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Articles of Note

Sex workers, snipers, silver-gelatin photos: The creepy, fascinating, and remarkably prolific life of William T. Vollmann... more»
In this age of fat fingers on tiny touchscreens, autocorrect is a necessity. Whom can we thank for this innovation? A man identified as Bill Vaginal... more»

Joe Queenan, who has attended roughly 1,000 classical-music concerts, offers a warning: Beware the savage, conscienceless, blue-haired ladies... more»
Harper Lee – 88, in a wheelchair, forgetful, largely deaf and blind – remains where she’s been for decades: trapped by the Mockingbird industrial complex... more»
These are hard times for the study of literature. Technology is ascendant, the humanities in retreat. But the activity of writing continues to redeem itself... more»
Work and its discontents. What followed the ascendance of tech culture? Surveillance, data mining, inequality, canned pep talks, disillusionment... more»
Bertrand Russell – dapper don, clever thinker, champion of moral conviction – got much right. About war and peace, however, he was consistently wrong... more»
“Tavern-botherer, whoremaster, and libertine.” Debauched from his Oxford days, the Earl of Rochester found a form that suited him: satirical poetry... more»
Derek Parfit is committed to philosophy, white shirts, yogurt, and Janet Radcliffe-Richards. This is the world’s most cerebral romance... more»
Has science forsaken philosophy? Moving beyond data and certainty, ancient scientists like Anaximander built a vision of the world... more»
The mystery of laughter. It has confounded philosophers, neurologists, and historians. Mary Beard is on the case... more»
What has become of Hitler studies? It’s complicated. Ron Rosenbaum meditates on “What we talk about when we talk about evil”... more»
Boston or Borneo, London or Lahore: The rise of global literature doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter where a book comes from. It does... more»
In the 1870s, Isaac Newtons private papers were turned over to a committee of Cambridge professors. The result? Chaos... more»
The birth of cool. What began as a word evolved into an attitude and then a way of life. Yet a question endures: What makes cool cool?... more»
Is contemporary philosophy too dry and technical for your taste? The ancient Greeks felt the same way. Anthony Gottlieb explains... more»
Leonardo was the first to sketch it, Van Gogh immortalized it, Heisenberg was stumped by it, you’ve experienced it: What is turbulence?... more»
Art history: Is the discipline the result of a childhood swap between two brothers? The strange saga of the banker and the bibliomaniac... more»
Heil hipster. Step aside, skinheads. German fascism has a friendlier, web-savvier, bearded face. These are strange times to be a neo-Nazi... more»
Locavore, gourmet, artisanal Top Chef, MasterChef: We live in an era of crazed oral gratification. Why? We’re homesick. Ron Rosenbaum explains.. more»
Jeff Koons has clout, money, fame, family, 128 employees, a customized Koonsmobile. What else does he need? To exercise naked, apparently... more»
Orwell at the ends of the earth. To finish Nineteen Eighty-Four, the writer moved to a desolate Scottish island. He slept with a gun under his bed... more»
Galileo’s Sidereus Nuncius is among the most extraordinary books in the history of scientific publishing – and among the most intricately forged... more»
Anti-Semitism, caustic sex jokes, class-based put-downs galore. The friendship of T.S. Eliot and Groucho Marx was anything but friendly... more»
In the late 19th century, painting was at a crossroads. It was a good time for radical ideas, for Cézanne to astonish Paris with an apple... more»
In animated movies for kids, the dead-mother plot dominates alongside the fantasy of the fabulous single father. Beware the exceptions... more»
Bernard-Henri Lévy – philosophe, dandy, freelance statesman – is 65 and peripatetic as ever. The secret of his vitality: “Don’t spend time with boring people”... more»
More than a machine, the elevator introduced codes of conduct, even ideas. It moved not only people and goods but also information... more»
It’s the new two-cultures divide: paper vs. ebook. Whether you’re a skimmer, skipper, or completist, the schism is about what it means to read... more»
The field of Yiddish linguistics is very small but very fractious. At issue: Is Yiddish an essentially Jewish language? Or another dialect of German?... more»
Before 1914, wars were typically presumed to be justified. Now they're suspect; everybody knows “the old lie.” A lesson learned too well?... more»
At 80, Gordon Lish hides from the sun and corrects the record. For instance, he wants you to know that he slept with only one student... more»
What can we learn from the odes of Pindar and Pelé? Sport isn’t about the athleticism of youth. It’s about mortality... more»
The mystery of human desire. Our Paleolithic libidos leave us in thrall to every unruly urge. How did we become such a downright kinky species?... more»
San Francisco is America’s incubator of utopias. And each one – hippie, techno-futurist – has produced a cuisine all its own. Glazed snails, anyone?.. more»
Consultants, conferences, seminars: Everyone is disrupting or being disrupted. The theory is hugely influential. And almost certainly wrong... more»
Jean Rhys, Elizabeth Bishop, Marguerite Duras: How is it that these women, so very bad at living, were so very good at writing about it?... more»
Shakespeare was 16 when Montaigne published his first essays. The line of influence isn't easy to discern, but it’s there... more»
Sir Walter Scott popularized the clan tartan; Madonna the kaffiyeh. When is it OK to steal from other cultures?... more»
The Goldfinch phenomenon. Donna Tartt’s novel is a masterpiece – or a cliché-ridden load of junk. Critics can't see beyond their preconceptions... more»... more»
Robert Silvers, renowned as a ruthlessly highbrow editor, starring in a Martin Scorsese film? It’s true... more»
In praise of bean counters. Accounting once occupied the attention of thinkers in religion, art, and philosophy. Yes, accounting... more»
Paul Auster doesn’t worry about how he’s received in India. Why do Indian writers think it’s so important to get published in the West?... more»
Every reviewer, at some point, becomes disgusted by the inconsequence of most books. Katherine Mansfield felt it early and deeply... more»
Charles Ives vs. classical music. The insurance tycoon-turned-composer was accused of amateurism and eclecticism. His work prevailed... more»
Before he shone as a novelist, Oscar Wilde was a book critic – a gifted, feisty, self-promoting book critic, who skewered his subjects... more»
The singular course of Stephen Greenblatt. At 21, on a bridge in Istanbul, he tore up his acceptance to Yale Law School. His life was literature... more»
“In pictures I can only go back over the same ground,” Matisse said in 1945. “Paintings seem to be finished for me.” He turned to decoration... more»
The identity of Little Albert, the baby terrified by psychologists in a filmed experiment, has been unknown for a century. Until now, perhaps... more»
Conveyors belts, literary sommeliers, in-house printing presses, "book wizards": Is this the future of the brick-and-mortar bookshop?... more»
Nazi art? There was no master aesthetic. Culture was ad hoc, improvised. Standards were dictated by whatever Hitler felt at any given moment... more»
Maya Angelou, memoirist, poet, calypso dancer, actress, civil-rights activist, professor, is dead. She was 86... NY Times... LA Times... Wash Post... NPR... WSJ... USA Today... CNN... Telegraph... Elizabeth Alexander... Gary Younge... Farah Griffin...
