Friday, July 29, 2016

Social Life of Money, Nigel Dodd, Princeton University Press.

The Social Life of Money, Nigel Dodd, Princeton University Press. 
Money is ubiquitous. We all take money for granted – not in the sense of having enough money in our pockets or our bank accounts, but in the sense that we weigh objects, goods, services, claims, maybe even time in a monetary standard. We seldom ask ourselves what money is. Yet, especially in times of economic crisis, money does increasingly become the object of debate. Part of this debate takes place within conventional economic theory and focuses on monetary and fiscal policy issues. Beyond these issues, however, there are more fundamental concerns about the very nature of money, questions about the value of money, how it works and how it is sustained. These questions evoke perplexities that seem to render money almost incomprehensible.
Nigel Dodd, Professor in the Sociology Department at the LSE, explores the social life of money and tackles many of these questions in his new book. His book expands the discussion on money, particularly by linking it to a strand of thought that is commonly regarded as being external to a theory of money. Although his own approach is sociological, he draws on economic, philosophical, anthropological, linguistic and other disciplinary concepts. This way, Dodd permanently opens up and broadens our understanding of money. By doing so, he goes well beyond orthodox and heterodox economic theories of money.
The book covers a few key themes that I’d like to stress here particularly. Throughout the book, Dodd challenges the idea that there is or might be money simpliciter, or just one kind of money, and particularly that such money would be an objective ‘thing’ bearing value in itself. One of his key influences is Georg Simmel’s philosophy of money. Following Simmel, Dodd explores money as a “claim upon society”. Money expresses a form of debt between an individual and “society” as a whole. Dodd then further investigates issues rising from this notion, e.g. what is the basis for such claim? And what exactly is society in this sense? He argues, drawing on Keith Hart, for a flexible understanding of “society” that resembles the scale of a particular monetary form. It might be the state or even the nation, but it also might refer to a particular community of users.
The argument, in brief, is that money is not a thing, but a process. It consists of social relations. Just like Simmel emphasized the process of sociation (as opposed to society as something fixed or stable), Dodd holds a fluid view of money and focuses on the process by which money is actively (re)created by its users. It is not an objective entity, but it has social life which rests on, for example, its underlying political, economic, and social framework. Money is never independent of social and political relations, or of culture. It is based on trust and social values. In practice, it might be materialized in precious metal, paper notes, book entries, bits and bytes, shells or whatever form it takes – yet it still derives its value and its meaning from the social relations among its users.
Dodd takes many forms and kinds of money –past, present and imagined– into account. The fact that he conceptually accepts monetary pluralism paves the way for conceiving of multiple opportunities to re-imagine and re-organise money as a means of social progress. Whereas classical social thought on money tends to regard money as malevolent and highlights, by and large, money’s capacity to threaten and erode society and culture, Dodd explores money’s progressive potential. Money, this is one of the key messages, can be organised in a beneficial way, it can be used as a means to reach economic, social, or political goals. However, not one single form of money can serve all purposes at the same time. Dodd discusses various alternatives like, for example, time banks and LETS on a local level, yet also ‘global’ alternatives like bitcoin and freicoin. This openness to and curiosity for utopian and monetary reform concepts is one of the great strengths’ of the book. Dodd asks what such conceptions might offer for a general understanding of money, yet also what they might offer from a normative perspective, how money should look like. In fact, Dodd slightly favours a flexible monetary system with various forms and kinds of co-existing monies. For him, the solution to our monetary crisis is not to develop an alternative form of money, but to develop plenty.
This original and comprehensive book is organized in eight chapters, each of which deals with a particular category. These are origins, capital, debt, guilt, waste, territory, culture and utopia. While some of the themes (e.g. capital; debt, origins, territory) seem to be necessary ingredients of any book on money (although dealt with from different perspectives), others are rather unexpected. On a first glance, the reader might even be surprised by the titles of some of these chapters. Yet Dodd unfolds their key relevance throughout the book and gives plenty of cross references to guide the reader. The chapters on guilt and waste are probably best suited to exemplify the distinctiveness of this book and how it differs from most other works on money. Dodd offers compelling insights from psychoanalytical approaches which link money to excrement and the unconscious. Then, following Bataille’s concept of the general economy, Dodd invites us not to imagine scarcity, but surplus as the fundamental economic problem. Unusual as it is, such a conceptual shift allows for a new perspective on the Eurozone’s transfer union, as the discussion in the book exemplifies thoroughly.
Dodd writes with great skill. The style is compelling and one enjoys reading the book. At the same time, it is not an easy read. It is demanding, and it takes time to follow Dodd carefully. This is something that inevitably comes with the broadness of Dodd’s approach. Dodd raises questions even more than giving answers, and he draws on a huge range of scholars of which many are not commonly regarded when it comes to money.
Some readers might miss a narrower conclusion and/or a more formal synthetisation of the complex and original discussion. Yet Dodd does not aim to offer one coherent approach to money – on the contrary, he severely doubts that such an approach might even exist. As we have seen, just like money can take various forms, there are various theories on money all of which have something valuable to say. The book proves how fruitful and intriguing it is to take different perspectives and stances on this polymorphic phenomenon. Dodd rejects overly narrow concepts of money that theorize some monetary forms out of sight (e.g. neochartalist approaches focusing on money of account as the defining feature of moneyness). In this sense, the book is a strong argument for diversity in the theory of money.
To repeat: yes, the book is demanding. But it is far more rewarding. Some might not be inclined to accept every argument Dodd develops – yet for sure this brilliant book helps reconsidering views, opinions and theoretical claims on money that might be taken for granted too easily. It is a must-read for any scholar interested in the topic as it helps to better understand the nature of money –or, of monies. Also, surely many future in-depth case studies of particular forms of money will gain enormously from this work.

