursuing dominance over its satellite nations (“The Clamp” is Kershaw’s chapter title), Europe was developing a middle class well into the 1970s (“Good Times”), encompassing the newly modernized life enjoyed by postwar parents. The baby boomers, however, took their parents to task (“Culture after the Catastrophe”), asking questions about their participation in World War II, agitating against the Vietnam War and general anti-imperialism, and often exploding into violence, as in the student riots in Paris in 1968 and the Baader-Meinhof Group in Germany. Kershaw sees 1973 and the Arab oil embargo as the tipping point, when the price of gas soared and the economy tanked. “Change was on the way,” he writes. “But the oil crisis was a massive accelerant.” The author notes that in 1950, oil had provided 8.5 percent of Western Europe’s energy supplies, while 20 years later, it had risen to 60 percent. In the latter portion of the book, Kershaw directs his considerable talents to the fall of the Berlin Wall, reunification of Germany, and the “global exposure” of newly vulnerable Europe.

Pub Date: April 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2398-1

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019


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The osage murders and the birth of the fbi.

by David Grann ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 18, 2017

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann ( The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession , 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017


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THE <i>WAGER</i>

by David Grann


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Brendan Fraser Joins Cast of ‘Flower Moon’ Film


Oct. 20 Release For 'Killers of the Flower Moon'

by Elie Wiesel & translated by Marion Wiesel ‧ RELEASE DATE: Jan. 16, 2006

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006


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by Elie Wiesel ; edited by Alan Rosen


by Elie Wiesel ; illustrated by Mark Podwal


by Elie Wiesel ; translated by Marion Wiesel

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The hate u give, common sense media reviewers.

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Powerful story of police shooting of unarmed Black teen.

The Hate U Give Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this book.

Explains police brutality from the victims' perspe

Strong messages throughout The Hate U Give about c

Unlike many books aimed at young adults, this nove

We see several instances of violence and hear abou

There's talk of an affair between two adults. Teen

Conversational swearing by both adults and teens t

Name brands including Jordans, luxury automobiles,

Teens drink alcohol and smoke marijuana at a party

Parents need to know that Angie Thomas' New York Times best-selling book The Hate U Give won a 2018 Coretta Scott King Author Honor, a Michael L. Printz Honor, and the Odyssey Award for best audiobook for kids and teens. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, it involves the police shooting of…

Educational Value

Explains police brutality from the victims' perspective and shows a broad view of protest strategies, justice, inequality, and the systemic failures that often accompany police shootings.

Positive Messages

Strong messages throughout The Hate U Give about community activism and togetherness, family strength, courage, bravery, and redemption.

Positive Role Models

Unlike many books aimed at young adults, this novel is full of positive kid and adult role models. The adults who reach out to mentor and advise the students not only provide guidance but also show vulnerability, which allows the teens in the story to feel comfortable with their own vulnerability. The teens navigate tough situations but show a willingness to learn from mistakes and make amends.

Violence & Scariness

We see several instances of violence and hear about others. A unarmed teen boy is shot and killed; we see the blood, and we see him die. There are other reports of shootings and deaths as a result. Another boy is badly beaten. A woman is described as being beaten. An older gentleman is attacked by a group of young men; we don't see the attack but we see the injuries. Many threats are made on the lives of various people. A young girl dies in a drive-by shooting and her blood is described as mingling with the fire hydrant water. There are school fights between girls and boys. Buildings are set on fire during riots.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.

Sex, Romance & Nudity

There's talk of an affair between two adults. Teens engage in heavy petting, talk about having sex and condoms. A teen girl is described as being on birth control, and there's discussion of teen pregnancy and the assumption that a married couple is having sex when they go to their bedroom and turn the television up loud. A woman is revealed to be a sex worker.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.

Conversational swearing by both adults and teens throughout the novel, including "s--t," "f--k," "ass," "bitch," "damn" (and variants), and "nigga."