If the clouds hadn't cleared above Principe on May 29, 1919, Einstein would be just another physicist… more»
Tolkien's life work? Translating Beowulf. Some call the tale a mess, ruined by spoilers. But Tolkien always preferred monsters to critics... more»
In Tahiti, Gauguin created the pristine world he wanted to experience, rather than the fallen one he found... more»
How might the next James Baldwin be constrained by the possibility of his book's being stamped "Trigger Warning: Child Abuse"?… more»
In which an inveterate punster, after a lifetime of wordplay, enters the Pun-Off World Championships. And completely chokes... more»
In the wonder provoked by art, the interaction “between mind and the world is brought into focus,” says Jesse Prinz. It's a wonder rooted in nurture, not nature... more»
History is full of theories that were beautiful and wrong. Indeed, beauty and truth do not correlate. But the connection persists. Why?... more»
Here is Proust, here Jean Rhys, here Milton. Linda Grant’s library has been her life. Eventually it will be what relatives have to haul away... more»
Florence Josephine Mastin personifies the promise of a time when even a middling poet could find a large audience. She couldn’t exist today... more»
Carl van Vechten – critic, photographer, pansexual partyer extraordinaire – was Gertrude Stein’s greatest fan, and the most important, too... more»
The popularity of pets, nature films, zoos, wildlife tourism show how much we like to look at animals. Why? Evolution has an answer... more»
University presses are in a panic: The rise of e-books, the decline of subsidies, the new habits of academics: Will scholarly publishing survive?... more»
What makes a work of art an icon? Maybe a historical fluke. The “Mona Lisa” became famous when it was stolen, and popularity begets popularity... more»
Capitalism’s contradictions mean that the system will fail, says David Harvey. “The longer it goes on, the less likely that it will be a peaceful transition”... more»
Roast swan – deep red, lean, lightly gamy, succulent – was a favored dish in the court of Henry VIII. Why don’t we eat it anymore?... more»
Mythographer of the modern world. For Marina Warner, imagination and fantasy are not childish indulgences, but windows on reality... more»
Steven Pinker learned early that every intellectual needs an affectation. So he’s left his Spinoza-like hairdo – long, curly – unchanged since the 70s... more»
For life-hackers, getting through the day is a system to optimize. Their mentality suggests that something is off about the way we work... more»
In the digital age, humanity’s relationship with noise has changed little from the time of Gilgamesh. Turn it down! ... more»
At the beginning was the big bang. What banged, why, or what happened before, we could never know. Now we do... more»
We live in an age that glorifies the single study, the fast, definitive answer. In this crisis, we are complicit. Can social science save itself?... more»
Death is inescapable, but so is a craving for immortality. And for carbohydrates. You’d better skip those if you want to see 120... more»
In Beethoven’s time, conductors didn’t emote. Now they’re attention-hogging, arm-flapping maniacs. Are they necessary? Yeah, probably... more»
Wikipedia’s big success is a big problem. The crowdsourced encyclopedia allows misinformation to flourish and provides it with a cloak of respectability... more»
When the fatwa against Salman Rushdie came down, things turned nasty, and literary society took sides. Some of the divisions remain... more»
What are dreams made of? Male-female conflict, sexual desire, aggression. Put it this way: Dreams are a linchpin of reproductive fitness... more»
Why hasn’t natural selection weeded out a genetic propensity for schizophrenia? The answer might have to do with its links to creativity... more»
A Harvard professor’s claim that Jesus may have had a wife was met with fascination and incredulity. A new analysis has resurrected the debate... more»
Reluctant to bite into an insect? Consider the environmental and nutritional benefits of eating grasshoppers. Just think of them as “land shrimp”... more»
Hitler took aesthetic concerns seriously – all too seriously. But look closely: There are places where you might agree with him... more»
In the event of a mega-catastrophe, a civilization-erasing event, what is the most important piece of knowledge for humans to preserve?... more»
Few copies remain of the first edition of Borges's first published book. So when a copy turned up in late 1999, suspicions were aroused... more»
Growing up surreal. Boxing with Picasso, fleeing Nazis with Duchamp and Man Ray: For Cécile Éluard, daughter of Paul Éluard, life has never been dull... more»
Gabriel García Márquez, novelist, journalist, friend of left-wing causes, master of magical realism, is dead. He was 87... NY Times ... AP ... Reuters ... BBC ... Kakutani ... Guardian ... Edmund White ... Telegraph ... Independent ... WaPo ... LA Times ... Boston Globe ... New Yorker ... WSJ ... Paul Berman ... Financial Times ... Peter Carey ... Foreign Policy ... Irish Times ... Scotsman ... Salman Rushdie ... Angel Gurria-Quintana ...