Sounds of Shattered Silence in Zion

Popular Protest in Palestine: The Uncertain Future of Unarmed Resistance
by Marwan Darweish and Andrew Rigby
Pluto, 211 pp., $28.00 (paper)

Return: A Palestinian Memoir
by Ghada Karmi
Verso, 319 pp., $26.95

Disturbing the Peace: The Use of Criminal Law to Limit the Actions of Human Rights Defenders in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories
by the Human Rights Defenders Fund
80 pp.; available at

Al pi tehom [At the Edge of the Abyss]
by Talia Sasson
Jerusalem: Keter, 309 pp., 74.00 shekels

The Conflict Shoreline: Colonization as Climate Change in the Negev Desert
by Eyal Weizman and Fazal Sheikh
Steidl/Cabinet, 92 pp., $40.00
This Placean exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, February 12–June 5, 2016.
Catalog of the exhibition by Frederic Brenner and others
MACK, 191 pp., $50.00 (paper)
A poster of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish (left), Aida refugee camp, near Bethlehem, West Bank, 2009; photograph by Josef Koudelka from ‘This Place,’ an exhibition of pictures by twelve photographers of Israel and the West Bank, at the Brooklyn Museum of Art until June 5, 2016
Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos
A poster of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish (left), Aida refugee camp, near Bethlehem, West Bank, 2009; photograph by Josef Koudelka from ‘This Place,’ an exhibition of pictures by twelve photographers of Israel and the West Bank, at the Brooklyn Museum of Art until June 5, 2016
Israeli human rights activists and what is left of the Israeli peace groups, including joint Israeli-Palestinian peace organizations, are under attack. In a sense, this is nothing very new; organizations such as B’Tselem, the most prominent and effective in the area of human rights, and Breaking the Silence, which specializes in soldiers’ firsthand testimony about what they have seen and done in the occupied territories and in Gaza, have always been anathema to the Israeli right, which regards them as treasonous.1 But open attacks on the Israeli left have now assumed a far more sinister and ruthless character; some of them are being played out in the interrogation rooms of Israeli prisons. Clearly, there is an ongoing coordinated campaign involving the government, members of the Knesset, the police, various semiautonomous right-wing groups, and the public media. Politically driven harassment, including violent and illegal arrest, interrogation, denial of legal support, virulent incitement, smear campaigns, even death threats issued by proxy—all this has become part of the repertoire of the far right, which dominates the present government and sets the tone for its policies.
There is now a palpable sense of danger, and also an accelerating decline into a situation of incipient everyday state terror. Palestinians have lived with the reality of state terror for decades—it is the very stuff of the occupation—but it has now seeped into the texture of life inside the Green Line, as many on the left have warned that it would. Israelis with a memory going back to the 1960s sometimes liken the current campaign to the violent actions of the extreme right in Greece before the colonels took power, as famously depicted in the still-canonical film Z.
The witch-hunt began this time with a targeting of the ex-soldiers’ organization Breaking the Silence by a strident chorus on the right, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, and other members of the cabinet, but also including prominent politicians and journalists from the wishy-washy center, including the highly popular Haaretz correspondent Ari Shavit. There have been calls to outlaw the organization entirely.
In Israeli parlance, Breaking the Silence is one of a group of so-called “leftist NGOs” (amutot hasmol) that are the object of a new bill now making its way through the Knesset, an initiative of the fanatical minister of justice, Ayelet Shaked, possibly the least just person in the country. Like many right-wing NGOs, leftist groups such as B’Tselem receive funding from donors both in Israel and abroad; the new law aims at forcing leftist and human rights organizations to disclose all foreign sources of support every time they appear in a public setting.
The proposed law is a transparent attempt to humiliate these groups and to limit their freedom of action. Initially, Shaked wanted representatives of left-wing organizations that receive foreign funding to wear identity badges whenever they entered the Knesset or other public spaces, but Netanyahu, still apparently capable of seeing the invidious analogy to the badges the Nazis forced Jews to wear in public, squashed this clause.
The steady stream of government-fueled invective and threats has also been channeled into the shadowy world of clandestine operations. In recent weeks several of the peace organizations have uncovered right-wing spies and moles that had worked their way into their ranks. It’s hard to know who has been orchestrating this wave or how high up the operation goes. There are front organizations, including a newly registered group of Israeli settlers who call themselves Ad Kan (This Far and No Farther); I’ll come back to them in a moment.
Among the more ludicrous cases is that of a private detective who targeted the office of Michael Sfard, an outstanding human rights lawyer. For about two years, this shady character apparently salvaged documents from wastebaskets and even proudly claimed to have run after municipal sanitation trucks in order to retrieve scraps of paper. By his own testimony, he was hired to do this by a far-right—and partly state-funded—organization called Regavim (Clods of Earth) that is active primarily in acquiring and colonizing Palestinian land in the occupied territories. (There is no other kind of land in the territories, notwithstanding claims by Israeli governments, which were upheld by Israeli courts, that so-called miri, or state lands, in the West Bank belong to nobody but the state.)
It’s worth noting that the peace and civil rights organizations have nothing to hide, and the attempt to find documents that could somehow incriminate them is in itself a futile and paranoid gesture worthy of the Stasi-run East German state at its height. But in a way, transparency as an ethical principle no longer matters. Israeli peace activists have graduated from being protesters, in theory, at least, protected by the law, to being dissidents—that is, legitimate targets for government-inspired attacks.
One of the spies did some damage to Ta’ayush (Arab–Jewish Partnership), the group of Israeli and Palestinian volunteers with which I myself have been associated for the last fifteen years. Here there is a story to tell. Ta’ayush has focused its work on the South Hebron Hills, where we have had moderate success in defending Palestinian civilians from violence on the part of settlers and soldiers and from the relentless attempt by Israeli governments, using all the means at their disposal, to expel this Palestinian population from their homes and to take over their lands. In some cases, working together with our Palestinian allies in the field, adopting the classic methods of nonviolent resistance associated with Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, we have actually reversed the process of dispossession and helped Palestinian villagers come back home.
Well over a year ago, a young Israeli, Itzik Goldway, and his girlfriend Julia, both linked to Ad Kan and the extreme right, joined Ta’ayush on its weekly trips to South Hebron. They subsequently portrayed this “infiltration” as a heroic, James Bond–style act; in actual fact, anyone is welcome to take part in our activities, no questions asked. Itzik managed to win the confidence of Ezra Nawi, a pivotal and charismatic figure in Ta’ayush and, for that very reason, hated by Israeli settlers and the police serving in this region. Nawi has been arrested on false charges many times in the past, and has been awarded damages for this by Israeli courts; he was also jailed for a month for allegedly obstructing soldiers during violent house demolitions at the Palestinian village of Umm al-Khair in 2007.
