It started with a man setting himself on fire in protest. The outpouring of grief created a groundswell of angry demonstration. The movement grew until suddenly a dictator and a system that seemed so immovable toppled so easily. And after one nation fell, citizens of other nations began to rise up and overthrow their leaders…

Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire by Victor Sebestyen. 480 pages. Pantheon. $30.

“The people’s will had triumphed over tyranny in a dizzying few months of almost entirely peaceful revolutions which changed the world… a point of bright hopes, intelligent optimism, sincere thanksgiving…” This may sound like a report from the Middle East, but it is actually Victor Sebestyen writing about Central and Eastern Europe.

The pattern is familiar. It’s shocking how easily revolutions in different places in the world are built… More…

Some dictators don’t know how to talk. They know how to speak, of course. They are able to use language. They utter words, but they don’t say anything. Hosni Mubarak, the current president of Egypt (at least at the time of this writing) recently made a speech in an attempt to quell the street protests and demands for an end to his despotic regime.

 

You might say it was an airy speech, draped in the finery of general principles, wafting lightly on the breeze of abstraction. He uttered sentences such as, “There is a fine line between freedom and chaos and I lean toward freedom for the people in expressing their opinions as much as I hold on to the need to maintain Egypt’s safety and stability.” That’s a truly amazing sentence. My favorite part is when Mubarak… More…

I didn’t understand the fuss. Sure, the redesign of Berlin’s Neues Museum — unveiled last October — seemed awfully nice; the place was finally fixed its World War II-era damage. But for all the queues that wind around the museum and the sell-out exhibitions, most of the fuss centered on one Egyptian bust. The Nefertiti bust looked pretty enough on the museum’s website and in the news stories, but I didn’t think it seemed like anything worth standing around for hours to see.

Art as Plunder: The Ancient Origins of Debate about Cultural Property by Margaret M. Miles. 440 pages. Cambridge University Press. $32.99 (new in paperback).

Or so I thought. When I finally got around to seeing it, the 3,500-year-old bust seemed to glow with its own light. Like all powerful religious and royal artwork, it inspires an… More…