Graeme Wood

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Book review: The French Intifada

Review of The French Intifada by Andrew Hussey.  Originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal

Nowadays it’s neither fashionable nor conscionable to feel nostalgic for the colonial era. But it’s clear that some colonial powers left more fragrant legacies than others, and one of the smelliest of them all was that of France. The country amassed a near perfect record of mismanagement, everywhere from Algeria and Indochina to the Central African Republic, and France is the only great colonial power whose misdeeds abroad keep haunting it, more or less constantly, at home.

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String Theory

I reviewed On the Noodle Road in the Wall Street Journal.

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Tourism Trap

I reviewed Elizabeth Becker’s Overbooked in the Wall Street Journal.

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Invisible Hand to Mouth

Originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

An Economist Gets Lunch

By Tyler Cowen

Dutton, 293 pages, $26.95

“Let’s be clear,” Tyler Cowen writes in “An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies,” an eccentric first-person hodgepodge of gastronomic thoughts, strategies and travel stories. “Every meal really matters to me.” Readers of his blog, Marginal Revolution, know that he means it. Nominally devoted to economics, the site also catalogs meticulously the ethnic restaurants in the Washington area. In a typical post, he’ll review a new Bolivian restaurant and compare it not only with other Bolivian restaurants but with others serving food from the Cochabamba region. Read the rest of this entry »

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Janet Reitman’s “Inside Scientology”

Originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

Inside Scientology

By Janet Reitman
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 444 pages, $28

The Church of Scientology, founded in 1950 by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, is not a church that turns the other cheek. In the early 1990s, the Internal Revenue Service went after it for taxes; Scientology unleashed an enfilade of lawsuits and complaints that eventually brought the IRS to heel and won the church tax exemption. In “Inside Scientology,” Janet Reitman says that when the church was charged criminally in 1998 over the death of a parishioner, the organization overwhelmed the medical examiner in Clearwater, Fla.; within two years she had resigned and later suffered a nervous breakdown. According to Ms. Reitman, David Miscavige, the church’s leader, called these acts a ” ‘holy war’ of litigation.” If the English language has a more frightening phrase, I haven’t come across it.

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The Last Lingua Franca

I review Nicholas Ostler’s The Last Lingua Franca in The Wall Street Journal.

Filed under: Wall Street Journal

On the incompetence of the ANC

Originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

By R.W. Johnson
(Overlook, 702 pages, $40)

Trevor Manuel, the South African finance minister from 1996 to 2009, got his job when the aging Nelson Mandela asked, at a cabinet meeting, who was a good economist. Mr. Manuel raised his hand thinking Mr. Mandela had asked who was “a good communist.” Mr. Manuel served his country ably. But the appointment of the sole competent minister in the first government of African National Congress was a matter of blind luck.

This will hardly come as a surprise to anyone who has followed R.W. Johnson’s reporting. The South Africa correspondent for the (London) Sunday Times and a frequent contributor to the London Review of Books, Mr. Johnson has been a prolific critic of the ANC’s 16-year tenure in power. “South Africa’s Brave New World,” his political history of the post- apartheid era, amounts to a book-length indictment of the ANC. Its leaders come through as so corrupt, lecherous and violent that governance is not even an afterthought. “If we didn’t dine with thugs and crooks,” says one to Mr. Johnson, “then we’d always eat alone.” The book is a catalog of sins and rumors (footnoted, though often attributed to private sources or, for example, “old girlfriends” of ANC members). It is big and disorganized but filled with credible gossip—like the Trevor Manuel story—and therefore a delight.

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