“Advances in Gene Sequencing” Have Not “Unlocked the Key to Cures for Cancer”

(p. 10) In his new book, “The Song of the Cell,” Siddhartha Mukherjee has taken on a subject that is enormous and minuscule at once. Even though cells are typically so tiny that you need a microscope to see them, they also happen to be implicated in almost anything to do with medicine — and therefore almost anything to do with life.

. . .

If Mukherjee were another kind of storyteller — tidier, if less honest — he could have showcased a more linear narrative, emphasizing how developments in cell research have yielded some truly amazing possibilities. He himself has been collaborating on a project to engineer certain cells in the immune system so that they eat tumors without stirring up an indiscriminate inflammatory response.

But as a practicing physician, he has seen too much suffering and death to succumb to an easy triumphalism. He recalls the “exuberance” of the mid-2000s, when spectacular advances in gene sequencing had made it appear as if “we had unlocked the key to cures for cancer.” Such exuberance turned out to be fleeting; the data from clinical trials were “sobering.”

Many medical mysteries remain unsolved. If the book’s protagonist — our understanding of cell biology — seemed to be riding high again on new advances in immunology, such “self-assuredness” was laid low by the Covid-19 pandemic. Mukherjee presents a string of questions that are still unsettled. “The monotony of answers is humbling, maddening,” he writes. “We don’t know. We don’t know. We don’t know.”

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “Building Blocks.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, November 13, 2022): 10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated Nov. 2, 2022, and has the title “Siddhartha Mukherjee Finds Medical Mystery — and Metaphor — in the Tiny Cell.”)

The book under review is:

Mukherjee, Siddhartha. The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human. New York: Scribner, 2022.

The Sassoon Family’s Rags-to-Riches-to-Rags Story

(p. 8) The rise and fall of the Sassoon family, who, at their height, traded in opium, tea, silk and jewels, is charted in delectable detail in “The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire,” by the historian Joseph Sassoon, a distant relative who seems just as pleased as anyone unrelated might be to uncover the grit and gains of a tribe of fascinating figures.

. . .

Rags-to-riches stories may all be the same, but it’s the way in which a fortune is lost that’s truly compelling. Sassoon’s detailed account of the decentralization of family power and the proliferation of descendants interested in spending but not making money is well paced and supremely satisfying. An observer of the clan notes that “nothing suppresses an appetite for commerce more than a diet of gentlemanly pursuits,” and readers are treated through the second half of the book to a slow-motion sputtering out of David Sassoon’s great machine. You find yourself feeling for them: While masters of the universe inspire little sympathy, knowing from the first page that this empire has crumbled allows you to mourn the sunset of a particular kind of existence, even as a part of you revels in it.

For the full review, see:

Adam Rathe. “BOOKSHELF; Dynasty.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, November 6, 2022): 8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated Oct. 25, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; The Rise and Fall of a Great Dynasty.”)

The book under review is:

Sassoon, Joseph. The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire. New York: Pantheon, 2022.

Through Evolution, Body Parts Are Inelegantly Repurposed into Workaround Kluges

If the body itself is an amalgam of workaround kluges, then maybe our regulators should be more tolerant of medical MacGyvers who attempt to keep the body working through medical workaround kluges.

(p. A15) Mr. Pievani is a professor of biology at the University of Padua. His brief and thoughtful book (translated from the Italian by Michael Gerard Kenyon) isn’t just a description of imperfection, but a paean to it. There’s plenty of description and discussion, too, as “Imperfection” takes the reader on a convincing whirlwind tour of the dangers as well as the impossibility of perfection, how imperfection is built into the nature of the universe, and into all living things—including ourselves.

. . .

Readers wanting to get up to speed on imperfection would do well to attend to two little-known words with large consequences. The first is “palimpsest,” which in archaeology refers to any object that has been written upon, then erased, then written over again (sometimes many times), but with traces of the earlier writings still faintly visible. Every living thing is an evolutionary palimpsest, with adaptations necessarily limited because they’re built upon previous structures.

