Is the New York Times book review truly a haven of centrism and neutrality? Lara Takenaga talked to Book Review editor Pamela Paul (Times Book Review editor since 2013) and section staffers Gregory Cowles and Barry Gewen. The piece was posted online in October 2018 but not printed until this week: “‘Political Switzerland’ for Books.” The “Switzerland” quip is from Paul, referring to the section's supposed ideological objectivity and neutrality. But a glance at any Times’ book review section (from either before or after Paul’s editorship) renders that assertion laughable.
New York Times Book editor Barry Gewen selected Simon Schama's big-think book, "The American Future -- A History" for review in his "Books of the Times" piece on Tuesday, and took condescending aim at Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin in the process.
Columnist David Brooks had some fun with the British-born Schama in his May 24 review, consigning Schama's book to a long line of self-consciously "Brilliant Books" whose authors as a group Brooks satirized:
Along the way, his writing will outstrip his reportage. And as his inability to come up with anything new to say about this country builds, his prose will grow more complex, emotive, gothic, desperate, overheated and nebulous until finally, about two-thirds of the way through, there will be a prose-poem of pure meaninglessness as his brilliance finally breaks loose from the tethers of observation and oozes across the page in a great, gopping goo of pure pretension.
Gewen was more impressed, and used his review, titled "Despite the Crises, Seeing a Star-Spangled Destiny in the Mirror of Time," as a soapbox to lash out at Republicans and defend Obama.
Gewen saw Schama as celebrating a new kind of patriotism "in the age of Barack Obama," far superior to the "belligerent...chauvinism" of Dick Cheney or the "ostentatious flag lapel pin" of Sarah Palin.