Like a wonky heir to Tocqueville, Thomas Piketty has arrived in America. He has data, charts, and a plan to stem the country's “drift toward oligarchy”... more»
E.O. Wilson has only one functional eye, the left. And from an early age he focused it on little things... more»
The celebrated Shakespearean James Orchard Halliwell-Phillips dressed like a tramp and lived in the woods, where he hoarded rare artifacts of the Bard... more»
Theory-heads are so passé. Now the academic celebrities are upbeat neuroscientists and the like, preaching on the TED-talk “ideas” circuit… more»
In the age of Hirst and Koons, businessmen artists and biennales thrive while museums struggle. Every era gets the art it deserves... more»
Karl Ove Knausgaard, your favorite author’s favorite author, has written 3,600 pages of autobiography. Now his family hates him... more»
For Matisse, age and illness brought inspiration and reinvention. For Picasso, his final years were marked by impotence, anger, and creative dead ends... more»
Every writer wants a Vera – Vera Nabokov, who was cook, confidante, teaching assistant, editor, scheduler, and much more to her husband, Vladimir... more»
The great man theory of history has given way to a new paradigm, the great year. The past has been reduced to a few dates – 1914, 1945, 1968, 1989... more»
The case of Gottfried Benn. His poetry was shocking and lurid, his politics a disgrace – and his style one of literature’s great inventions... more»
What kind of government do you live under? What are your values? The answers are rooted in another question: What germs are you warding off?... more»
Novelist, CIA agent, a founder of The Paris Review, Zen master: Peter Matthiessen has had a full life. At 86, he doesn’t want to cling to it... more»
Faulkner in Hollywood. When he wasn’t hunting with Clark Gable, the Mississippi native was wooing a woman, one round of mini golf at a time... more»
John Updike’s unremarkable life revolved around his determination to write three pages a day. His only hobbies were golf and cheating on his wife... more»
Poetry and action. Octavio Paz was misread by colleagues on the left who required obedience rather than criticism of their common cause... more»
“The Ph.D. system is an abomination,” says Freeman Dyson. “People waste years of their lives doing research for which they’re not well-suited”... more»
Richard Strauss was not a man of emotional or intellectual depth. Was dreary conventionality the wellspring of his inimitable music?... more»
The well-heeled urbanite, in tailored threads, bicycles with pleasure through the traffic-clogged streets of Jakarta. Meet Monocle Man... more»
Perils of the author interview. William Ecenbargar got along with John Updike – until recognizing himself, slightly fictionalized, in The New Yorker... more»
The war against jargon is vital but, it seems, futile. A mania for obfuscation persists. We seek to impress rather than inform... more»
VDM claims to publish 50,000 books every month, making it one of the world's largest book publishers. Unfortunate, given its reputation... more»
If Bulgaria had a celebrity writer, it was Georgi Markov. The Kremlin, however, was not a fan. Thus the poison pellet in his thigh... more»
Step aside, tiger moms. Many parents in medieval Europe, who sent their children away to work as servants, make Amy Chua look like a pushover... more»
Do computers place us at the dawn of a new era in the study of culture? Probably. Will we learn something we don't already know? Probably not... more»... more»...
Nate Silver does not opine, he analyzes. He thinks only originally, and only about facts. There is a term for this pose: intimidation by quantification... more»
How did a billion dollars in artworks – Picasso, Matisse, Chagall – end up in an urban hermit’s apartment in Munich? The tale begins in 1892... more»
The arrogance of atheists. Outspoken skeptics of spirituality have claimed the intellectual high ground. Where does that leave everyone else?... more»
The fortunes of fame. Consider Walter Benjamin, all but forgotten in the years leading up to his suicide, in 1940. But what an afterlife... more»
Bernard Malamuds protagonists are forever feeling held back, locked out, stifled – not unlike Malamud himself... more»
A historian raises his voice: “The lack of interest scholars have shown in the cultural life of elevators is appalling”... more»
Life among the toffs. Oxford in the 1950s was a daunting place. Ask John Carey, who planned to deflate Oxbridge snobbery from within. No luck... more»
Schopenhauer called noise “the most impertinent of all forms of interruption,” and he was right. Thus our obsession with silence: the new luxury good... more»
The novelist Benjamin Kunkel left New York for Buenos Aires. Now he’s a Marxist public intellectual with a theory: commonism... more»
Eudora Welty had a simple explanation for her popularity as a speaker: “I’m always on time, and I don’t get drunk or hole up in a hotel with my lover’... more»
The London Review of Books is Europe’s most successful literary publication. But is it financially sustainable? “Oh no,” says the publisher... more»
Darwin in Arabia. On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, but appeared in Arabic in 1918. One problem: no word in Arabic for “species”... more»
German is abrasive. French is the height of elegance. Italian sounds like poetry: Why do we find some languages more beautiful than others?... more»
The novelist Arundhati Roy’s political turn marked her as a dilettante and brought stone-throwing mobs to her home. She wouldn’t have it any other way... more»
Congratulations, your novel has been hailed as “chillingly brilliant.” You’ve been compared to Kafka. You have a book contract. You’re facing poverty... more»
A railroad porter in Washington refused a tip from Carl Sagan. “You gave me the universe,” he said. Now a new Cosmos tries to live up to the vision... more»
A new specter haunts France – that of Judith Butler. The gender theorist has provoked tens of thousands to march into the streets... more»
Throughout the 1930s and early 40s, Martin Heidegger kept a diary in which anti-Semitism seems tied to his philosophy. What, you’re surprised?... more»
Ben Novak spends his time alone with his thoughts, dead animals, and a determination to bring the passenger pigeon back from extinction... more»