Consider, for example, childbirth. As smart critters, we’ve been selected (naturally) to have big heads. But in becoming bipedal, we had to rotate our pelvises, which set limits on the size of the birth canal. As a result, an unborn baby’s head is perilously close to being too big to get out. Usually, they manage it, but not without much painful laboring and sometimes, if this cephalopelvic disproportion is too great, or if the baby is malpositioned, by means of a cesarean delivery. In such cases, obstetricians take the newborn out the obvious way: through that large, unobstructed abdominal space between pelvis and lower ribs. Things would have been much easier and safer for mother and baby if the birth canal were positioned there, too, but our palimpsest nature precludes such a straightforward arrangement.

Which brings us to our second unusual word: “kluge,” something—assembled from diverse components—that shouldn’t work, but does. A kluge is a workaround: often clumsy, inelegant, inefficient, but that does its job nonetheless. Because we and all other living things are living palimpsests, we are kluges as well.

For the full review, see:

David P. Barash. “BOOKSHELF; Unintelligent Design.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, October 26, 2022): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 25, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Imperfection’ Review: Unintelligent Design.”)

The book under review is:

Pievani, Telmo. Imperfection: A Natural History. Translated by Michael Gerard Kenyon. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2022.

Medical Entrepreneurs “Muster the Courage and Determination to Forge Brazenly Ahead”

(p. C7) The accidental birth and stuttering development of cell biology is the focus of Siddhartha Mukherjee’s “The Song of the Cell.” It is an audacious, often mesmerizing, frequently dizzying, occasionally exhausting and reliably engaging tour of cell biology and scientific inquiry. Dr. Mukherjee, an oncologist at Columbia University and the author of “Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer” (2010), enthusiastically instructs and, much of the time, delights—all the while hustling us across a preposterously vast and intricate landscape.

. . .

In the course of describing the evolution of cell biology, Dr. Mukherjee reminds us of the critical role of technological innovation, like the microscopes used by Leeuwenhoek and Hooke, which first revealed the existence of the cellular world. Similarly, it was the invention of the electron microscope, and its deliberate application to biology by pioneering Rockefeller University scientist George Palade, that afforded researchers the resolution needed to examine the components of an individual cell.

. . .

Dr. Mukherjee’s dual roles as clinical oncologist and cell biologist find a common voice as he grapples with the complexity of cancer, “cell biology visualized in a pathological mirror.” He notes the heterogeneity of tumors, observing that while “two ‘breast cancers’ may look identical under the pathologist’s microscope,” the cancers may differ genetically and require different treatments. Even a single breast tumor, he writes, “is actually a collage of mutant cells—an assembly of non-identical diseases.” Because of the maddening similarity between cancer cells and normal cells, targeting cancer can be challenging: A promising therapy may fail, as it did for one of his friends, because it also attacks healthy cells.

Ultimately, Dr. Mukherjee seems to decide, we must accept, rather than rationalize away, the baffling idiosyncrasies that we observe in cell biology and see reflected in the behavior of cancers. Why did his friend’s cancer spread to some organs but spare others? Why did the treatment his friend received eliminate tumors in the skin but not the lungs? “There are mysteries beyond mysteries,” he writes, and he cautions us against succumbing to reductionist explanations. Cells, by themselves, are “incomplete explanations for organismal complexities.” We must understand the context in which a cell exists, he emphasizes, its local environment. Even then, he admits, we often “don’t even know what we don’t know.”

Dr. Mukherjee’s hard-won lessons contain a message for us all: We should resist simple, universal explanations in life science—cell biology, in particular, is rarely that cooperative. The journey he relates also reminds us to appreciate the researchers who, despite the unforgiving and rarely predictable terrain before them, muster the courage and determination to forge brazenly ahead.

For the full review, see:

David A. Shaywitz. “Fantastic Voyage Within.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, October 29, 2022): C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 28, 2022, and has the title “‘The Song of the Cell’ Review: Fantastic Voyage Within.”)

The book under review is:

Mukherjee, Siddhartha. The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human. New York: Scribner, 2022.

Voice of America Taught, by Example, “The Norms and Practices of Western Discourse”

(p. A15) Mention the Voice of America or Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to most Americans, and they will give you a blank look.

. . .

. . . it amuses Mark Pomar, an American scholar of Russia who between 1982 and 1986 was assistant director of Radio Liberty (the Russian service of RFE/RL) and director of VOA’s U.S.S.R. division.