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Products & Purchases

Name brands including Jordans, luxury automobiles, junk food brands, and restaurants such as Taco Bell are mentioned for scene setting or to show the disparity between lifestyles.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink alcohol and smoke marijuana at a party. Two adult characters are alcoholics. Adults are described as being addicted to drugs, addiction to crack cocaine is discussed, and both teens and adults are described as selling drugs. We don't actually see drugs being sold, but drug dealing is discussed throughout the novel.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Angie Thomas' New York Times best-selling book The Hate U Give won a 2018 Coretta Scott King Author Honor, a Michael L. Printz Honor, and the Odyssey Award for best audiobook for kids and teens. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, it involves the police shooting of an unarmed black teen. The book covers topics of race, interracial dating, political activism, grief, friendship, wealth disparity, police brutality, addiction, and the media's depiction of African Americans. Parents should be prepared to discuss recent and past instances of police shootings, how they were covered in the media, dealing with grief, and possible reactions to the trauma revealed in the book. There is some conversational swearing by both adults and teens throughout the novel, including "s--t," "f--k," "ass," "bitch," "damn" (and variants), and "nigga." Violence includes an unarmed teen boy shot and killed -- we see the blood and see him die. There are other reports of shootings and deaths as a result. A boy is badly beaten. A woman is described as being beaten. An older gentleman is attacked by a group of young men; we don't see the attack but we see the injuries. A young girl dies in a drive-by shooting and her blood is described as mingling with the fire hydrant water. There are school fights between girls and boys. Buildings are set on fire during riots. Sexual situations include teens engaging in heavy petting, talk about having sex and condoms. There's discussion of teen pregnancy and the assumption that a married couple is having sex when they go to their bedroom and turn the television up loud. A woman is revealed to be a sex worker. Teens drink alcohol and smoke marijuana at a party. Two adult characters are alcoholics. Adults are described as being addicted to drugs, addiction to crack cocaine is discussed, and both teens and adults are described as selling drugs.

Where to Read

Community reviews.

  • Parents say (53)
  • Kids say (184)

Based on 53 parent reviews

R Rated Book

What's the story.

In THE HATE U GIVE, Starr Carter is a teen between two worlds: her school, which is rich, fancy, and white; and her neighborhood, which is poor and black. She navigates this differing terrain every day of her life until her worlds collide when she witnesses the fatal police shooting of her best friend, Khalil, an unarmed black teen. Khalil's death goes viral, and Starr is caught in the middle between the protesters in the street and her friends at school. With the eyes of the world on her, Starr has to decide: Will she say what happened that night? Will it matter?

Is It Any Good?

Wrenching, soul stirring, funny, endearing, painful, and frustratingly familiar, this novel offers a powerful look at a few weeks in a fairly typical teen girl's life -- with one horrific exception. Sure she worries about school, issues with friends, and her secret boyfriend, but she's also the sole witness to the fatal shooting of her best friend by a police officer. In The Hate U Give , author Angie Thomas manages to bring humanity -- deep, emotionally binding, full-bodied humanity -- to the victims of police brutality and the families and friends they leave behind. The scenarios that revolve around the shooting are achingly routine -- unarmed African American, the media's push to blame the victim, a lax investigation, and a lack of charges or convictions. However, set against the backdrop of typical teen life, of community and family life, the consequences of the officer's actions and the actions others take after the tragedy take on a life and power beyond what any think piece or talking points on the subject could achieve.

The characters in the book are rich, complex, and fully developed. They feel like family, friends, and neighbors, and they give those unfamiliar with life in urban centers an understanding that the setting may be specific but the human condition is the universal. The tragedy and triumph of Thomas' stellar work is that it's very real and heartbreakingly familiar. Teens will enjoy the book for its unfiltered look at life, death, grief, and social and political commentary, while parents and teachers will enjoy the book's well-written and thorough approach to a complex social issue.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about how The Hate U Give discusses the media's reaction to police shootings of unarmed African Americans vs. how it reports violence against or perpetrated by white Americans. What's the difference in the language used? Whom and what does the media focus on when it reports the story? Is it fair?

How do you talk about race and other social issues with friends and family? How do you deal with friends who tell racist, homophobic, and otherwise offensive jokes? What about family members who say inappropriate things? Is it better to ignore or confront the person? What are the repercussions of each approach? What strategies could you use to make the discussion less awkward?

Discuss "the talk" -- the conversation that parents of African American and other minority kids have with their children, particularly their sons, about what to do when confronted by the police. Did your parents give you the talk? How does the conversation differ between what minority children are told and white children are told? (Do white children even have this conversation?) Do you think it's fair that there's a difference in the conversation?