For some months at least Goldway traveled with Nawi, surreptitiously recording and filming him to no particular effect, until a moment came when an apparent sting operation, no doubt masterminded from above, was set in motion. An alleged Palestinian land dealer, “Mousa,” telephoned Nawi and tried to implicate him in the sale of Palestinian land from the village of Susya to Israeli settlers. Nawi, never famous for circumspection in speech, fell straight into the trap and foolishly spoke to Goldway, whose camera was running, about turning Mousa over to the Palestinian Security Forces—who, he said, would possibly torture and kill him. It was an empty, though obnoxious, remark: no one has been executed in Palestine for the last ten years, although selling land to Jews remains on the books as a capital crime in the Palestine Authority. For the record, the shady land dealer is alive and well. Ezra later claimed that he considered turning to the Palestinian Security Forces in order to protect his name and standing among the Palestinian population of the South Hebron Hills.
A year went by. Then, in early January, a highly respected journalist, Ilana Dayan, devoted her television show, Uvda (Fact), an Israeli equivalent of 60 Minutes, to Ezra Nawi and Ta’ayush, with the spy’s video clips as centerpiece. Over the last twenty-two years, Uvda has specialized in muckraking and has uncovered many seamy ventures within Israel; this was its six-hundredth broadcast. It is perhaps telling that apparently none of the previous 599 reports ever focused on what goes on, hour by hour, in the occupied territories. In this case the Uvda team failed to meet even minimal professional standards and, in effect, allowed themselves to serve as a mouthpiece for Ad Kan.
As a result of the broadcast, Nawi was arrested, as were two other activists, and the case rapidly developed along the lines of clear-cut political persecution—as was, I suppose, evident from the start. Even before the arrests, Nawi had received death threats and was assaulted on the street outside his home after right-wing groups published his address on Facebook. After two weeks of incarceration under appalling conditions and nearly continuous interrogation, while being denied access to his lawyer (the most draconian rule in Israeli criminal law), with the police repeatedly demanding that his detention be extended, Nawi and a second Israeli activist were released by an honest judge who said, in effect, that there was no criminal case and that the police had their own agenda.
The Har Homa settlement, on a hill opposite Bethlehem, West Bank, 2009; photograph by Josef Koudelka from the exhibition ‘This Place’
Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos
The Har Homa settlement, on a hill opposite Bethlehem, West Bank, 2009; photograph by Josef Koudelka from the exhibition ‘This Place’
What happened to the third activist, a Palestinian from Susya whose family lands were at stake and a field worker for B’Tselem, is instructive. He was arrested by soldiers in the middle of the night with all the usual terrifying trappings of such actions. Two Israeli courts ordered him released because, they said, Israeli civilian courts had no jurisdiction over him: a Palestinian living in Palestinian territory who reports to the Palestinian police when his lands are in danger is using the only recourse open to him. The Israeli police then literally kidnapped him, defying the courts, and deposited him in the military detention camp at Ofer, where he languished for several days before a military judge ordered him released.
We don’t yet know how far the state will go in persecuting Ezra Nawi; newspaper reports, citing Nawi’s lawyers, have said that the police kept trying to link him to the death of a Palestinian implicated in some other land transaction, although everyone knows that this man died of a stroke in his bed. When the police claimed they hadn’t had enough time to determine the circumstances of this death and needed to keep Nawi locked up until they could do so, his lawyer, Eitan Peleg, was quoted as saying: “If you really wanted to know, you could find out not within minutes but within seconds by simply telephoning your colleagues in the Palestinian Security Forces.”
All in all, it’s a sordid story, emblematic of this moment in Israeli history. Despite it all, or perhaps because of what has happened, Ta’ayush is flourishing; there has been a rush of volunteers for the weekly expeditions to South Hebron. But it’s not hard to gauge how events are moving. Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for B’Tselem, has said: “We are seeing a general assault by the government and right-wing groups on those parts of Israeli society that are still standing up for democratic values. The aim is to silence us.”
A lucid discussion of how the Israeli right, with the government firmly behind it, is continually attempting to criminalize Israeli human rights activists can be found inDisturbing the Peace, published by the Human Rights Defenders Fund, which provides assistance to Israeli and Palestinian activists. This report also offers chilling firsthand testimonies of brutal arrests, savage beatings, and many accounts of inventive punishments and humiliations of activists (very often women) by police and soldiers. Those of us who have participated in demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah, Nabi Salih, Isawiya, and other Palestinian settlements can vouch personally for the routine character of such acts.
Real danger accompanies peace work inside the occupied territories, but even greater danger may now threaten human rights workers inside the Green Line, in supposedly democratic Israel. One might be tempted to write off much of the current campaign as a particularly noxious form of McCarthyism. Ronen Shoval, one of the founders of a virulent right-wing organization called Im Tirtzu (Where There’s a Will) has publicly expressed his deep admiration for Joseph McCarthy. Im Tirtzu has focused on Israeli academics, intellectuals, and artists; it recently put out a video clip in which four leaders of prominent human rights organizations are shown, named, and labeled shtulim—foreign spies, portrayed as actively supporting terrorism.
In late January, Im Tirtzu published an updated list of these so-called foreign agents; it includes hundreds of names and reads like a Who’s Who of Israeli cultural and scientific life. Among those named are the writers Amos Oz and David Grossman, the famous actress Gila Almagor, the popular singer Chava Alberstein, the playwright Yehoshua Sobol, and so on. Some prominent Israelis were insulted that they didn’t make it onto the list. Netanyahu, by the way, has proclaimed his enthusiastic support for Im Tirtzu and its obviously paranoid program, although he did dissociate himself from this latest list of Israel’s alleged internal enemies.
But Israeli McCarthyism has an additional, distinctive element that deepens the madness. It is directly linked to Israel’s colonial project in the occupied Palestinian territories. Anyone who opposes the occupation in word or deed is now at risk. For the right, patriotism is synonymous with occupation and all that comes with it, above all the dispossession and expulsion of Palestinians and the theft of their lands. One can hear overtly racist rationalizations of this aim any day on the public radio talk shows. Put simply, the occupation system as a whole is ruled by the logic of stark division between the privileged Israeli occupiers and the Palestinian occupied, who are totally disenfranchised and stripped of all basic human rights.
There should be no need to rehearse again the endless iniquities inherent in the occupation; those unfamiliar with them can easily find them discussed in detail in Neve Gordon’s 2008 book, entitled Israel’s Occupation,2 or the recent Hebrew book by Talia Sasson, At the Edge of the Abyss, or in the many personal memoirs, such as Ghada Karmi’s eloquent and moving Return, about life in occupied Palestine. Karmi also reveals the widespread corruption, ineptitude, and violence within the Palestinian Authority, in parts of the West Bank under its control. Graphic images of life inside the occupied territories can be seen in This Place, the record of a traveling exhibition of the works of twelve gifted photographers.
Sometimes a single moment can epitomize what the Israeli occupation means in human terms. On February 2, the army destroyed twenty-three Palestinian homes in Jinba and Halawa in the South Hebron Hills, leaving eighty-seven people, sixty of them children, without shelter in the depth of the freezing desert winter. The excuse: the army needs Jinba and the surrounding eleven villages for a “firing zone”—as if there were no empty spaces inside Israel for such exercises.3
Further demolitions are scheduled at Umm al-Khair, a shanty neighborhood bordering the Israeli settlement of Karmel, which sits on top of the lands privately owned by the people of Umm al-Khair. The village of Susya remains at high risk, with recent orders to demolish all its tents and shacks as well as its energy facilities that Israeli activists have painfully put in place. Numerous demolitions of Palestinian homes are also taking place in the Jordan Valley.