In the preface to “Cold War Radio,” his insightful, absorbing account of the remarkable work of these services, Mr. Pomar recalls an incident from 1984, when he traveled to Cavendish, Vt., to interview the exiled author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Checking into his hotel, Mr. Pomar announced that he was from Voice of America, and the clerk asked if that was “a national singing group.”

Today it seems obvious that VOA would interview Solzhenitsyn. Yet in 1984 VOA was still keeping its distance from the famous dissident, because many in the American foreign policy establishment were still committed to détente, the policy that regarded open criticism of the Soviet leadership as a barrier to nuclear-arms control.

To President Ronald Reagan, détente was “a one-way street that the Soviet Union has used to achieve its own aims.” So in that spirit, Mr. Pomar spent three days recording 20 hours of Solzhenitsyn reading from “August 1914,” the first in a cycle of novels about the travails of modern Russia. Despite being nine parts polemic to one part literature, the edited on-air reading was a success, and Solzhenitsyn joined the list of distinguished émigrés whose bonds with Russia, ruptured by repression, were partially mended by America’s “Cold War radios.”

. . .

These people had all been erased (we would say “canceled”) by the regime, so their commentary was implicitly political. But the radios also held explicitly political debates on extremely divisive topics. And no matter how heated these exchanges, the hosts insisted on maintaining “the norms and practices of Western discourse.” Mr. Pomar reminds us (lest we forget) that these norms and practices, so crucial to democracy, were an essential part of the message.

For the full review, see:

Martha Bayles. “BOOKSHELF; Listen and You Shall Hear.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, October 24, 2022): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 23, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Cold War Radio’ Review: Listen and You Shall Hear.”)

The book under review is:

Pomar, Mark G. Cold War Radio: The Russian Broadcasts of the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Lincoln, NE: Potomac Books, 2022.

M.R.I. Inventor and Entrepreneur Earned Patent, But Was Denied Nobel Prize

(p. B10) Dr. Raymond Damadian, who built the first magnetic resonance imaging scanner, which revolutionized doctors’ ability to diagnose cancer and other illnesses — but who, to his dismay, saw the Nobel Prize for the science behind it go to two others — died on Aug. 3 [2022] at his home in Woodbury, N.Y.

. . .

The vision of scanning the human body without radiation came to Dr. Damadian in the late 1960s, he said, when he was working on nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy — which, until then, had been used to identify the chemical makeup of the contents of a test tube — at Downstate Medical Center (now SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University) in Brooklyn.

Working with rats, he discovered that when tissues were placed in a magnetic field and hit with a pulse of radio waves, cancerous ones emitted distinctly different radio signals than healthy ones.

He published his findings in 1971 in the journal Science and was granted a patent three years later for an “apparatus and method for detecting cancer in tissue.” It took 18 months to build the first M.R.I., originally known as a nuclear magnetic resonance scanner, or N.M.R. Its first scan, on July 3, 1977, was of Lawrence Minkoff, one of Dr. Damadian’s assistants — a vivid and colorful image of his heart, lungs, aorta, cardiac chamber and chest wall.

“Having birthed the original idea of the N.M.R. body scanner, we were intent on being the first to accomplish it,” Dr. Damadian said in the book “Gifted Mind: The Dr. Raymond Damadian Story, Inventor of the M.R.I.,” published in 2015, which he wrote with Jeff Kinley. “Failing to do so meant we might be denied the recognition for the original idea.”

But the technology behind the M.R.I. had several fathers.

Acknowledging that he was inspired by Dr. Damadian’s work, Paul C. Lauterbur of the State University of New York at Stony Brook had figured out how to translate the radio signals bounced off tissue into images. And Peter Mansfield of the University of Nottingham in England had developed mathematical techniques for analyzing the data, making the process more practical.

Employing the techniques he pioneered, Dr. Damadian’s company, Fonar, based in Melville, N.Y., produced the first commercial scanner in 1980.

. . .

While working at Downstate and later at Fonar, Dr. Damadian was aware of Dr. Lauterbur, a chemist who was also working on M.R.I. imaging and with whom he shared the National Medal of Technology.