Book Details

  • Author : Angie Thomas
  • Genre : Contemporary Fiction
  • Topics : Activism , Brothers and Sisters , Friendship , Great Girl Role Models
  • Book type : Fiction
  • Publisher : HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date : February 28, 2017
  • Publisher's recommended age(s) : 14 - 18
  • Number of pages : 464
  • Available on : Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
  • Awards : ALA Best and Notable Books , Coretta Scott King Medal and Honors
  • Last updated : January 15, 2019

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

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Author Interviews

'magical overthinking' author says information overload can stoke irrational thoughts.

Headshot of Tonya Mosley.

Tonya Mosley

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Amanda Montell hosts the podcast Sounds Like a Cult . She's also the author of Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism . Kaitlyn Mikayla/Simon & Schuster hide caption

Amanda Montell hosts the podcast Sounds Like a Cult . She's also the author of Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism .

How is it that we are living in the information age — and yet life seems to make less sense than ever? That's the question author and podcast host Amanda Montell set out to answer in her new book, The Age of Magical Overthinking.

Montell says that our brains are overloaded with a constant stream of information that stokes our innate tendency to believe conspiracy theories and mysticism.

"We grow up hearing certain legends and myths and lore repeated ad nauseum, and we perceive them as true," she says. "It's the reason why ... I genuinely thought, until I was an adult, that it took seven years to digest gum." (Despite what you may have heard, bubble gum typically digests the same way as food.)

Montell, who co-hosts the podcast Sounds Like A Cult, says this cognitive bias is what allows misinformation and disinformation to spread so easily, particularly online. It also helps explain our tendency to make assumptions about celebrities we admire.

Overwhelmed by doom scrolling? Time to check in with your body

TED Radio Hour

Overwhelmed by doom scrolling time to check in with your body.

"We see a pop star whose music we enjoy, and we assume that they must also be worldly, kind, nurturing," Montell says. "Or we enjoy someone's fashion sense and we jump to the conclusion that they're gregarious or maybe they speak other languages — we jump to these conclusions for which there is little or no evidence."

Montell says that in an age of overwhelming access to information, it's important to step away from electronic devices. "We are meant for a physical world. That's what our brains are wired for," she says. "These devices are addictive, but I find that my nervous system really thanks me when I'm able to do that."

Interview highlights

On why humans developed cognitive biases

The Age of Magical Overthinking, by Amanda Montell

Cognitive biases are these deep rooted mental magic tricks that we play on ourselves. ... Cognitive biases developed to help us reconcile our limited time, our limited memory storage, our limited cognitive resources, and our distinct craving for events to feel meaningful during a time when most of the problems that we were contending with every single day were physical. They were less abstract, less complex, less disembodied. And that was true for most of human history. So we developed these shortcuts unconsciously to help us make sense of our environment enough to survive. But now survival is, for the most part, taken care of. At least we're not being attacked by saber tooth tigers anymore in the way that we were when these biases developed. And yet we're still relying on them to confront much more complex and cerebral concerns, and that clash is causing a great deal of existential pain. I really think that our innate mysticisms are clashing with this onslaught of information, mass loneliness and almost a capitalistic pressure to know everything under the sun. And this is all happening without our conscious awareness.

On the "halo effect," in which we jump to conclusions that celebrities are perfect

Once, when [human beings] were living in smaller communities, the halo effect prompted us to make decisions, like seeing someone with large muscles or intact teeth and thinking, "Oh, that person must be a skilled hunter or a skilled fighter, because they've avoided disfigurement from battle. That would be a great person to align myself with for survival." But we're now mapping this halo effect onto modern para-social relationships involving celebrities, and that's setting everyone up for psychological failure, because we're uplifting these celebrities onto a pedestal so high up in the sky that we can't perceive their humanity anymore. ... So when they post something or behave in a way that contradicts the expectations that we've cultivated of them, we feel the need to dethrone them, to punish them.

On "thought terminating clichés" and the notion of manifestation

It describes a sort of stock expression that's easily memorized, easily repeated, and aimed at shutting down independent thinking or questioning. ... So a new age thought terminating cliché might sound like something like, "Well, that's just a victim mindset." Or "you need to sit with that." Or "don't let yourself be ruled by fear." ...