We are thus witnessing a brutal wave of accelerated demolitions in the West Bank: in the first six weeks of 2016 alone, 293 homes were destroyed by the army. The goal, in a word, is a form of ethnic cleansing. Israel wants these Palestinians who inhabit what is called Area C, the zone of intense Israeli settlement (some 60 percent of the West Bank), to disappear. According to recent figures released by Dror Etkes, the most knowledgeable expert on this subject, already more than half the lands in Area C have been declared closed military zones, which means that Palestinians are completely barred from entering them.
The processes of eviction and appropriation have been going on for a very long time, and not only within the occupied territories. Eyal Weizman and Fazal Sheikh have produced The Conflict Shoreline, a small scholarly masterpiece beautifully illustrated by aerial photographs, on the sad story of Bedouin lands in the northern Negev. In particular, the fate of al-Araqib, a historic Bedouin site, is movingly described. Al-Araqib, whose people credibly claim possession of several thousand acres, has now been bulldozed more than ninety times, and each time its several dozen residents have rebuilt their homes, with the help of Israeli activists. Tenacity and perseverance count for something, but no one can say how long these people can hold on.
Random knife attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians, mostly by Palestinian teenagers, have been taking place since September, when it looked as if Israel was about to change the status quo on the Haram al-Sharif, or the Temple Mount, as Israeli right-wingers like to call it.4 Over two dozen Israelis have been killed in these attacks. Well over a hundred Palestinians have died, some in the course of attempted knifings, and many thousands have been wounded in clashes with the army. Intermittent Palestinian violence can usually be counted on to supply the Israeli right with whatever rationale it needs for its hard-line program. But none of this happens in a vacuum. Incremental acts of a fiercely hypernationalist character add up to a consistent, insidious, ultimately devastating attack on the very structure of Israeli democracy.
The minister of education, Naftali Bennett, one of the most extreme spokesmen of the fanatical right, has issued a blacklist of books that are to be banned from the curriculum of all Israeli schools on the grounds that they are not patriotic enough. (These include a popular novel by Dorit Rabinyan, Borderlife, about a love affair between a Palestinian man and an Israeli woman—a heinous crime in the eyes of the religious right.) If being Jewish means anything at all, after a more or less continuous history of some three millennia, I think it must mean that Jews are people who do not ban books.
To my mind, proscribing books is entirely consonant with the enormous theft of Palestinian land. The former nicely and subtly furthers the latter. The minister of culture and sport, Miri Regev, another fanatical nationalist, is also sponsoring a “loyalty in culture” bill; you can guess what she has in mind.
As always in such situations, a huge majority of otherwise decent Israelis passively go along with the new cultural and political regime. The Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the strongest art museum in the country, recently canceled an exhibition of works relating to refugees and refugee camps by the renowned Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei along with photographs by Miki Kratsman, winner of the prestigious Emet Prize. Kratsman’s photographs included some three thousand portraits of Palestinians from the camps. The museum made vague noises about difficulties in scheduling, which might even have been true; the director, Suzanne Landau, denied that the decision to cancel had anything to do with politics. Yet in the present rabid climate, there is a potential price to be paid by those rare institutions that have the courage to stand up for what they believe in or once believed in.
Sometimes, on a good day, I think that the very starkness and horror of the occupation will eventually bring it to an end. Both in Hebrew and, I think, outside of Israel, throughout the world, the term “occupation” has by now acquired something of the specific gravity of the word “apartheid” in the days before the South African system collapsed. Apartheid regimes—and the word is, alas, eminently suited to the occupation of Palestine—do sometimes collapse. Michael Sfard, the human rights lawyer, recently published a humane and hopeful statement: one day, he said, the occupation will crumble, probably all at once. Sfard is not alone.
The most astute political commentator in Israel, Dmitry Shumsky, has written inHaaretz of the somewhat paradoxical character of this latest round of right-wing terror; there is, at the moment, no electoral threat whatever to the continued rule of the far right and no clear sign of effective pressure from outside. Why, then, is it so intent on hunting down its enemies? Shumsky thinks that on a subtler, more hidden level, even the Israeli right is beginning to sense that its hold on Palestine is becoming untenable. I myself am less sanguine; the far right in Israel very readily opts for totalitarian modes of thinking and acting, and it’s not clear who is left to stop it.
On February 9 Netanyahu announced that he is building a huge fence around the entire country to protect it from the “wild beasts” out there. He has, as always, failed to notice his own responsibility for extreme violence inside this fence-to-be, including his part in purveying paranoid hatred and as the active persecutor of a Palestinian population of millions entirely without rights. Like many, indeed most, of those around him, he has substituted the false and often fatal notion that citizens exist only to serve the state for the democratic notion that the state, a nonmetaphysical entity not meant to mediate collective identities, is there to foster and serve its citizens. Dark days lie ahead.
Probably no more than a few hundred human rights and peace activists are still in the field in Israel—a few hundred too many in the eyes of the far right and, I guess, of large parts of the political center as well. These remaining activists are nevertheless certainly supported by much wider circles; and it’s important to note that some parts of the democratic apparatus of the state still function. The courts, despite an ambiguous, indeed often appalling record on matters relating to the occupation, still can exert some kind of constraint on the government. So far, one can still speak and write more or less freely, although new moves to censor social media have been announced.
Marwan Darweish and Andrew Rigby, authors of Popular Protest in Palestine, discuss many of the major settings for Palestinian nonviolent resistance to the occupation—the villages of Bil’in, Nabi Salih, the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, the South Hebron Hills, and so on. It is certainly true, as I can attest from personal experience, that one meets many remarkable, courageous, and astonishingly articulate people in these settings. (The right-wing extremists of Ad Kan have recently released a contrived and mendacious film clip attempting to discredit these Palestinian activists and the Israeli peace workers who have demonstrated alongside them.)
But Darweish and Rigby also set out the minimal conditions or prerequisites for “sustainable unarmed resistance” in Palestine: a strong sense of solidarity throughout the subject population, organizational resilience, and external support from state and nonstate actors. These conditions are still, for the most part, very far from being realized; Palestinian society is rife with internal division (as the recent wave of strikes by Palestinian schoolteachers against the Palestinian government makes clear). So far the Israeli system has succeeded in keeping nonviolent protest a highly localized and mostly small-scale phenomenon lacking a strong leadership that goes beyond local protest. Indeed, the occupation rests to a large extent precisely upon the fragmentation of the occupied territories into many tiny, discontinuous, fenced-in enclaves. Still, fences, even or especially barbed-wire fences, will prove to be a feeble foundation on which to build a future for the state when those trapped inside them decide to become free.