In “Gifted Mind,” Dr. Damadian acknowledged that Dr. Lauterbur “realized that the N.M.R. signal differences in diseased and normal tissues I discovered could be used to construct a picture (image).”

But in 2003, when Dr. Lauterbur and Dr. Mansfield won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their contributions to the science of magnetic resonance imaging, Dr. Damadian was enraged.

. . .

A year later, Dr. Damadian received one of the two annual Bower Awards given by the Franklin Institute, a science museum in Philadelphia. He was cited for his business leadership.

“There is no controversy in this,” said Dr. Bradford A. Jameson, a professor of biochemistry at Drexel University who was the chairman of the committee that chose the winners. “If you look at the patents in this field, they’re his.”

. . .

Dr. Damadian continued to innovate. He created open M.R.I. machines, which alleviate the claustrophobia patients can experience during scans when they are moved slowly through a tight tunnel, as well as mobile and stand-up scanners.

In recent years, he was focused on research that included imaging cerebral spinal fluid as it flowed to the brain.

For the full obituary, see:

Richard Sandomir. “Raymond Damadian, 86, Is Dead; Creator of the First M.R.I. Scanner.” The New York Times (Thursday, August 18, 2022): B10.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Aug. 19, 2022, and has the title “Raymond Damadian, Creator of the First M.R.I. Scanner, Dies at 86.” Where there is a minor difference between the online and print versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

Damadian’s biography mentioned above is:

Kinley, Jeff, and Raymond Damadian. Gifted Mind: The Dr. Raymond Damadian Story, Inventor of the MRI. Green Forest, AZ: Master Books, 2015.

Regulators Slowed Development of Moderna Vaccine

How much credit for the Covid vaccines goes to government and how much to entrepreneurs? Loftus’s book focuses on Moderna, and makes the case that government deserves considerable credit, mostly for early funding. A case can be made that at least as much focus should be given to BioNTech. If BioNTech had been the focus, that case might have been harder to make.

(p. C5) In late 2019, just weeks before the world heard of Covid-19, scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases visited the new manufacturing plant of a small, 9-year-old biotechnology company called Moderna. The company’s leaders boasted that the new plant in Norwood, Mass., could make a batch of a newly designed vaccine in 60 days—rapid by standard timelines that usually take 12 months or more.

. . .

One Friday afternoon in August [2020], the company was expecting delivery of large air-handling units to help expand production at its factory. Moderna had hired construction cranes to lift the tractor-trailer-sized units onto the roof of its plant. But delivery was delayed because the supplier lacked all the state permits needed to transport oversize cargo from the Midwest to Massachusetts. If the units didn’t get there by Sunday, Moderna would lose the cranes and a week of production.

Frantic, Moderna executives called Warp Speed officials. They gave the job to an Army colonel, who leaned on state officials, who in turn sent state police with sirens blaring to escort the delivery to their state line and then hand off the convoy to a new escort. The precious cargo rolled into Moderna’s plant on Sunday morning, in time for the cranes.

The much larger and older Pfizer, meanwhile, mostly opted out of Operation Warp Speed for fear it would slow the company down. As for Moderna’s collaboration, it generated enough friction to make the company’s chief medical officer during 2020, Tal Zaks, question at times whether it was worth it to accept the federal assistance.

Dr. Zaks had wanted to use a private contract research organization to run the whole trial, but NIAID officials wanted their clinical-trial network involved. Eventually, Dr. Zaks backed off, and both entities participated. “I realized we were at an impasse, and I was the embodiment of the impasse,” Dr. Zaks said.

Next, when Moderna’s 30,000-person study began enrolling volunteers in July 2020, the subjects weren’t racially diverse enough. Moncef Slaoui, who led Warp Speed’s vaccine efforts, and Dr. Fauci began holding Saturday Zoom calls with Mr. Bancel and other Moderna leaders to “help coax and advise Moderna how to get the percentage of minorities up to a reasonable level,” Dr. Fauci recalled.

Drs. Fauci and Slaoui wanted Moderna to slow down overall enrollment, to give time to find more people of color. Moderna executives resisted at first. “That was very tense,” Dr. Slaoui said. “Voices went up, and emotions were very high.” Moderna ultimately agreed, and the effort worked, but it cost the trial about an extra three weeks. Later, Mr. Bancel called the decision to slow enrollment “one of the hardest decisions I made this year.”