[Manifestation] is its own kind of conspiracy theory, which is an edgy point to make. ... We tend to believe naturally, as humans, that big events or even big feelings must have had a big cause. It just makes proportional sense to us. ... Where manifestation starts to get a little sketchy, a little grift, a little culty dare I say, is when public figures on TikTok, on Instagram projected the language of capitalism onto it. When you start to take an absolutist approach to this subject matter and make it an ideology, it gets a little sinister. Because then when you start to think about it more surgically, if the fact that you are now gainfully employed and have a romantic partner whereas before that was not the case, is because you manifested it, you created a vision board, you bathed your crystals, you know your mind was in the right place.

Well, the inverse of that is that if you're sick, poor, unemployed, unlucky in love, well then it must be your fault. And in the post-pandemic era, during this time of incredible tumult, socio-politically, globally, we're craving someone to tell us how to reclaim some agency. And so I have noticed a generation of grifting manifestation gurus on TikTok and Instagram sweep into the market and promise, "Actually, I have a bespoke proprietary manifestation technique, and if you're seeing this on your free you page, then it was meant for you. All you have to do is sign up for my $30 a month course, and I will impart this manifestation wisdom onto you. It will change your life. And if it doesn't, well, that's your fault."

On the power of nostalgia

During times of present pain, we tend to sort of bathe in a warm bath of positive past memories as a coping mechanism. Excess nostalgia is a bad thing. It's what's causing everyone from Disney adults to MAGA zealots to go blackout drunk on nostalgia and have these complete delusions of the past. That can be really dangerous. But as I continued talking to nostalgia scholars, I realized that what's called personal nostalgia, or when we romanticize memories from our own life, that's a really positive thing because it helps us generate hope for the future. It's engaging us in imagination. The future is unpredictable. We don't have any artifacts from [the future]. ... We do have relics from the past, and that helps us. We cling to those things in order to imagine a future that could feel that good. At the same time, we're experiencing a glut of this cognitive bias called declinism, which is our proclivity to think that life is just getting irreversibly worse and worse and worse. And it's all downhill from there. And again, that's something that we do naturally.

Sam Briger and Thea Chaloner produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan adapted it for the web.

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Civil War (2024)

A journey across a dystopian future America, following a team of military-embedded journalists as they race against time to reach DC before rebel factions descend upon the White House. A journey across a dystopian future America, following a team of military-embedded journalists as they race against time to reach DC before rebel factions descend upon the White House. A journey across a dystopian future America, following a team of military-embedded journalists as they race against time to reach DC before rebel factions descend upon the White House.

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  • Trivia Alex Garland told a reporter at the premiere that the pairing of California and Texas was, in part, to obfuscate the politics but more importantly, that these two states put aside political differences to challenge an unconstitutional, fascistic and corrupt president who is killing American civilians. He said, "Are you saying extremist politics would always remain more important than a president of this sort? That sounds crazy to me."
  • Goofs When the journalists are getting gas, their SUV is parked on the wrong side of the gas station. When Jessie gets out of the car you can see where the gas is filled and they parked incorrectly.

Joel : I need a quote.

President : Don't let them kill me.

Joel : Yeah, that'll do.

  • Connections Featured in Nerdrotic: Woke Hollywood's Civil WAR? Disney DESTROYS Hasbro - Nerdrotic Nooner 388 with Chris Gore (2023)

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Ella Purnell in Fallout.

Fallout review – an absolute blast of a TV show

This immaculately made, supremely witty post-apocalyptic drama is yet another brilliant video game adaptation. It’s funny, self-aware and tense – an astonishing balancing act

The following review contains spoilers for the first episode of Fallout .

The first thing to note is that, as with The Last of Us, there is no need for any viewer to be au fait with the source material of Fallout, Amazon’s new competitor in the field of hit video game adaptations (though a fan of the game who watched it with me assures me that there is much to enjoy in addition to the basic narrative if you are).

For newcomers such as me, this intelligent, drily witty, immaculately constructed series set in the Fallout universe fully captivates and entertains on its own terms. It opens in 1950s America, at the height of the cold war and the “red scare”, with former TV star Cooper Howard (Walton Goggins) reduced to appearing at a children’s birthday party after being tarred with the pinko brush. A mushroom cloud appears on the horizon, the blast wave hits, the apocalypse arrives.

All those who can afford it rush to the secure vaults they have had built in preparation. We cut to Vault 33 two centuries later, by which point they appear to be doing very nicely. All the naivety of the 50s and the better parts of its mores – politeness, consideration, cooperation, modesty and restraint – have been preserved, albeit with the occasional twist. Like daily weapons training, and chipper approaches to the avoidance of marrying one of your many cousins.