Female lust is normal: Now that the consensus is finally established, we’ve been hit by a tidal wave of confessional sex memoirs... more»
James McNeill Whistler viewed the artist’s life as a battle – with critics, patrons, philistines. “There is nothing like a good fight! It clears the air”... more»
Gordon Lish exploited the strange power dynamics of writing workshops to maximize sexual tension. But not every work of fiction is a love letter... more»
The Voynich Manuscript has seduced linguists, physicists, chemists, computer scientists, historians, even botanists. What explains the allure?... more»
Loathe the selfie? Don’t blame the Kardashians. Its roots originate in the 19th century, with silk-waistcoated Parisian dandies... more»
Study after study shows that unconscious attitudes hold sway over us. But academic journals don’t offer a representative picture of how we act... more»
Early Egyptian maps show south as up. In medieval European maps, east replaced it. Now north is always on top. Blame Byzantine monks and Majorcan Jews.. more»
Eric Jarosinski – professor of German, Twitter wit – is leaving academe to become a full-time aphorist. “We need to re-establish that as a profession”... more»
Elaine Scarry is brilliant and eccentric and unwavering in her belief that an interpretation – of torture, of nukes – can reconfigure the world... more»
Joe Gould was immortalized by Joseph Mitchell as a celebrity among New York’s bohemian elite. Gould’s secret is well known; Mitchell’s is not... more»
Why did Ronald Dworkin, a legal scholar, become a theologian? Simple, serious inquiry into rights requires a religious attitude... more»
Why are writers such exceptional procrastinators? They fear being confronted with a simple truth: They’re not as good as they think they are... more»
Dickens, Maugham, Amis: What do you say about a novelist who crams a caricature of a real person into a story in order to poke fun?... more»
Beckett was a misanthrope, Joyce a philanderer, Dickens a tyrant. So why do biographers depict their subjects as especially admirable people?... more»
Gabriele DAnnunzio, in a hedonistic, Nietzschean, cocaine-induced fury, trampled Italian art and politics. Can he be forgiven?... more»
A small hotel room, a wrought-iron balcony on the Mediterranean, his wife, his mistress, his words: The last days of W.B.Yeats... more»
What set humans apart? Not bipedalism or opposable thumbs or big brains. But these two things: cooperation and cooking... more»
Benjamin Britten was always busy – coronations, royal birthdays, churches to consecrate. He never said no, and so he wrote a lot of dull music... more»
World’s most entertaining dinner guest. Playing the pudgy, friendly American, Edmund White conquered the Paris literary scene... more»
The Cambridge wit Maurice Cowling was ridiculed as parochial, peculiar, perverse, tiresome, and turgid. Nothing pleased him more... more»
Tips for would-be literary gossips: Join the inner circle of great writers; tell, don’t show; avoid discretion at all costs... more»
George Eliot and the don. Was Casaubon, a stiff, middle-aged pedant in Middlemarch, modeled on the Oxford rector Mark Pattison?... more»
Secrets from Belfast. This is how a former IRA man, a journalist, and Boston College got mixed up in an international murder investigation... more»
Amy Chua has been called insane and abusive. “I don’t want to be controversial,” she says by way of promoting her next provocation... more»
Polarized by political and cultural sensibilities, Americans are a fractious bunch. But one thing they can agree on: the apocalypse... more»

New Books

Elizabethans joked about venereal disease. Romans laughed at bald men. The history of humor is wildly inconsistent about what’s funny... more»
Introduced in 1833, the term "scientist" had grubby connotations. Natural philosophers thought deeply and wrote elegantly, scientists were data crunchers... more»
He mingled with Emerson and Thoreau, enjoyed wine and cigars with Trollope, Wilde, and Twain. Julian Hawthorne was the Zelig of his time... more»
Post-it notes, push pins, staples, pencils, pens, rubber bands: Jenny Diski on the many pleasures of the office stationery closet... more»
Humanity is diverse, and it’s appealing to think that each language provides its own lens on the world. Not so, but the myth persists... more»

Poor Joseph Epstein. Talent, wit, and style, but nothing to say. He makes the same arguments ad nauseam, with diminishing returns... more»
Machine intelligence is expected to reach a human level by 2075. This is likely to be either very good or very bad for humanity... more»
Artists once sought institutional acceptance. Now they just want to go viral. Is technology destroying the culture industry?... more»
“I think him specious and possessed of some quality which causes nausea,” Isaiah Berlin said of Isaac Deutscher. Ah, the catty groves of academe... more»
Marketing device, self-criticism, or something else entirely? What does it mean to stamp a book “Great American Novel”?... more»
The sorrows of young Beckett. Unemployed, broke, sickly, and ambitious, he channeled his inner Joyce – to poor effect... more»
The tedium of “evangelical atheism.” Do the New Atheists even know what religion is? They should reread their Nietzsche... more»
Muriel Spark’s was a puritanically nurtured soul. Joy, spiritual and otherwise, came with great struggle. This was not necessarily a bad thing... more»
Michael Oakeshott didn’t care about the opinion of other philosophers. A good thing, too, since other philosophers didn’t care for Michael Oakeshott... more»
Confronted by an extraordinary experience, Barbara Enhrenreich, atheist, has embraced an explanation that sounds an awful lot like religion... more»
From the Polish border to the Pacific, from the Arctic Circle to the Afghan frontier, authoritarian regimes are aglow with arrogant confidence... more»
Psychoanalysis has always involved the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. It was from the beginning a Jewish literary enterprise... more»
What would Kant do? His maxims, applied to ethical quandaries, seem contradictory, incoherent, a mess. But there’s another way... more»
Filmmaker, novelist, polemicist: Everything Pier Paolo Pasolini did, he did as a poet – a strange and brilliantly melancholic poet... more»