For the full essay, see:

Peter Loftus. “The Partnership That Made the First U.S. Covid Vaccine.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 30, 2022): C5.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date July 29, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

The essay quoted above is an adaptation from Loftus’s book:

Loftus, Peter. The Messenger: Moderna, the Vaccine, and the Business Gamble That Changed the World. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2022.

Periodic Fasting May Reduce Inflammation That Causes Multiple Maladies

(p. A15) Mr. Hendricks sees fasting as a way of combating a range of ailments. (“Surgery without a scalpel” was how some doctors once described the practice.) He cites studies showing fasting to be effective against arthritis, hypertension and fibromyalgia, among other afflictions. The medical logic in these cases is that fasting reduces inflammation—the source of multiple maladies—while promoting insulin sensitivity, stimulating DNA repair and generating antioxidants that neutralize a harmful molecule known as reactive oxygen species. Mr. Hendricks argues that fasting leads to better outcomes from chemotherapy, too—by causing healthy cells to go dormant and avoid the treatment’s toxic chemicals.

And, yes, fasting triggers weight loss. The fasting Mr. Hendricks has in mind is periodic, its frequency and duration varying from person to person.

. . .

A theme running through “The Oldest Cure in the World” is the author’s exasperation with the American approach to practicing medicine. Few physicians, he notes, are knowledgeable about fasting, despite the benefits it provides. He favorably profiles two researchers—Valter Longo and Satchin Panda, at the University of Southern California and the Salk Institute, respectively—who have conducted ground-breaking studies on the value of restrictive food consumption.

The book’s most compelling story features an infant who in 1993 started having daily seizures after his first birthday. Neither medications nor brain surgery provided significant relief. Pediatric neurologists told the parents that their son, Charlie, faced a life of mental and physical retardation.

Charlie’s father discovered an obscure clinic at Johns Hopkins University that offered a treatment that involved brief fasting followed by a high-fat, ketogenic diet. The family’s neurologist dismissed the treatment as unworkable, but the family tried it anyway. On the second day of Charlie’s fast, the seizures stopped. Over time, his physical and mental development returned to normal, and he has grown up to be as healthy as his siblings. Later research has shown that fasting and a high-fat diet is a potent method for reducing seizures in epileptic children.

For the full review, see:

Matthew Rees. “BOOKSHELF; No First Helpings.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, October 7, 2022): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 6, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘The Oldest Cure in the World’ Review: No First Helpings.”)

The book under review is:

Hendricks, Steve. The Oldest Cure in the World: Adventures in the Art and Science of Fasting. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2022.

President Grover Cleveland Stuck with His Free Market Principles

(p. C7) Troy Senik, a former White House speechwriter, has written “A Man of Iron: The Turbulent Life and Improbable Presidency of Grover Cleveland” to rescue his subject from obscurity.

. . .

Mr. Senik says that Cleveland should be remembered as “one of our greatest presidents.”

. . .

He entered the White House favoring tariff cuts, the gold standard, limited government and the expansion of the civil service to reduce the power of patronage bosses. When he retired 12 years later, his principles were the same. He vetoed more bills in his first term than all 21 of his predecessors combined.

. . .

(p. C9) When Texas suffered a drought, he vetoed a bill to provide seeds to farmers, warily explaining: “Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care . . . and weakens the sturdiness of our national character.”

. . .

After triumphing in his first White House bid he declared, “Henceforth I must have no friends,” a rather monkish notion of virtue and a fitting template for how he governed. At the end of that term, he was advised not to push for tariff reform before his re-election but ignored the advice, observing: “What is the use of being elected or reelected unless you stand for something?”

“A Man of Iron” is a tribute to an incorruptible man, a rare politician who rose above partisanship.

For the full review, see:

Roger Lowenstein. “Oddly, Both Principled And President.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022): C7 & C9.

(Note: ellipses between paragraphs added; ellipsis within paragraph, in original. Bracketed word also added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 16, 2022, and has the title “‘A Man of Iron’ Review: Grover Cleveland, Honest to a Fault.”)