The underground idyll is shattered when they are brutally raided by surface dwellers led by a woman called Moldaver (Sarita Choudhury). Vault Overseer Hank MacLean (Kyle MacLachlan) is kidnapped and his daughter Lucy (Ella Purnell) defies orders from the remaining Council and leaves the Vault to find him. As a wide-eyed believer in the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you), she is wildly unprepared for the array of delights surface-dwelling holds. It’s not like she can disguise herself effectively either. As one gnarled resident of the desperate nearby town of Filly says – “Clean hair, good teeth, all 10 fingers. Must be nice.”

Surface threats include, but are not limited to: giant cockroaches, godawful sea monsters (the Gulper’s innards haunt my dreams), radiation poisoning, strung-out survivors, fanatics of various kinds, puppy incinerators and cannibalistic Fiends. The Brotherhood of Steel try to control the Wasteland but you can’t help but feel, committed warrior faction though they are, that they are on a losing wicket. The Brotherhood is divided into Lords (in battered Iron Man-esque suits), Squires who attend and hope to become them and Aspirants training as Squires. Aspirant Maximus (Aaron Moten) is our guy and we follow him as he rises from bullied victim to rogue Lord. His mission? Acquire the severed head that Lucy also needs to find, containing a chip that Moldaver wants (and which Lucy hopes to trade for Daddy MacLean).

The biggest threat of all, however, is the Ghouls, and one in particular – a noseless, mutated remnant of Cooper Howard who is also hunting for the head and the bounty on it. He is the first to cross paths with Lucy, and oh the fun we have! By the end of a fishing trip, she’s in such a state that if she were to return to Filly, they would probably accept her unquestioningly as one of their own.

Co-creators Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Graham Wagner somehow manage to combine traditional post-nuclear apocalypse tropes with semi-ironic takes on 50s motifs, B-movie conventions and horror-level blood and gore (and work in plenty of Easter eggs and other pleasures for gamers). It’s a perfectly paced story that is both funny and self-aware without winking at the camera, undercutting our increasing emotional investment in characters who reveal – and sometimes unexpectedly redeem – themselves layer by layer. If I tell you that the organ-harvesting robot is voiced by Matt Berry, that the Ghoul’s meeting with a long-lost, rotting colleague almost made me cry and that neither element jarred with the other, perhaps that will convey something of the triumphant balancing act that is maintained throughout the eight-episode series.

It is, if you’ll pardon the pun, an absolute blast. Goggins is wonderful as both the unsullied golden boy Cooper and the wretched Ghoul, Moten brings such nuance to what could easily be a one-note role and Purnell performs Lucy’s fall from innocence brilliantly. The growing mystery back at Vault 32, as Lucy’s brother Norm (Moises Arias) becomes suspicious of the origins of the murderous raid and the supposedly benign Council that has protected them all these years, adds yet another strand to the story and ratchets up the tension even further. In short, for Fallout, I’m all in.

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Critic’s Notebook

O.J., Made in America, Made by TV

In O.J. Simpson’s life and trials, television was a spotlight, a microscope and a mirror.

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O.J. Simpson, wearing a gray suit and tie, holds up both of his hands with black gloves on during his trial.

By James Poniewozik

One of the strangest quotes I can remember associated with O.J. Simpson came from the broadcaster Al Michaels during the notorious freeway chase in 1994. Michaels, a sports commentator now covering the flight from the law of one of America’s biggest celebrities, said that he had spoken with his friend Simpson on the phone earlier. “Al,” Michaels recalled him saying, “I have got to get out of the media business.”

For a man who was about to be arrested and charged with the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman, it was an odd statement. But it was accurate. Simpson, during and after his pro football career, was a creature of the media business. With the freeway chase, and the acrimonious trial on live TV, he would essentially become the media business. Simpson, who died Wednesday at age 76, was one of the most-seen Americans in history.

What did people see when they looked at O.J. Simpson? A superstar, a killer, a hero, a liar, a victim, an abuser, an insider, a pariah — often many of these at once. In his fame and infamy, he was an example of what celebrity could make of a person and a symbol of what the media could make of a country.

