Letters to the Editor

Spies Like Us

To the Editor:

Kevin Peraino’s review of “The Quiet Americans,” by Scott Anderson (Oct. 4), notes that the C.I.A. operative Michael Burke quit in frustration to manage the Ringling Brothers circus. The review should have noted that Burke later became president of the New York Yankees and, for a brief time, helped run the team with George Steinbrenner. Burke’s circus tenure may have helped him contend with the team that has been famously called the “Bronx Zoo.”

James P. Finnegan
Chappaqua, N.Y.

To the Editor:

You missed a golden opportunity when you didn’t invite Nicholson Baker to review “The Spymasters,” by Chris Whipple (Oct. 4). His “Baseless” is (literally!) a diary of his relentless attempts to plumb the depths of C.I.A. misadventures using the Freedom of Information Act, and the agency’s equally relentless silence in the face of his queries. Baker’s slowly unfolding account, like an undone origami, should give pause to anyone who thinks the C.I.A. is anything more than an amoral boys’ club, bent on keeping everything a secret, especially its own manifold misdeeds.

David Andrews
Amherst, Mass.

Justice at the Doorstep

To the Editor:

At the end of his review of “White Too Long,” by Robert P. Jones (Oct. 4), Jemar Tisby writes that the book presents “a stark choice: Hold onto white Christianity or hold onto Jesus. It cannot be both.” That reminded me of the minister of one of the largest churches in Longview, Texas, who courageously preached in 1955 and 1964 that “the cross destroys race hatred. … It is rather hard to differ with Jesus.”

The Rev. W. Morris Ford is gone, and now the people of Longview have different leaders. Those leaders were recently petitioned to move a Confederate statue from the courthouse square to a park or museum, almost anywhere but in front of the courthouse for all to see when they seek justice. They refused.

Longview, the South and the whole country need more leaders like Dr. Ford, just as they need to listen to people like Tisby and Jones.

Mark Feldman
Kirkwood, Mo.

The Humanity of Language

To the Editor:

Reviewing Rick Perlstein’s “Reaganland” (Sept. 27), Evan Thomas writes that during the blackout and looting of 1977, New York “went feral.” “Feral” refers either to animals or to “savage” human beings. I lived in New York at the time, and recall sensationalist media referring to the mainly Black and Latinx poor who looted businesses as “animals.” But how can such racially charged language appear in the Book Review in the year 2020?

Kevin B. Anderson
Los Angeles

The writer is a professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Neighborhood Gossip

To the Editor:

In his By the Book interview (Oct. 4), David Remnick says he “finally got to” Nadezhda Mandelstam’s second memoir, “Hope, Abandoned,” a book I read decades ago.

It reminded me of an incident from a couple of years ago. I own a few computer shops in Toronto and one day a man brought in his wife’s credit card to pay for a purchase. I noticed on the card that his wife’s name was Nadezhda, and remarked that the only other time I had seen that name in print was on the books I had read by Nadezhda Mandelstam.

The man said: “Oh, yes. I knew her in Moscow. She lived in my neighborhood.” People didn’t like her very much, he added. She was ill-tempered. Crabby.

Stalin extinguished Mandelstam’s husband, I said to myself. One of the most beautiful voices in Russian letters. Under those circumstances, I’d be crabby, too.

Myles Kesten

What Do You Meme?

To the Editor:

In Michael Gorra’s review of Hari Kunzru’s “Red Pill” (Oct. 4), the line “those of us who are hopelessly behind on our memes” includes me, who has yet to figure out what exactly “meme” means. Almost every time I read “meme” it’s in a different context. I have yet to find a clear definition online. It certainly isn’t in my classic Oxford English Dictionary. So, what is it? “Shared opinions”? Whose? Some “in group’s”? Commonly held opinions? “O tempora o mores”? Weltanschauung? I’m hardly alone in this, though I admit I just turned 88. Maybe you should have some smart cookie on your staff write a column about it. I wish her or him luck.

Peter O. Pierson
Cathedral City, Calif.

The writer is an emeritus professor of history at Santa Clara University.

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