Michael O'Donnell | Reader, Writer

Contact Michael

 

Search site

Reviews and Essays

All the Presidents’ Man

September 25, 2020  | 

During the confusion that followed the attempt on Ronald Reagan’s life in 1981, Alexander Haig, the secretary of state, proclaimed at the White House podium: “I am in control.” Breathless and sweating, Haig reassured no one. While he floundered, someone else took command. James Baker, the chief of staff, monitored Reagan’s condition, kept the government …

Read Here Read at Source

A Hateful Beauty

September 17, 2020  | 

Hitler casts as long a shadow over Richard Wagner as Wagner casts over art. So argues Alex Ross, the music critic of the New Yorker, in his gigantic new book, “Wagnerism.” Fifty years after the German composer’s death in 1883, his operas became “the chief cultural ornament of the most destructive political regime in history.” …

Read Here Read at Source

My Captain Jacks

June 19, 2020  | 

I don’t know anyone but me who’s got a work of art that was tailor-made for him. Not tailor-made in the sense that the author or artist made a personal gift of it: I’m not referring to dedicatees. Nor do I mean favorites. Everyone has favorites. I mean stumbling across a film or novel that …

Read Here Read at Source

The Common Miracles

June 12, 2020  | 

What is a mountain: Is it a trophy or a temple? Recently we have begun to claim nature’s grandest tableaux as prizes. Alex Honnold climbs El Capitan with no rope. Crowded rows of paying customers line the summit ridge of Mount Everest like Black Friday shoppers. Alpinists rush to check off the highest peak of …

Read Here Read at Source

Saint, Sinner, Troublemaker

April 17, 2020  | 

In the early 1950s, as the Cold War began to take shape, the radical Catholic Dorothy Day protested a series of nuclear air-raid drills in New York City. Rather than staying indoors as ordered, Day and other pacifists gathered in parks and waited to be arrested. The gesture signified their refusal to participate in “psychological …

Read Here Read at Source

Variations on a Theme

February 15, 2020  | 

When a musician sits down and tries to play something for the first time, an extraordinary thing can happen, writes the critic Philip Kennicott. If he or she has heard the music before but never attempted it, a feeling not unlike the flush of romantic love can occur. For a few carefree minutes, there is …

Read Here Read at Source

The Supreme Court’s Enduring Bias

February 11, 2020  | 

A template for popular books about the Supreme Court has emerged since Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong’s The Brethren was published in 1979. It goes like this: Interweave case histories with biographical material on the justices and add anecdotes about their unseemly horse-trading. Then pack in as much gossip as you can. Journalists including Jeffrey …

Read Here Read at Source

Stars and Bars

December 12, 2019  | 

Not even classical music, politest of art forms, is safe from politics. In the mid-20th century, when performers affiliated with the Third Reich visited American concert halls, patriotic audiences howled. The Norwegian soprano Kirsten Flagstad—whose husband was a lumber magnate and Nazi collaborator—had to sing in Philadelphia in 1947 amid stink bombs and protest signs. …

Read Here Read at Source

An Enduring Vision of Tyranny

October 18, 2019  | 

The year 1984 came and went a generation ago, and the clocks did not strike 13. Big Brother’s face doesn’t stare down at us from giant posters. Masked police do not apprehend citizens guilty of thoughtcrime. England hasn’t been renamed Airstrip One, and Party slogans like “War Is Peace,” “Freedom Is Slavery” and “Ignorance Is Strength” …

Read Here Read at Source

Deconstructing Clarence Thomas

August 5, 2019  | 

The first thing to know about Clarence Thomas is that everybody at the Supreme Court loves him. Surprisingly, given his uncompromising public persona and his near-total silence during oral arguments, Thomas cultivates a jovial presence in the building’s austere marble hallways. Unlike most of his colleagues, he learns everyone’s name, from the janitors to each justice’s …

Read Here Read at Source

No One Said It Would Be Easy

May 17, 2019  | 

As talk of impeachment fills the air, an exceptionally topical new book explores the failed effort to remove President Andrew Johnson from office in 1868. Johnson ascended to the presidency after Lincoln’s assassination and embarked on a perverse campaign to roll back the Union’s achievements during the Civil War. Racist mobs marauded unchecked through the …

Read Here Read at Source

Slow Down, Holbrooke!

May 6, 2019  | 

The late American diplomat Richard Holbrooke (1941–2010) had a knack, that is to say a weakness, for self-promotion. He lobbied for the Nobel Peace Prize. He hinted broadly that he could serve as secretary of state. When one of his old friends died, Holbrooke petitioned the man’s widow to be included among the eulogists. During …

Read Here Read at Source

  • Archives

  • © 2021 Michael O'Donnell. All rights reserved.

    Website designed by Muhr Design.