At the Strangers’ Gate: Arrivals in New York by Adam Gopnik – review

The New Yorker writer’s stylish memoir, via Häagen-Dazs, Nietzsche and craft beer, is generous in wit and wisdom

Anyone who worries that artificial intelligence might some day outpace the faulty circuitry inside human heads should be cheered by the existence of Adam Gopnik. His brain has nothing to fear from electronic competition. It is an organ housed in a body, kindled by the appetites and affections of the flesh; it operates friskily, risking vast generalities that it clinches with neat, nimble aphorisms. At public events, Gopnik has a loyal but ageing audience; his son, he tells us, “never feels comfortable coming to a reading of mine without a defibrillator”. The precaution is unnecessary: a talk by Gopnik fibrillates furiously enough to revive the most tottery senior citizen.

As his contributions to the New Yorker testify, Gopnik can write brilliantly about almost anything. His new book is nominally a memoir of his first years in Manhattan, where he arrived from Montreal early in the venal 1980s, but its reminiscences are the pretext for a series of dizzy riffs – on art and the artisanal, connecting conceptualism with microbrews; on art and commerce, treating Jeff Koons and his stainless steel bunny as products of “late commodity capitalism”; or on the need to combine elitism in art with egalitarianism in politics, a juggling act that Gopnik manages with deft aplomb.

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