John Carey would rather read Shakespeare than see it performed. He prefers to experience life through literature... more»
Theories of the novel – whether all-encompassing or specific – struggle under scrutiny. Does the novel defeat the fox/hedgehog divide?... more»
In the 19th century, space was reorganized, time was synchronized, the world became modern. We are the heirs of that change. Why have historians stopped caring?... more»
More than 6,000 languages are spoken today – a vast polyglot universe of idiolects and jargons. Some tongues travel, some won't translate... more»
Life at the Chelsea Hotel is suffused with a misty nostalgia: Eccentrics! Drugs! Cheap rent! Arthur Miller called it the “fog of exhausted inquiry”... more»
Can faith and spirituality be explained by science? Is transcendence a matter of brain chemistry? Strap on the ”God helmet“ and see... more»
Famous by the age of 23, dead before 30, Stephen Crane put his name to hackwork and masterwork, but left behind no diary and few letters... more»
Consider your essential self. Whether physical, psychological, or illusory – an ego trick? – a sense of essential me-ness emerges by age 2. Why?... more»
The discredited notion that language determines thought refuses to die. John McWhorter wants to settle the matter once and for all... more»
Jeff Bezos: prescient, ruthlessly competitive, hard to peg, he has more influence than anyone else over the future of reading. What does he want?.... more»
A literary man in political guise, Malcolm Cowley, discerning in arts and letters, was anything but when it came to communism... more»
A Freud for every era: scientist, clinician, provocateur, kook, critic, translator. We see the man we need to see... more»
People ask Carl Wilson: Isn’t life too short to waste time thinking about artists you dislike, such as Celine Dion? The way he sees it, life is too short not to... more»
Reason, nature, culture, the sublime, science, humanity, being, society: The quest to find a secular alternative to God is long, arduous, and continuing... more»
Dull, pressing, throbbing: From Donne to Sontag, we’ve struggled to describe pain. Would doing so enable a more creative world?... more»
Cold War geopolitics were, in no small part, a philosophical struggle. Intellectual sensitivities were on edge. A novel could make a superpower tremble... more»
Euripides, Schiller, Umberto Eco, and ... Dan Brown? In the literature of the arcane, now as then, conspiracy is key... more»
Affluent Austrian, wandering Jew, prolific author, Pan-European humanist, cheap populist, dandy, depressive, unblinking stoic: Who was Stefan Zweig?... more»
Tastes in physiques change over time. William the Conqueror's girth was mocked, but in 14th-century Paris, women strove for “beautiful loins and big bottoms”... more»
Hated by Coleridge, Byron, and Carlyle: Thomas Malthus, that “mischievous reptile,” was expert at making enemies of the Romantic poets… more»
The American short story has long been dominated by small, minimalist tales of disaffection, longing, and boredom. Blame John Updike... more»
America is obsessed with choice: myriad TV channels, the tens of thousands of items in the supermarket. At what cost to the national psyche?... more»
A new science of the mind that links evolutionary theory and neurology will transform everything. The intellectual landscape today? No, the 1890s... more»
Stop the presses! Karl Kraus, error-obsessed editor, would scrap a print run “because the milligram scales of my stylistic sense rejected a word”... more»
France in the 1920s and 30s was one of those places where scoundrels – unstable, even criminal – somehow achieved positions of prominence.... more»
Aristotle was a big walker – thus we call his philosophical school Peripatetic – but is there really a connection between moving feet and moving minds?... more»
The paradoxical politics of William Burroughs. An enemy of the left, he dreamt of public-works projects. Thus his nickname: Sultan of Sewers... more»
What is higher education for? We hear more and more about economic gain – for students, for society. Here’s another view, embattled but wiser... more»
Fear of missing out. It is the anxiety of our age. Just think of all that you’re missing because an algorithm hasn’t yet recommended it.... more»
For Rebecca West, “there was nothing as sad and lonely as the lot of a woman who did not have a man.” She had many men, most of them dastardly... more»
What happens when a talented thinker composes too many 800-word op-eds and 20-second sound bites? The shrinking of Charles Krauthammer... more»
In our child-centric age, nothing is more suspicious than a parent who doesn’t admit to an occasional urge to flee the home... more»
Beethoven is legend, myth, among history’s greatest artists. But he was also irritable, erratic, and plagued by gastrointestinal issues... more»
In China, the power of Mao's Little Red Book once gave an aspiring veterinarian the courage to castrate a pig. Now it's mere capitalist kitsch… more»
The question of Nelly. Bloomsbury's bohemians generally disregarded their servants. Virginia Woolf cared enough to commiserate… more»
Capa, Gellhorn, Hemingway, et al.: For a talented young cohort, the Spanish Civil War offered a heady rush of idealism and opportunism… more»
What makes a novel worth reading: All sorts of people can do justice to that subject. Academics, however, haven’t a clue... more»
Rise of the shelfie. Part literary criticism, part memoir, these books can feel like stunts. But they reveal something essential about the way we read now... more»
Montaigne on cocaine. Geoff Dyer’s books have no plot and are often based on dubious ideas. They work beautifully. Why? He puts life over literature.. more»
The Transcendentalists were great theorists of child rearing but not great parents. Hawthorne was no exception. Consider his son, Julian... more»
Duke Ellington may have lacked the technical brilliance of a Fats Waller or Art Tatum; his solos could be flat. But he was unrivaled as a bandleader... more»
More than a dualist, Descartes was a dinner-table raconteur, a student of animals, snowflakes, crystals, mathematics, music, and optics... more»
Big data’s predictive powers will transform our existence but will go on to inhibit the very behaviors necessary for social innovation... more»
