Edited by Sam Thielman
MY PINKY HAS a National Magazine Award. My ring finger has an Investigative Reporters & Editors medal. My middle finger has a Pulitzer Prize. My index finger has the Scripps-Howard Foundation's Roy W. Howard Award for public-service reporting. And my thumb has something new.
REIGN OF TERROR, which is now available in paperback, is the recipient of a 2022 American Book Award. Compounding the honor, the award, to quote the Beyond Columbus Foundation, is "not bestowed by an industry organization, but rather [is] a writers’ award given by other writers."
It was simultaneously humbling and energizing to read the list of recipients. Angela Davis won for Blues Legacies and Black Feminism. Audre Lorde won for A Burst of Light. Don DeLillo won for Underworld. Daniel Ellsberg won for Secrets. Victor LaValle won for The Big Machine. Marlon James won for A Brief History of Seven Killings. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz won for An Indigenous Peoples' History of The United States. The god Michael Parenti got the lifetime achievement, and this year, so did Gayl Jones. G. Willow Wilson and Nico Leon won for Ms. Marvel, which momentarily impressed my Kamala Khan-obsessed daughter. Art Spiegelman won for—deep breath—Maus. And now, me.
Derek Jeter and I can both tell you what it's like to have rings on every finger on your hand. On my other hand are the New York Press Club's award for feature writing; my piece of, I swear, an Emmy (for which I have to be honest and say I did very little); and one I was a finalist for: the Online News Association's Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism award. For that one, I was sure Homan Square would win, but then I learned it was up against the Panama Papers, and if I was a judge I would have voted for the Panama Papers as well. If I was a baseball player, the Yankees would look to sign me in the twilight of my career. I would give them like 85-100 games per season.
As you can see above, my commendations are not limited to one aspect of journalism. I have rings for investigative reporting, digital reporting and feature writing. (I would add Public Service, but I couldn't tell you what distinct journalistic skill that translates into. As best I can tell, the award means "you worked on a story that was good in a civic sense.") Now I have one for book writing. I have no problem admitting I wanted something to garland REIGN OF TERROR. I don't feel that way because of me, I feel that way because I believe in REIGN and accordingly want it to become the dominant narrative of the 9/11 Era.
I can also tell you, should this apply to you, that Imposter Syndrome never goes away. But I'm the only one who gets to feel that I'm an imposter. Everyone else may refer to my numerous awards to settle the issue.
Thank you to the Before Columbus Foundation for honoring REIGN OF TERROR and, well, me. There is an awards program on Sunday, October 9—the same day as the rematch of the fight Ghost and Rae are at on "MGM"—and I get to give a speech that I think will be streamed. I'll include a link in an edition closer to the ceremony.
JONATHAN LEVY'S Ages of American Capitalism: A History of the United States is a heater of a book I finished last week. Never did I realize how valuable I would find a single volume economic history of the United States. Levy, swinging for the Hobsbawmian fences, traces continuities in American political economy that stretch back to 1660 and the impact of mutations and departures from them. He simply Aaron Judges it.
For the sort of people I suspect read this newsletter, Ages of American Capitalism is something of a horror story. I can't count how many times across 700-plus pages I said to myself Nooooooooooo, don't do that right before reading about America doing That. I realize now I didn't truly understand the implications of the contrasting economic outlooks between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, but what a villain battle that was! By the time we get to property ownership replacing income generation in what Levy calls the Age of Chaos, Levy has us seeing the heritages of settler colonialism in gentrification. The Age of Chaos, his framework for the fourth and current Age of American Capitalism, is the one we've lived in since 1980. While Levy appears exhausted with the term neoliberalism, he narrates its story—its impact, its relationship with prior capitalist ages—exquisitely. I also can see now that I didn't properly comprehend how much power over the entire world the Federal Reserve possesses.
Levy also provides this wonderful anecdote about Bill Gates and Steve Jobs both stealing the same windowed graphical interface from Xerox:
[I]n Seattle, Bill Gates purchased an operating system called 86-DOS from Seattle Computer Products for $50,000 and sold it as MS-DOS to IBM, for use in its own personal computer, introduced in 1981, a competitor of the elegant, [Steve] Wozniak-designed Apple II—no less a marvel in its own right than [Xerox's] Alto. Gates's operating system was windows-based, too, and would be branded Microsoft Windows in 1983. Jobs confronted Gates, who reportedly responded to the accusation of theft, "Well, Steve, I think there's more than one way of looking at it. I think it's more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set only to find that you had already stolen it."
Just gonna remember that when I hear more about how the Chinese tech sector is reliant on IP theft. (For a Chinese perspective on that, check out Kai-Fu Lee's AI Superpowers.) Anyway, if there's a weakness to Ages of American Capitalism it's one that I absolutely love: While its post-World War II sections repeatedly gesture at the impact of the rise of the Security State, Levy doesn't accordingly give it the treatment due to such a substantial section of the economy. Like I said, I love that, because it clears a lane for CAPITAL AND TERROR, the next installment in the REIGN Extended Universe that I plan on writing. And that book will benefit tremendously from Ages of American Capitalism.
IF YOU LIKED THE SPICINESS THAT LED OFF THIS EDITION, be sure to read Matt Bors' reflections on his nearly two decades of political cartooning. Among his many insights is that we've reached a point in media history when we have "permanently decoupled political cartoons from news journalism." As if to prove Matt's point, Columbia Journalism Review commissioned this essay and then took something like six months to pay him for it. CJR, pay your freelancers on time! You of all outlets!
"WE DO NOT BECOME LITTLE RUSHDIES when our inboxes and mentions are inundated with deranged filth from disturbed strangers, as a result of the public-facing profession we chose and the technological advancements that make us more accessible to such people." What a line from Adam Serwer, who crafts nothing but, in a great essay about free speech and where the threats to it come from.