America, America

Following the Battle for America strand at the Battle of Ideas festival in London in November 2008, Culture Wars is exploring the past, present and future of the USA by bringing together new and old reviews of books, films and more.

Europeans sometimes disdain the USA as the land of soulless materialism, religious fundamentalism, chronic obesity and high school shootings. But is there still something in the American idea to inspire the rest of the world in the 21st century?

Thursday 12 October 2006

How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime

Sidney Blumenthal

The Bush administration has practised a politics of retrenchment. Far from perfecting a form of authoritarian populist rule, as Blumenthal argues, the Bush administration, and his Republican Party, have found it increasingly difficult to maintain their coherence.

Thursday 21 September 2006

Empire in Denial: The Politics of State-building

David Chandler

There is obviously a lot of truth in Chandler’s characterisation of post-Cold War Western elites as exhausted and visionless, but I wonder how we get from the clueless elite to the deep, costly interventions of ‘empire in denial’. Why isn’t simply doing nothing an option?

Saturday 26 August 2006

Finer Noble Gases

Bongo Club, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

You wait for something more, but it’s just not there. the American Dream is as hollow and wasted as the lives laid out before us on stage. Well shucks, we’ve never been told that before.

Thursday 17 August 2006

Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830

JH Elliott

The British and Spanish empires have both been closely and exhaustively studied separately, but Elliott’s book is an important synthesis. It is also an outstanding example of historical writing that manages to combine serious, rigorous historical scholarship with a style that commends it to the general reader. 

Wednesday 16 August 2006

Particularly in the Heartland

Traverse, Edinburgh

What sets the show apart from the standard liberal critique of religious America is that it does not set out to disillusion. Its attitude is instead one of wonder and empathy. The musical interludes are highlights of the show, with the group bursting into dance routines like the kids of FAME.

Tuesday 18 July 2006

Stranger in a Strange Land - Encounters in the Disunited States

Gary Younge

Arranged under four headings - War, Race, Politics and Culture - the collection is desperately in need of a strong editorial hand. Interested parties could probably make a better fist of it themselves: go to the Guardian website, do a search for ‘Gary Younge,’ and copy all the articles which appeal into a Word document. Hey presto! 

Wednesday 5 July 2006

Avenue Q

Noel Coward Theatre, London

Lopez and Marx part-parody and part-celebrate the notion of ‘finding oneself’. The audience is won over by the sheer fun and entertaining wit of the show enough that we forgive its soft-centred message. Life sucks, but hang in there, because fantasies can come true.

Monday 3 July 2006

The Challenge of Affluence: Self-Control and Well-Being in the United States and Britain since 1950

Avner Offer

Offer provides a comprehensive examination of the problems associated with economic growth. But he confuses association with causation: it may be true both that affluence has increased and that happiness has not, but it does not necessarily follow that one caused the other. 

Friday 23 June 2006


Philip Roth

The fear of Death, Roth shows us, might be the fear of the life we could have, maybe should have led. His ‘unchangeable’ story of man stalked by thoughts of his own demise may be a lesson in ‘how to die’. It is also - perhaps because of this - a lesson in how to live.

After the Neocons

Francis Fukuyama

Fukuyama’s latest book provides a clear summary of the origins and beliefs of the neoconservative movement. But given that the central promise of After the Neocons is the provision of alternative means to promote democracy short of war, Fukuyama’s institutional suggestions are remarkably flaccid. 

Tuesday 11 April 2006

DC Confidential: The Controversial Memoirs of Britain’s Ambassador to the US at the Time of 9/11 and

Christopher Meyer

The character that emerges from these ill-judged pages is a dubious one at best. His public school brand of anti-intellectualism, betrayed most starkly in his unquestioning acceptance of pre-emption, is his worst failing.

Tuesday 22 February 2005

The Revolutionary Road

Richard Yates and the American Dream

Yates’ charting of the descent of American consciousness away from the cliché of pioneering, blind optimism and exuberance to weary insecurity and alienation is an achievement that reaches beyond any genre.

Wednesday 24 September 2003

Cold Mountain

Anthony Minghella

Cold Mountain is very much a product of its times. It is set during the final years of the American Civil War, one of the most important chapters in the history of the USA. It was a period of dramatic fighting between the North and South, and the Yankees’ victory led to the abolition of the slavery. Yet Cold Mountain is entirely indifferent to this grand narrative and the whole point of this momentous period.

Friday 1 February 2002

Jerry Springer: the opera

Battersea Arts Centre, London

It’s a tall order to make something that is already an absurdity and parody it without making it cliché and trite. Yet Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee’s Jerry Springer: the Opera is able to do it wonderfully and hilariously.

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