Camus’s contemporaries were enthralled by abstraction and absolute ideas. But he rejected all of that for the messiness of reality... more»
Biographers tend to depict Stefan Zweig as a glamorous – if sexually perverted – cosmopolitan. But consider him, harried and confused, in New York... more»
Jonathan Swift was an early adopter of the maxim “Write what you know.” In his case, it was grotesque displays of bodily degradation... more»
In the hands of Christopher Lasch, narcissism was distorted, obscured from its roots. A valuable idea was turned into a personality disorder... more»
The education of Eleanor Marx was conducted at her father’s knee. She was Karl’s creation, though a formidable intellectual in her own right... more»
The history of translation is full of big, bizarre ventures. Behold The Dictionary of Untranslatables – 150 contributors, 400 entries, 11 years in the making... more»
Octopus!: It has a small brain but is a speedy learner; it can change color and shape in seconds; when bored, it may eat its own arms... more»
As a translator, Norman Thomas di Giovanni served Jorges Luis Borges well. As a biographer, not so much. Why the obsession with the man’s bladder?... more»
There is academic orthodoxy – race is a social construct, a cultural artifact – and then there’s the science. Reconciling them is getting harder... more»
In a post-theological age, it's a struggle to connect the truths of science to a sense of purpose. With no God, who will motivate us?... more»
It was a time of unprecedented accumulation of knowledge, of expanding cities and fading frontiers: The 19th century made the world we inhabit... more»
The folly of digital humanists. Valuing computer code over creativity, they’ve traded their birthright for a mess of apps. Adam Kirsch explains... more»
Old institutions like the National Endowment for the Arts are giving way to new ones, like Kickstarter. But shall we trust culture to a digitaldemocracy”?... more»
At the edge of anthropology is a push beyond the human, beyond the idea that meaning must originate with humans. In this world, a forest thinks... more»
As Jenny Diski gets on in years, she’s been stumped by two questions: How does she know she’s old? When can she start complaining?... more»
Can anyone “sigh blood” or play “whisper music” on her hair? No matter: As Aristotle knew, a command of metaphor is “the mark of genius”... more»
Stefan Zweig killed himself in 1942. Once among the world’s most popular writers, he was no longer so widely read. A revival was soon under way... more»
You’ve probably heard: Times have changed, universities have not. “Disruption” is imminent. So is graduate school for suckers?... more»
Social media don’t lead to addiction but do lead to drama. And that’s why we spend so much time online. We fear boredom, and that’s a problem... more»
Hugh Trevor-Roper’s trajectory – once eminent, then discredited – echoes the oldest of morality tales. Yet in death, his reputation has been revived... more»
Deconstruction is dead. So why the interest in Paul de Man? Because his end marked the end of something that transcended theory... more»
His work was censored by the Nazis, his studio bombed by the Allies. Still, the photographer August Sander was intent on finishing an unfinishable project... more»
To those who fancy the term “Kafkaesque,” Cynthia Ozick retorts: You don’t know Kafka. Your take is “reductiveness posing as revelation”... more»
Michael Oakeshott, author of dense, intricate works of philosophy: not a guy you’d expect to write pungent aphorisms. And yet.. more»
Cass Sunstein, mild-mannered, deliberative, professorial, occasionally a bureaucrat. Is he the most dangerous man in America?... more»
Freudian writers talk of works, papers, articles, lectures, and contributions, but not, for the most part, essays. Then there’s Adam Phillips... more»
You think translation is a straightforward task? It isn’t. And too often the aim is easy consumption. Lost is anything foreign or unsettling... more»
An engagement as binding as marriage. Kierkegaard and Regine Olsen never married; nevertheless, theirs was one of the great literary loves... more»
Charlie Chaplin was a suspicious and angry man. His hubris had no limits, nor his interest in young women. Did he inspire Nabokov’s Lolita?... more»
Dickens scholarship is insular and overwhelmingly Anglo. But Dickens was a global figure, huge in Russia and Germany. France? Not so much... more»
Japan has The Tale of Genji; Spain, Don Quixote; Ireland, Ulysses. What of the great American novel? Michael Dirda casts his vote: Moby-Dick... more»
Once among the most popular poets in America, e.e. cummings, the man Ezra Pound called “Whitman’s one living descendant,” is rarely read today... more»
Can an octopus think? How about an earthworm, or a sea snail? Darwin, Freud, Kandel, and the strange world of lower-organism cognition... more»
The 20th century – world wars, gulags, famine, genocide – was the safest there has ever been. To what did we owe our unprecedented safety? War... more»
To fail is to be human. So, by all means, fail better. Learn from the experience, embrace it. But what, exactly, does it mean to fail?... more»
Marianne Moores parents were profoundly divorced from reality, which made for a deeply, disturbingly, destructively bizarre home life... more»
Bertolt Brecht had little control over how his plays were staged, where he lived, or his health. One thing he did manage to control: his lovers... more»
The Five were a group of Russian composers who actually numbered six. They were full of promise but excelled, mostly, at procrastination... more»
To study the office is to study how authority maintains authority—and how the subjugated stay subjugated. Or so says Jerry Stahl... more»
Jonathon Green has no origins. He knows nothing of his family’s past. His compulsion to seek out the roots of slang words is a compensatory reflex... more»
Shakespeares nemesis. Cursed by bad back, Lady Russell was powerful, litigious, and no stranger to armed combat... more»
The Panic of 1907 gave birth to modern financial forecasting. The tools back then were crude and unreliable. Are they much better today? more»
Origins of the selfie. Until about 1490, self-portraits were rare. Then artists started to take an interest in themselves. Was it self-scrutiny or vanity?... more»
