The other day I read Adam Gopnik’s piece in the 8/29 New Yorker about Heather Anne Thompson’s book on the Attica prison uprising, “Blood on the Water.” Gopnik writes with commanding self-assurance about a jaw-droppingly wide range of topics, always infused with several wish-I’d-written-that sentences and a couple which, after three or four passes, I give up on understanding; and this article was a good one.

Gopnik’s major point was that, tragic slaughter that it was, Attica stifled this country’s movement toward prison reform, burying us deeper in the shit that exists now. In liberal democracies, he says, violence scares people off faster that reformers can win them over. (He cites a study of public opinion polls from 1950 thru 1980 showing that a majority of Americans favored civil rights during periods of nonviolent protests and swung in favor of law-and-order when these protests turned violent. “Panicked people,” he concludes, “will almost always be the majority.”

Maybe so; maybe not. But if you’re planning on throwing any rocks through windows, maybe hold off until after the November elections.

I just finished…

…”Gone: The Last Days of The New Yorker,” by Renata Adler. I have been going through a period of intense interest in and admiration of Adler when, in reading a career-spanning collection of selections of her non-fiction, I came across a piece she’d written in response to criticism of “Gone” and realized I hadn’t read it. So I stopped reading the collection and bought “Gone.”

“Gone” is not great Adler. It is about the firing of “The New Yorker”‘s long-time editor, William Shawn, whom Adler, within limits, supported. While her book is critical of the firing, it is also critical of two books by other supporters of Shawn, Ved Mehta and Lillian Ross. With this out of the way, it settles down to a more generalized, undocumented and unauthenticated who-did-and-said-what score-settling. It is replete with, to my mind, unsubstantiated but perhaps correct judgments about “The New Yorker”‘s decline.

And, boy, does she dislike Adam Gopnik.