The book under review is:

Senik, Troy. A Man of Iron: The Turbulent Life and Improbable Presidency of Grover Cleveland. New York: Threshold Editions, 2022.

Steve Case Sees “Local Knowledge” as a Plus for Entrepreneurs Outside of Silicon Valley

(p. A15) Steve Case, a co-founder of AOL, was one of the early internet pioneers. But he is not a creature of Silicon Valley. AOL, he points out in “The Rise of the Rest: How Entrepreneurs in Surprising Places Are Building the New American Dream,” was based in the Washington, D.C., area, and many of the early tech firms, like Dell, were not started in Silicon Valley. Hence his conviction that successful entrepreneurship can happen anywhere.

. . .

Mr. Case reckons that we are entering a new phase of tech innovation. Success now requires not only software ingenuity but also industry expertise. If true, we could be due for a wave of local entrepreneurs because these are the people who are aware of the problems their communities face. Now that tech workers can work anywhere, local knowledge and expertise will be at a premium.

. . .

. . . [A] firm that Mr. Case discusses is Catalyte, a software company based in Baltimore. Founder Michael Rosenbaum was convinced that “potential talent was being overlooked by a system that valued pedigree over innate ability” and devised a hiring approach that would ignore traditional résumé points and instead match employees “according to their abilities and potential, which would be determined through carefully calibrated metrics and AI design.” To that end, Mr. Rosenbaum decided to launch his startup in Baltimore, “a postindustrial city . . . with a large, dislocated population of workers who were not connected to the future job opportunities.” His methods paid off, resulting in a diverse workforce and one that produced “off the charts” performance results.

According to Mr. Case, spurring regional entrepreneurship requires leaning on universities and building more “innovation districts.” But these zones, which contain startups, business incubators and investment funds that support one another, have a mixed record. He sees government involvement as crucial but doesn’t contend with its past failures . . .

For the full review, see:

Allison Schrager. “BOOKSHELF; Startups Across America.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Sept. 12, 2022): A15.

(Note: ellipses between paragraphs, and at the start or end of a paragraph, added; ellipsis within paragraph, in original. Bracketed word also added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 11, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘The Rise of the Rest’ Review: Startups Across America.”)

The book under review is:

Case, Steve. The Rise of the Rest: How Entrepreneurs in Surprising Places Are Building the New American Dream. New York: Avid Reader Press, 2022.

The “Silly, Elitist,” and “Venal” in Modern Art

(p. A26) Suzi Gablik, an art critic, author and theorist who once championed modernism — and was once an artist of that persuasion — but found fame when she turned against it, died on May 7 [2022] at her home in Blacksburg, Va.

. . .

At the invitation of the United States government, she began to lecture about American art around the world, an experience that altered her thinking about contemporary art. It was not just daunting but embarrassing, as she wrote later, to try to describe “some of the aggressively absurd forms of art that dominated the decade of the 1970s in America: Vito Acconci putting a match to his breast and burning the hair of his chest; Chris Burden crawling half-naked across broken glass.”

She began to feel that modernism — her religion — had reached its limits. Its provocations were no longer transgressive but silly, elitist and even venal, having been co-opted by corporate sponsors and the growing art market. Her salvo of a book, “Has Modernism Failed?,” arrived with a bang in 1984, and all of a sudden she was a sought-after speaker in her own country, a dissident voice pilloried by some critics but welcomed by others.

. . .

Decrying the pointlessness and commercialism of contemporary art was hardly a new position — Tom Wolfe had gleefully staked it out in “The Painted Word,” in 1975 — but Ms. Gablik’s book nonetheless struck a chord.

For the full obituary, see:

Penelope Green. “Suzi Gablik, Art Critic and Author Who Took Modernism to Task, Dies at 87.” The New York Times (Saturday, May 21, 2022): A26.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date May 20, 2022, and has the title “Suzi Gablik, Art Critic Who Took Modernism to Task, Dies at 87.”)

Gablik’s “salvo” against modern art is:

Gablik, Suzi. Has Modernism Failed? Revised 2nd ed. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2004 [1984].

As a student, I greatly annoyed one of my philosophy professors when I favorably quoted:

Wolfe, Tom. The Painted Word. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1975.