James Whistler relished attention and dressed accordingly: monocle, fawn-colored frock coat, patent-leather shoes with pink bows, elaborate coiffure... more»
Despite predictions of the paperless office, paper remains the standard – as an artistic and political medium – to which digital media aspire... more»
Bard and belief. His plays are saturated in biblical imagery; his will is Protestant in style and tone. But was Shakespeare a man of faith?... more»
Science produces discoveries every day. But virtually every scientific area of inquiry began with a question or an insight from a philosopher... more»
An orthodoxy has taken hold: Reading – especially Shakespeare – makes you healthier, stronger, kinder. Nice thought, but not necessarily true... more»
Poor Narcissus. For 2,000 years he’s been the personification of excessive self-love. But here’s the thing: Narcissus wasn’t a narcissist... more»
Of course Don Quixote was the first real novel, right? Wrong. The form is as old as civilization, and experimental fiction precedes Ulysses.. more»
There are no liberal ideas, said Goethe, only liberal sentiments. They’re rooted not in fear, but in empathy. Can empathy inspire the masses?... more»
Before the French Revolution was one of fact, of declarations and executions, it was a revolution of ideas. Indeed, it was three revolutions... more»
Hamlet, that dithering Dane, is incapable of making up his mind. But what’s at the root of his predicament: doubt or the burden of too much knowledge? more»
Atheists vs. Nietzsche. While they may agree that God is dead, many espouse the sort of liberalism that Nietzsche ridiculed. It’s awkward… more»
Among literary Londoners, John Hayward was loved but feared. His parties were legendary, as were his temper and his talent for falling out with friends... more»
Film critics review movies as if they were stories that merely happen to be told with a camera. What happened to analyzing films as films?... more»
Bernard Williams was an extraordinarily successful philosopher. But he hardly thought well of academic philosophy: “unhelpful, boring, sterile”... more»
Plato had strong views about many things: beauty, education, virtue, knowledge. In short, he had a mouth on him. But a cable TV talking head?... more»
What makes Edmund White a great memoirist? His indiscretion, his gossip, his wit, and his unsparing take on French intellectuals... more»
Hugh Trevor-Roper claimed his masterpiece was nearly done. But his wife was dubious. “Our attic is crowded with Chapter Ones. Never a Chapter Two”... more»
David Nirenberg’s book is titled Anti-Judaism, but the book is not about Jews or, at least, not about real Jews; it’s about imaginary Jews... more»
MFA vs. NYC: campus quads vs. Brooklyn brownstones; agents vs. professors; short stories vs. novels; workshops vs. publishing parties... more»
As a theorist, Paul de Man was suspicious of narratives. That emphasis stemmed from his own experience constructing a false – but plausible – life story... more»
Denying the humanities to those who cannot afford to study them is a form of social injustice. It is discriminatory... more»
Has modernity robbed life of meaning? Don’t be so dramatic! Everyday unhappiness has always been the default human condition... more»
A secret history of confession: What is it about a dark, enclosed space, a sliding screen, and a partition that inspires self-mortification... more»
God’s enemies – Marx, Nietzsche, Hitchens – are many. But the Almighty, says Terry Eagleton, is “remarkably difficult to dispose of”... more»
Do you use “one” as a pronoun for an impersonal subject? Avoid hyphens? We’re gaga for grammar, but relativism is spoiling Standard English... more»
The father of containment. George Kennan spent much of his life in agonized confrontation with the policy he helped create... more»
Critics scoff, as do scholars, feminists, and multiculturalists, but the dream of the Great American Novel refuses to die.... more»
Dale Carnegie: How did a “rough-edged, ill-clad farm boy” with an aw-shucks style redefine the work ethic for the modern world?... more»
Does sleep have politics? Apparently so. Critical sleep studies scholars are probing its meaning, ruination, and touchy relationship with capitalism... more»
Sex poetry has a history, says Germaine Greer, who distills the genre: Songs of the schlong are elaborations on hymns to quims... more»
Theories, being provisional, are often proved untrue. They’re also indispensable to the advance of science. Freeman Dyson praises wrong ideas and false trails... more»
Bernard Williams had a knack for seeing through every philosophical argument. He was too clever to offer up positions of his own... more»
Whats news? In the medieval world, it consisted of a little truth and a lot of rumor and misunderstanding. It is to that world that we’re returning... more»
Rudeness has always been on the rise, it seems. True or not, our interest in the unacceptable behavior of others is as old as society itself... more»
Reading Hamlet through the lens of Benjamin, Freud, and Lacan? A philosopher husband and psychoanalyst wife take a “rash lovers’ risk”... more»
Malcolm Cowley had a gift for sizing people up. On Larry McMurtry: a “wild young man from Texas, expert in pornography”... more»
You’re exhausted. You long for calm, more energy, less angst. We all do. Ours is a hurried age. But when did being burned out become a badge of honor?... more»
Bourbon and books, Fitzgerald and Faulkner, Cheever and Carver: In America, literary distinction and alcoholism have long been linked... more»
Sixty-six million years ago, an asteroid caused one of earth’s five great extinctions. The sixth one is happening right now... more»
Neoliberalism” – a term both ubiquitous and ill-defined – is an evolving body of market-driven ideas. Or a conspiracy by elites to torment the poor... more»
Bernard Berenson – connoisseur, dandy, aesthete – lived his long life in pursuit of one goal: “to become and be a work of art myself”... more»
For W.G. Sebald, history was a sequence of terrible events. Everywhere he looked he saw an abyss. It’s what made him a great novelist... more»
Do Americans have a sense of humor? Tocqueville thought not. How wrong he was: Some fun-loving Pilgrims, Barnum, Babbitt, Bruce... more»
