I’ve had this on the shelf since very soon after it came out. It has followed me through several moves and for some reason never made it off the to read pile. I’m glad I finally did read it, and it was actually interesting to now read it with a bit of time having passed and in the context of our Trumpist/nativist era. Keefe centers his narrative around the rise of a Fujianese “snakehead” (or human smuggler) based in New York’s Chinatown known as Sister Peng to explore the global and local dynamics of human smuggling, particularly between Fuzhou and the United States in the 1990s. It was both informative as a piece of political journalism and entertaining on the level of true crime narrative.
It was interesting to read this in our current moment of rising worry over authoritarianism and to consider its having been written in 1968 as a reflection on one major twentieth-century moment of political upheaval from the midst of another. The most compelling part of the work is the interdisciplinary of the sources and cultural productions Gay surveys: theater, dance, music, film, literature, poetry, painting, etc. Throughout these fields of creative endeavor—though to varying degrees—he argues that intellectual and creative elites were frequently not sufficiently committed to the revolutionary aims of the Republic and that this lack of cultural commitment was a strong contributor to its failure.
Caesar blends a history of professional marathoning and marathon training with a synthesis of contemporary research in fitness and physiology in this exploration of elite marathoners’ assault on the two hour mark. The narrative is centered on the Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai and weaves together thematic chapters on topics including the development of Kenyan distance running, doping, the tension between amateurism and professionalism in the history of the sport, and the rise of the city marathon circuit. I listened to this as an audiobook which doesn’t always lend itself well to keeping a meta-narrative in one’s head, but Caesar does an exceptional job of balancing individual anecdotes with returns to the connective tissue of his argument(s).