Simpson’s football career made him a TV star in itself, as he became the first N.F.L. running back to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season, with the Buffalo Bills. But he found his way into mass-market stardom during the commercial breaks, doing endorsements for RC Cola , Chevrolet and, most famously, Hertz rental cars.

As the documentary “O.J.: Made in America” would later detail, race was a subtext of Simpson’s fame, even in his pitchman days. There was a sense of social relief in having white America, after the civil-rights battles of the 1960s, embrace a charismatic Black star. It felt good for the country to like O.J.

But it also required a complex negotiation, particularly in his most famous ad campaign, for Hertz. There was anxiety over how white viewers would take the image of a powerful Black man running through an airport — would it be thrilling or threatening? The commercials made sure to include white onlookers cheering “Go, O.J., go!” as if to validate his passport to mainstream stardom.

Acting roles followed, in “Roots,” the “Naked Gun” movies, the early HBO sitcom “First and Ten.” His fictional and pitchman roles would play up his image of innocuous charisma — an image that would echo surreally in his televised trial and the public reaction to it.

The murder case would show electronic media’s power to bring a country together and to rip it apart. The low-speed chase on the Southern California freeway was one of those where-were-you-when monoculture moments, like an earthbound perversion of the moon landing. It happened on a Friday night, interrupting Game 5 of the N.B.A. finals, riveting tens of millions of viewers, none of them — at home or in the broadcast studios — knowing if they were about to witness a death on live TV.

But amid this classic mass-media, global-village moment, there were signs that the case was already becoming something more surreal and disjointed, a macabre carnival that would consume TV. People showed up on the freeway with signs and cheers, as if to an N.F.L. playoff game. A prank caller , evidently a Howard Stern fan, got on the air on ABC and saluted the anchor Peter Jennings with a hearty “Baba Booey.”

The trial, once it began, was the biggest series on TV, although even that feels like an understatement. What part of TV, in 1994 and 1995, wasn’t the O.J. Simpson trial? It was “The Tonight Show,” “Larry King Live” and Norm Macdonald’s “Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live.” It was the first topic of conversation in the morning and the last, on cable news, at night. It inspired a “Seinfeld” episode and a fantasy sequence on “Roseanne” in which the prosecutor Marcia Clark (Laurie Metcalf) crawls out of the TV to talk to Roseanne Conner (Roseanne Barr), who provides her with the missing murder weapon.

The trial was all TV. It was every kind of TV. It was a soap opera. It was a legal thriller. It was an interactive whodunit before the age of murder podcasts. It was a social drama that exposed racial chasms and the flaws of the legal system. It was a dark comedy with buffoons, villains and comic-relief figures.

It was a tragedy too, of course, and viewers could not agree which part of it was a tragedy, and that too was the tragedy.

It was also a preview of coming attractions. It was the model for the all-in immersion coverage that 24-hour news would apply to everything from wars to missing-persons cases to sex scandals. All-O.J.-all-the-time would seamlessly become all-Clinton-Lewinsky-all-the-time, complete with legal commentators reprising their roles.

But even as the Simpson case showed the media’s power to plunge us all into the same story, it also revealed how different communities could inhabit different realities. We could watch the same trial, with the same testimony, but disagree not just on the proper verdict but on the stakes of the case.

It was open-and-shut or it was built on fraud. It was about domestic violence against women or it was about racism. It was about how the rich and famous were above the law or about how Black defendants were beneath it. It was about the crimes of a person or the crimes of a system.

Like the home audiences caught reacting to the verdict, some cheering and some wailing, we would become a split-screen nation. Eventually, with TV news augmented by partisan outlets and social media, people would come to many more stories — elections, wars, pandemics — encased in their own ecosystems, listening to their own experts, believing their own facts.

As for the Simpson case, TV would eventually catch up with the more complicated reality. In 2016 both the “Made in America” documentary and the mini-series “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” laid out the case against Simpson as well as the trial’s racial-historical context. Taken together , they suggested that you could believe Simpson guilty without believing the system innocent.

Nuance and complexity are still possible. But they tend to work on the slow, patient timetable of history. As far as the daily news is concerned, on the other hand, we still live in the world that the Simpson trial created. This week, O.J. Simpson finally left the media business. The rest of us are stuck with it.

James Poniewozik is the chief TV critic for The Times. He writes reviews and essays with an emphasis on television as it reflects a changing culture and politics. More about James Poniewozik


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