New York's Yiddish Theater : From the Bowery to Broadway edited by Edna Nachshon, Columbia University Press

New York's Yiddish Theater : From the Bowery to Broadway edited by Edna Nachshon, Columbia University Press

‘New York’s Yiddish Theater’ Explores a Fractious Heritage of Melodrama and Musicals

An exhibit devoted to Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye stories and to “Fiddler on the Roof,’’ the musical they inspired. CreditJake Naughton for The New York Times

A DEFINITE if wobbly line connects the Yiddish theater of 19th-century Eastern Europe and the Lower East Side to the giants of modern American entertainment. It traces a long road from the ghettos and shtetls to Broadway and Hollywood and the likes of Marlon Brando and Barbra Streisand.

That connection is a major theme of an exhibition that opened this week at the Museum of the City of New York. With 250 posters, playbills, photographs, film clips, set designs, costumes and other artifacts, it shows how what began as traveling troupes performing for poor Jewish audiences in Europe turned into a major New York entertainment center that provided a vital escape for the Lower East Side’s sweatshop workers and pushcart peddlers at the start of the 20th century.Photo

A statuette from the Goldie Awards, named for the 19th-century actor and playwright Abraham Goldfaden, in “New York’s Yiddish Theater” at the Museum of the City of New York.CreditJake Naughton for The New York Times

The exhibition, “New York’s Yiddish Theater: From the Bowery to Broadway,” includes treasures like Miss Streisand’s gray and lavender gown from “Funny Girl,” the 1964 musical about the Jewish vaudevillian Fanny Brice; Zero Mostel’s rumpled Tevye outfit from “Fiddler on the Roof” the same year; and a photograph of a young Frank Sinatra smiling at a poster of Menashe Skulnik, who styled himself as the quintessential nebbish.

As for Brando, he learned his Method acting from Stella Adler, who as the daughter of the great Yiddish actor Jacob Adler started out in Yiddish theater herself and helped found both the socially conscious Group Theater, whose members included Clifford Odets, Elia Kazan, and John Garfield, and the school named for her, which turned out alumni like Robert De Niro, Warren Beatty and Mark Ruffalo. (There is some speculation that Brando’s famous bellow of “Stella!” in “A Streetcar Named Desire” was an insider’s wink to his mentor.)

Major Hollywood actors whose stars have dimmed with time — Edward G. Robinson (Emanuel Goldenberg) and Paul Muni (Frederich Weisenfreund, whose Yiddish nickname was Moony) — got their start in Yiddish theater. In 1998, Mandy Patinkin, whom young Americans know mostly as Saul Berenson of Showtime’s “Homeland,” staged a one-man show of Yiddish songs (or American songs like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” sung in Yiddish). Tony Kushner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of “Angels in America,” his drama about AIDS and gay life, adapted the Yiddish theater classic “The Dybbuk,” by S. Ansky, in 1997.Photo

Vintage posters from various Yiddish theater productions. CreditJake Naughton for The New York Times

Boris Aronson, a Ukrainian rabbi’s son who designed the sometimes surrealistic sets and costumes for Unser Theater, a Yiddish house in the Bronx, went on to win six Tony awards for shows like “Cabaret,” “Company” and “Follies.” And where would American comedy be without inspirational Catskills jesters like Sid Caesar, Jerry Lewis, Danny Kaye and Jackie Mason, all of whom, as one exhibition label says, “came of age in a world deeply shaped by New York’s heritage of Yiddish performance”?

The show, organized by Edna Nahshon, professor of theater at the Jewish Theological Seminary, tells the story of how Yiddish theater emigrated here with the three million Jews fleeing the poverty and pogroms of Russia, Poland and Romania. The first production, in 1882, was the middling operetta “The Witch,” by Abraham Goldfaden, regarded as the father of the modern Yiddish theater.Continue reading the main story

Melodramas and musicals followed, and going to the theater soon became the favorite pastime of hard-pressed tenement dwellers — seeing a show was what you splurged on — and helped ease new immigrants into the English-speaking world. Though some of what was offered could be considered mawkish schlock, much was vigorous and moving, particularly once the literary playwright Jacob Gordin insisted that actors stay faithful to the text and stop larding it with shtick. Plays like “Yoshe Kalb,” based on a story by I. J. Singer (Isaac Bashevis’s older brother), drew visits by Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin and glowing remarks from a mainstream critic, Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times.Photo

A gown worn by Barbra Streisand in the 1964 Broadway musical “Funny Girl.”CreditJake Naughton for The New York Times

By the mid-1920s, New York was the world capital of the Yiddish stage, with 14 houses, half of them along Second Avenue. Not much smaller in scale than Broadway, the Jewish Rialto boasted music halls and après-theater hangouts like the Cafe Royal, the Lower East Side’s answer to Sardi’s. (In 1942, the cafe inspired a Broadway play, “Cafe Crown,” which was last revived in 1988 with Eli Wallach in the lead role. It featured a set meticulously recreating the defunct restaurant down to the pickle bowls on the tables.)

The exhibition, which runs through July 31, capitalizes on the collections of the museum and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Visitors walk in to face a giant black-and-white photograph of the Grand Theater, which opened in 1903 as the first such venue expressly built for Yiddish shows. The billing in the photograph is for “The Jewish King Lear,” starring Jacob Adler, so charismatic a tragedian that 50,000 people would attend his funeral in 1926. The theatergoers in the photograph seem formally dressed, the men in black suits and bowler hats and the women in gowns and wide bonnets; Yiddish posters ask them to “help your brothers in Russia.”

“There is a tendency to paint the Yiddish theater as unruly, a wild scene, with rolling bottles and pistachio nuts,” Ms. Nahshon said. “But here you have the glamour and elegance.”Photo

Puppets from the satirical Modicut Puppet Theater, which performed in Yiddish in a Lower East Side studio in the 1920s and ’30s and toured abroad. CreditJake Naughton for The New York Times

The exhibition has alcoves devoted to towering Yiddish figures like Gordin; Adler and his large theatrical brood; and the actors Boris and Bessie Tomashefsky, Maurice Schwartz and Molly Picon. In its tribute to the winsome Picon, the show runs nonstop clips from the 1937 film version of her gender-bending “Yidl Mitn Fidl” (“Yiddle With His Fiddle”), in which she plays a girl masquerading as a boy who falls in love with a boy. Picon eventually crossed over to mainstream entertainment, appearing with Sinatra in the 1963 film adaptation of Neil Simon’s “Come Blow Your Horn.”

