The Trouble With Tocqueville

More than 200 European writers toured the United States in the decades after the Napoleonic Wars, publishing mostly contemptuous accounts of the makeshift nation for the delight of their own provincial readers back home. Perhaps none was so ill equipped as the ambivalent aristocrat manqué Alexis de Tocqueville, and perhaps no work so unlikely to endure as his kitchen-sink portrait Democracy in America. Tocqueville was just 25 when he began his journey in 1831, the year of Darwin's voyage, a capable but undistinguished student who had become a provincial administrator, a well-born bureaucrat who doubted the legitimacy of the "bourgeois monarch" he served. He lacked the literary stature of Charles Dickens or Frances Trollope, whose caustic American "itineraries" skewered Yankee customs, or his cousin Chateaubriand, whose reveries for the majestic American landscape largely invented the Romantic tradition in France. Tocqueville's purpose was somewhat narrower. He had come to prepare an...

Book Review: The Computer That Ate the World

In a watershed 1909 story, published when science fiction was known still as "scientific romance," E. M. Forster reimagined the Victorian dream of an empire of universal knowledge as a future tyranny gorged on endless information. Citizens of his brave new world lived, contentedly, in bunkerlike quarters serviced by a small, personal terminal for a global, Weblike system that brought the user food, music, visual entertainments, books, articles, and correspondence both anonymous and intimate—and that did not simply satisfy the desire for those things, but intuited and perhaps even created it. The network was called "the Machine," and the story was "The Machine Stops."Today, the futurist Jaron Lanier warns in his persuasive new manifesto, You Are Not a Gadget, the danger is less that our network of machine intelligence will fail than that it will endure—that Web culture, and its chiliastic faith in the superior wisdom of computers, will triumph. Lanier, who invented the immersive...

Andy Warhol Is Soooo Overrated

"You're a killer of art, you're a killer of beauty, and you're even a killer of laughter," Willem de Kooning shouted at Andy Warhol, across a party, just months after the 1968 assassination attempt that placed Warhol in a painful corset for the rest of his life and secured, by the perverse logic of the era, his status as a giant of the 1960s.De Kooning wasn't the only one to see Warhol's frank painting as a frontal assault. In the years since his first Soup Cans show in 1962, Warhol's paintings have acquired a remarkable mythology: they waged a victorious battle against abstract expressionism, introduced a mass audience to fine art, and made American painting truly democratic, shattering category distinctions and reshaping aesthetic criteria as dramatically as Marcel Duchamp had with his Fountain. The Soup Cans were, Gary Indiana proposes in his engrossing forthcoming Andy Warhol and the Can That Sold the World, "the first shots of a total revolution in American culture."But that...

Movies: "Up," Up and Away With the Kids

The little animation studio that could, Pixar was established in 1986 not as a cartoon factory but as a computer manufacturer. Many on the skeleton staff were cartoonists at heart, but the shorts they produced on company time were designed to promote the company hardware. When Toy Story, their pilot feature, was greenlighted in 1991, they rushed out to a screenwriting seminar. They were amateurs.Since then, Pixar has released eight films, all of them celebrated, and all of them blockbusters: none has earned less than $360 million, a run of unprecedented success. Up, which opens May 29, is the 10th—the story of a 78-year-old widower who, encroached upon by developers hoping to force him off his property and into a retirement home, does not exactly go gentle into that grumpy night. Just as remarkable, it is Pixar's latest release that stiff-arms, with conceptual ambition, unorthodox protagonists and difficult story material, animation's natural audience: children.Cartoons weren't...