There are hints in the show of the roiling humanity of the theater’s personalities, and the kind of foibles that a Yiddish Page Six might pounce on.

“Tomashefksy had love affairs galore,” Ms. Nahshon said. “He was known for that. When he died, he had two widows, his lover and Bessie, whom he never divorced. She was known for her good taste and her love of Parisian clothing.”Photo

Set and costume designs by Boris Aronson, who won six Tony awards for shows including “Cabaret” and “Follies.” CreditJake Naughton for The New York Times

But as the new arrivals moved into the middle class and to the suburbs and away from their mother tongue, Yiddish theater declined. There is a poster for a production about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising starring Jacob Ben-Ami from 1944, but by then the number of shows had started tumbling. The energy shifted partly to the Catskills, where entertainers spritzed Yiddish vernacular into their English-language routines for vacationers who wanted a side of nostalgia with their stuffed cabbage. Meanwhile, entertainers who might have been stars of Yiddish vaudeville like Mickey Katz, father of Joel Grey and grandfather ofJennifer Grey, blended Yiddish and English lyrics in parodies like “Duvid Crockett, King of Delancey Street.”

The actors Joseph Buloff, Mina Bern, Miriam Kressyn and Seymour Rexite kept the flame flickering toward the end of the last century for audiences filled with Holocaust survivors, but those actors have died off. Today, there is only one company left from the golden age, the 101-year-old National Yiddish Theater-Folksbiene, whose home is currently the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan, although groups including the New Yiddish Rep occasionally put on shows like the Yiddish “Waiting for Godot.”

Glimpses of the Jewish Rialto are visible on Second Avenue today. Most prominently, there remains the Yiddish Art Theater, now called Village East Cinema, at the southwest corner of 12th Street. Its interior has been declared a landmark, and the original Star of David is still visible on its domed ceiling.

A Ramble with Roger

CreditLeon Edler
Years ago, I was on a panel with Russell Banks, and we were talking about “Affliction.” Russell was pleased with the novel’s reception, but he also said he’d hoped he was creating a worthwhile body of work. This was not said with a dismissive attitude toward the appreciative things people were saying about “Affliction.” Rather, it seemed that Russell was stepping back, surveying all he’d done to that point, and keeping a careful eye on the whole even as readers were concentrating on one recent part.
Readers and writers do not think of a body of work in the same way. To a reader, a body of work is a static totality by which a writer may be assessed. To a writer, it is something of a taunt. Writers think of a body of work as a movie tough guy whom we have popped in the jaw. We rear back and deliver our best haymaker, and the body of work shakes it off and says, That all you got?
For this and other reasons, writers generally do not like to read their work once it is published. We find mistakes. We find things that make us cringe. And the whole process kills whatever momentum we may be feeling. The body of work becomes a body of evidence in a case built against us. We find a writer we barely recognize, and who seems to want to pick a fight. See all our books lined up on the shelf. They are a museum, a graveyard. They are a chorus line, arranged side by side like the Rockettes. All that’s missing is the kicks.
Good or bad, a particular piece of work does not say anything lasting to us. We finish the poem, novel or memoir, send it into the public air, and think about what to do next. The collected work, on the other hand, says a great deal to and about us. It usually says we have been weighed in our own balance and found wanting. Collectively, our body of work is an expression of implied yearning. And while we may be full of ourselves while producing the poem, novel or memoir — drunk on the power of language or subject matter, and buried in laughter or fury or whatever we’re dreaming up at the time — when we come up for a breather, there sit the words settled on the page, unmoved and unmoving. Is that all we got? Hear us sigh.
Last summer, I lost two great friends, and the world lost two great writers, James Salter and E.L. Doctorow, both of whom created lasting bodies of work. Jim went first, having collapsed during a workout. We had dinner the night after his 90th birthday, and got soused on zombies. Edgar died a few weeks later, after fighting lung cancer for a year before pneumonia did him in. Not long before he died, he went for a checkup at Yale, where he was receiving an experimental treatment. Did you wow them in New Haven? I emailed him on his return. Not only did I wow them, wrote Edgar. I huzzahed them, I yippee-ai-ayed them and I mazeltoved them!
Shortly before his Yale trip, on a still, summer afternoon, I visited Edgar at his home in Sag Harbor. He talked about a piece he’d seen that called “Ragtime” the great American novel. Half playfully we inventoried his other novels to see if they deserved the title over “Ragtime.” (My candidate was “The Book of Daniel.”) Edgar wasn’t taking all this too ­seriously.
But it was interesting to rove through his body of work with him, because he did not wish to dwell on it. In fact, ill as he was, he had an idea for a new short story, the prospect of which put life in his eyes. The point is, he would not see his body of work as an adamant structure. Though monumental, it was to him a work in progress till the end, the perpetually evolving yearning of a monumental soul.
This statement of yearning may be why the term is applied equally to one who has produced a tremendous amount of material, and to one who has written only a few things. The difference between a minor and a major poet has to do with quality, not heft. Allen Ginsberg is a major poet for no reason other than “Kaddish.” Djuna Barnes, Ralph Ellison and Joseph Heller created a very few books, yet each produced a body of work. Elizabeth Hardwick could rest her case with “Sleepless Nights.” When a writer has said all that he or she has to say, or as much as possible before mortality intercedes, the body of work remains incomplete no matter the size of the output. The taunt persists: That’s it?
I don’t think longevity affects the relationship with output, either. I doubt that Wordsworth at the end of his long life was more satisfied with his body of work than was Keats, at the end of his short one. In a way, all writing is essay writing, an endless attempt at finding beauty in horror, nobility in want — an effort to punish, reward and love all things human that naturally resist punishments, rewards and love. It is an arduous and thankless exercise, not unlike faith in God. Sometimes, when you are in the act of writing, you feel part of a preordained plan, someone else’s design. That someone else might as well be God. And then one day you rear back and survey everything you have done, and think, Is this all God had in mind? But it’s all you got.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Belgravia by Julian Fellows,Grand Central Publishing

Belgravia by Julian Fellows,Grand Central Publishing 

'Belgravia' transports readers into the classic conflicts of Victorian aristocracy

Julian Fellowes's first serial novel – 'Belgravia' – isn’t a book with great emotional depth, but what the story lacks in nuance it makes up for in a crackling plot.

In television series "Downton Abbey," the stock-in-trade of Julian Fellowes, the show's creator, was well-bred snobbery. In Belgravia, a serial novel now in hardback and the newest offering by Fellowes, "Downton" fans will find much of the same. The book is rife with schemers, social climbers, and snobs to rival even the Dowager Countess of Grantham.

Yes, "Downton" fans, if you mourned the end of Fellowes’s late-Edwardian TV melodrama, you’ll find the territory of “Belgravia” fairly familiar, in spite of its early Victorian setting. Class conflict is alive and well in the pages of this potboiler, as are meddling servants, well-kept secrets, and every reader’s favorite: star-crossed lovers.

“Belgravia” opens in 1815, at a glittering ball on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo. But before readers can get too comfortable, the next installment jumps ahead 26 years, landing in the exclusive Belgravia district of London, where the historically rich and the nouveau rich cautiously rub elbows. It’s here that the real drama of the story unfolds, as the upwardly-mobile Trenchard family faces the repercussions of a long-held secret that could cause their lives to unravel.

If the Trenchards have everything to lose, the other key players in this story, Lord and Lady Brockenhurst, have everything to gain. No spoilers here – “Belgravia” is crafted to keep you guessing from chapter to chapter – but let’s just say that like "Downton," “Belgravia” deals with the concerns of the rich: heirs, money, propriety, and society.

The novel also explores the upstairs/downstairs effect, although at least in this installment of what is sure to be another Julian Fellowes empire, the servants function more as plot devices than well-developed characters. Still, if you’re longing for a slippery servant of the O’Brien or Thomas variety, “Belgravia” won’t disappoint. And Fellowes provides enough of a sketch of the central downstairs characters so that readers may anticipate their reappearance in a sequel.

What readers might not be so keen to revisit is the somewhat relentless historical detail of this story, which seems to be interwoven with the plot more out of obligation than with an eye to thoughtful storytelling. Part of this is the medium, of course. With "Downton," the viewer was fully immersed in the visual details of the narrative. In “Belgravia,” the touches that help the 1840s come to life are painstakingly – and painfully – spelled out. That I could handle (though I did miss the costuming – my primary reason for tuning into "Downton" each week); the problem was that the heavy-handedness extended to characters’ emotions, which should be felt rather than explained.

No matter. While this isn’t a book with great emotional depth, what the story lacks in nuance it makes up for in a crackling plot, with Fellowes’s characteristic well-choreographed storylines and enough cliffhangers at chapters’ end to keep the story moving along. In fact, “Belgravia” was released not just in hardback, but also serially, for those who wanted to download individual installments, following in the great tradition of Charles Dickens, who set a high bar for nimble plotting.

Fellowes is no Dickens – meaning, his stories offer more in the way of fluff than they do in social commentary. Like "Downton," however, “Belgravia” does dabble in feminism; it’s the women who are the engines in this story, the women who get things done. Perhaps the greatest pleasure of the narrative is watching the chess game play out between Mrs. (Anne) Trenchard and Lady Brockenhurst, as they jockey for the upper hand while their mutual secret unravels. The younger Mrs. (Susan) Trenchard’s actions are more unsavory, but also prove surprisingly, if not somewhat cynically, strategic. The Dowager Countess of Grantham might not approve, though perhaps she’d give a nod to the young woman’s daring.

Or perhaps not. The Dowager is, of course, a snob – as are Fellowes fans after six uneven, but nevertheless delightful, seasons of "Downton." “Belgravia” is certainly the lesser of the two offerings – entertaining enough, but, like its nouveau rich characters, ultimately trying a little too hard.

Burger's Daughter by Nadine Gordimer , Jonathan Cape

Front cover of the first UK edition of Burger's Daughter showing the author's name and book title, and an illustration of the head of a man partially obscuring the head of a woman
First edition dust jacket (Jonathan Cape, 1979)

Burger's Daughter is a political and historical novel by the South African Nobel Prize in Literature-winner Nadine Gordimer, first published in the United Kingdom in June 1979 by Jonathan Cape. The book was expected to be banned in South Africa, and a month after publication in London the import and sale of the book in South Africa was prohibited by the Publications Control Board. Three months later, the Publications Appeal Board overturned the banning and the restrictions were lifted.

Burger's Daughter details a group of white anti-apartheid activists in South Africa seeking to overthrow the South African government. It is set in the mid-1970s, and follows the life of Rosa, the title character, as she comes to terms with her father Lionel Burger's legacy as an activist in theSouth African Communist Party (SACP). The perspective shifts between Rosa's internal monologue(often directed towards her father or her lover Conrad), and the omniscient narrator. The novel is rooted in the history of the anti-apartheid struggle and references to actual events and people from that period, including Nelson Mandela and the 1976 Soweto uprising.

Gordimer herself was involved in South African struggle politics, and she knew many of the activists, including Bram Fischer, Mandela's treason trial defence lawyer. She modelled the Burger family in the novel loosely on Fischer's family, and described Burger's Daughter as "a coded homage" to Fischer.While banned in South Africa, a copy of the book was smuggled into Mandela's prison cell on Robben Island, and he reported that he "thought well of it".
The novel was generally well-received by critics. A reviewer for The New York Times said that Burger's Daughter is Gordimer's "most political and most moving novel", and a review in The New York Review of Books described the style of writing as "elegant", "fastidious" and belonging to a "cultivated upper class". A critic in The Hudson Review had mixed feelings about the book, saying that it "gives scarcely any pleasure in the reading but which one is pleased to have read nonetheless". Burger's Daughter won the Central News Agency Literary Award in 1980.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

LEAN IN Women, Work, and the Will to Lead By Sheryl Sandberg with Nell Scovell 228 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $24.95.

Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
By Sheryl Sandberg with Nell Scovell
228 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $24.95.

An assistant professor at the University of Chicago Law School in the early ’90s, triedto explain to a prominent senior colleague why she had not yet managed to write one of the 10 or so articles required to get tenure in three years. He listened to her then said, “Journals don’t publish excuses.”

It’s a lesson that comes through loud and clear in Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” Her point, in a nutshell, is that notwithstanding the many gender biases that still operate all over the workplace, excuses and justifications won’t get women anywhere. Instead, believe in yourself, give it your all, “lean in” and “don’t leave before you leave” — which is to say, don’t doubt your ability to combine work and family and thus edge yourself out of plum assignments before you even have a baby. Leaning in can promote a virtuous circle: you assume you can juggle work and family, you step forward, you succeed professionally, and then you’re in a better position to ask for what you need and to make changes that could benefit others.

No one who reads this book will ever doubt that Sandberg herself has the will to lead, not to mention the requisite commitment, intelligence and ferocious work ethic. Sandberg has been the chief operating officer of Facebook since 2008. At 43, she has already had a storied career: research assistant to Lawrence Summers at the World Bank; management consultant at McKinsey; chief of staff to Summers at the Treasury Department; and six and a half years at Google, where she rose to the post of vice president of global online sales and operations. She has also made it to the top of the notoriously male-dominated world of Silicon Valley, where the paucity of women among the ranks of computer scientists and engineers is still all too visible.

Sandberg is not just tough, however. She also comes across as compassionate, funny, honest and likable. Indeed, although she refers early on in the book to a study showing that for men success and likability are positively correlated, whereas for women they are inversely correlated, she manages to beat that bum rap. (Who can forget when Barack Obama, in one of his few slips on the 2008 campaign trail, said patronizingly to his chief rival: “You’re likable enough, Hillary”?) Sandberg’s advice to young women to be more ambitious, which can sound like a finger-wagging admonishment when taken out of context, is framed here in more encouraging terms — “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” — addressing the self-doubt that still holds many women back.Photo

CreditOlimpia Zagnoli

Most important, Sandberg is willing to draw the curtain aside on her own insecurities. She describes the many times in her career when she was deeply unsure of herself, and the uncertainty that has never entirely gone away:

“I still face situations that I fear are beyond my capabilities. I still have days when I feel like a fraud. And I still sometimes find myself spoken over and discounted while men sitting next to me are not. But now I know how to take a deep breath and keep my hand up. I have learned to sit at the table.”

Sandberg quotes other powerful women sharing their own insecurities, including a wonderful anecdote from Virginia Rometty, the first female chief executive officer of I.B.M. As Sandberg tells the story, Rometty was offered a “big job” early in her career, but she worried she might not have the proper experience. So she told the recruiter she would have to think it over. When she discussed the offer with her husband, he pointed out, “Do you think a man would ever have answered that question that way?” It all comes down to confidence, Sandberg suggests, and it is easier to be confident if you realize that your role models have plenty of doubts of their own.

Sandberg’s career as a feminist champion began with her 2010 TED talk, in which she first laid out her lean-in message. She followed up with a commencement address to the Barnard class of 2011. Both went viral. “Lean In” builds on the themes of these earlier talks, bolstered by extensive references to scholarly works and popular literature. She advises women to “make your partner a real partner,” recalling how she and her husband set patterns early on in their relationship that made them genuine equals when it came to child care. Her phrase “It’s a jungle gym, not a ladder” describes the many different paths careers can take, sideways and even downward on their way up. She also shares Eric Schmidt’s advice to her when she was considering a job offer at Google, which was a less attractive option than others she had at the time: “Only one criterion mattered when picking a job — fast growth.” Sandberg connects this to the value of personal growth, even when, or especially when, you are afraid.

“Lean In” is full of many such gems, slogans that ambitious women would do well to pin up on their wall. Figure out what you want to do before you meet with the people who can hire you. Ask yourself constantly: “How can I do better? What am I doing that I don’t know? What am I not doing that I don’t see?” “Done is better than perfect.” And many readers will enjoy the glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous that Sandberg affords. Head lice are an all-too-frequent and upsetting part of parenting, but when Sandberg discovered her two children had them, they were all flying to a business conference on the corporate jet of John Donahoe, the C.E.O. of eBay.Photo

Sheryl Sandberg CreditMatt Albiani

Inevitable questions of privilege aside, many parents will think, as I did, that this is a young woman’s book. Indeed, I nodded in recognition at so much of what Sandberg recounts, page after page, remembering my own early professional experiences and looking back to the days when my children were 5 and 3 (the age when they complain that they don’t see enough of you, rather than wanting you to get out of their face). This is also the book of someone who has never met a challenge she couldn’t surmount by working harder and believing in herself. But for the 229 missing female Fortune 500 leaders, as well as the hundreds of thousands of women who should be occupying lower-level leadership positions but aren’t, the problem is not leaning back but encountering a tipping point, a situation in which what was once a manageable and enjoyable work-family balance can no longer be sustained — regardless of ambition, confidence or even an equal partner. Sandberg is right to say that it is easier to handle work-family conflicts from as high a position on the career ladder as possible, but if in fact it’s the tipping points that tip women out of the work force, or at least prevent them from rising, then no amount of psychological coaching will make a difference.

That is the real debate here, and it’s an important one. Sandberg puts her finger on it when she writes: “For decades, we have focused on giving women the choice to work inside or outside the home. . . . But we have to ask ourselves if we have become so focused on supporting personal choices that we’re failing to encourage women to aspire to leadership.” This view accords with some of the findings of the Princeton Steering Committee on Undergraduate Women’s Leadership, which concluded in a March 2011 report that young women at Princeton often did not put themselves forward for leadership positions and were sometimes actively discouraged by others when they did. The Princeton committee also found that “the start counts,” meaning that the first few weeks on campus are crucial for women: an early willingness to step forward as a leader will lay the groundwork for future opportunities.

Still, after the start comes a very long road, with lots of bumps and what the law professor Joan Williams calls “the maternal wall” smack in the middle of it. Sandberg’s approach, as important as it is, is at best half a loaf. Moreover, given her positions first at Google and now at Facebook, it is hard not to notice that her narrative is what corporate America wants to hear. For both the women who have made it and the men who work with them, it is cheaper and more comfortable to believe that what they need to do is simply urge younger women to be more like them, to think differently and negotiate more effectively, rather than make major changes in the way their companies work. Young women might be much more willing to lean in if they saw better models and possibilities of fitting work and life together: ways of slowing down for a while but still staying on a long-term promotion track; of getting work done on their own time rather than according to a fixed schedule; of being affirmed daily in their roles both as parents and as professionals.

Some workplaces are beginning to make these changes. The Boston Consulting Group, for instance, has discovered the value of predictable time off every week, which leads team members to work much more collaboratively in ways that support one another’s needs. As documented in “Sleeping With Your Smartphone,” by the Harvard Business School professor Leslie Perlow, this approach has required a deep cultural change for consultants used to a 24/7 environment, as well as a commitment from management. But the business benefits have proved their financial and psychological worth. Other examples include the adoption of a Results Only Work Environment, which grants employees complete flexibility as to when, where and how they work, as long as they get their work done.

So is the dearth of women in top jobs due to a lack of ambition or a lack of support? Both, as Sandberg herself grants, proposing that women should “wage battles on both fronts.” Yet she chooses to concentrate only on the “internal obstacles,” the ways in which women hold themselves back. This is unfortunate. As a feminist and a corporate leader, Sandberg seems ideally placed to ask the question that all too often gets lost amid the welter of talk about what women should do, what they should want and how they should behave. When it comes to ensuring that caregivers still have paths to the corner office, how can business lean in?


Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
By Sheryl Sandberg with Nell Scovell
228 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $24.95.