Political partisanship is not pathological, and it needs no cure. It’s not so much a problem as a crucial feature of modern democracy... more»
Aristotle noted four types of lies; Augustine eight. Both frowned on fibbing. But some truths can be conveyed only through falsehoods... more»
Unlike “Man murders wife,” a headline you’ll never see is “Man abandons rash plan to kill his wife after brief pause.” What constitutes news?... more»
We like to believe that animals have human emotions, that they can feel shame, guilt, love. But what are the limits of anthropomorphism?... more»
“Crankish courage.” That’s what Mary McCarthy saw in William S. Burroughs. Others saw depravity and an endearingly crotchety flair... more»
Is there a relationship between squalor and credibility? Consider the Chelsea Hotel: epicenter of anarchy; sanctuary of eccentrics, artists, and hangers-on... more»

Essays and Opinion

The swatting of a fly – so common, so insignificant – demonstrates that we don’t know what to think about death, whether a fly's or our own... more»
What do we want when confronting great art? Solitude, contemplation, silence – all of which are inhibited, even prohibited, in most museums... more»

The Tolkien problem. Hobbits and dragons dominate the popular imagination. The result: We've lost sight of actual medieval history?... more»
An artist’s memory is a dangerous, necessary thing. To turn experience into art, to make something out of remembering, is like “watching ghosts in sunlight”... more»
Bill Deresiewicz hears from a lot of young people. They want advice on how to avoid becoming anxious, depressed, and aimless. He tells them to avoid the Ivy League... more»
“Revanchism” and “irredentism” are ugly, awkward words, and their significance is hard to analyze. Doing so reveals that the map of the world is a holy mess... more»
Governance without disagreement or conflict; “evidence-based” laws grounded in data; algorithms, not ideology: Is this the end of politics?... more»
What did Keats think of Milton? Shakespeare of Ovid? The imperfect, rewarding, highly conjectural art of reading as someone else... more»
Schubert failed at it; Mendelssohn and Brahms didn't even try; Stravinsky wrote only one. Writing an opera is supremely demanding. Roger Scruton thought he'd risk the effort... more»
Think slow, not fast. Society has become a cult of spontaneity – one that, with forethought, must be resisted... more»
What do polysyllabic, hyper-articulate English professors and rock musicians on Vespas have in common? More than you might think... more»
What was privacy to Virginia Woolf? Not just being alone, but understanding the limits of our efforts to share... more»
Jules Verne was a master, but of what? His books are not high art, his prose rarely more than serviceable. What he does offer is ancient wisdom and modern know-how... more»
Whether Wagner encoded anti-Jewish tropes in his compositions matters little. That he stamped modern classical music with a racial ideology matters a lot... more»
The conservative mind is unbalanced, says Adam Bellow. The best and brightest on the right go into politics. Literature has been abandoned to the left... more»... more»
No one likes to be wrong, including intellectuals. A big thinker is hardly about to disavow his own theory. But being wrong has its benefits... more»
Birth of bad taste. It happened in Italy in the early 16th century. The details are sketchy, but the culprits are clear: two Tuscan painters, Rosso and Pontormo... more»
Stow the brimstone. In theology, denying hell is almost as old as hell itself. Consider the surprisingly modern argument of Origen of Alexandria... more»
The historiography of World War I is voluminous, contradictory, contentious. Better look to historians, not those who merely write about the past... more»
Some people see things others can’t and we call them geniuses. Some people see things others can’t and we call them ill. Is madness the essence of creativity?... more»
Pay attention! Turn off the television, close the Twitter feed, ignore the text messages. Get absorbed in something – a drawing, a book, an essay on distraction... more»
John Cotter’s past is set to music: Bach on a snowy afternoon, blues on a long night’s drive, Velvet Underground when he lost his virginity. Doctors say his future will be silent... more»
Life at 60. Some thoughts on lights and mirrors (avoid them), health (“looms like a threatening monsoon”), and the stupidity of “60 is the new 40”... more»
Ethical creed, political philosophy, capitalist rationale, passing historical phase, timeless body of universal ideals: What is liberalism?... more»
It’s been said (and said and said) that poetry’s influence is on the wane. Nonsense. Americans are mad for poetry. They call it rap... more»
At first under the pseudonym Septimus, then often while hung over, the young journalist Gabriel García Márquez showed a flair for narrative and a taste for the bizarre... more»
1989 really did mark the end of ideology. Students can no longer comprehend fascism or fathom the allure of communism. This is a mixed blessing... more»
Powerful forces are actively hostile to the college ideal. They deny the need for an educated citizenry. Higher education, they insist, is not a human right... more»
Sentimental Education or sentimental evasion? Flaubert’s novel is a “negative bildungsroman,” a tale of unlearning. Michael Wood explains... more»
Believers and secularists talk about each other all the time, but not to one another. On both sides, there is a lack of insight and an abundance of knowing smirks... more»
Alain de Botton (446,000 followers) suggests a Twitter sabbath. “We need, on occasion, to be able to go to a quieter place.” Leon Wieseltier (0 followers) is not convinced... more»
Harvey Mansfield doubts that there is a campus rape crisis. Still, he blames feminism for insisting on a culture of sexual adventure that never results in misadventure... more»
The publication of Ulysses was a victory for linguistic freedom and sexual candor. Now anything goes, and not much matters. Literature lacks urgency... more»
The perils of translating Proust. The best English version of À la recherche du temps perdu is from 1930. But it’s a mess today... more»
Heidegger’s justification of Nazism, far from an isolated lapse, emerged seamlessly from his innermost philosophical thoughts... more»
The canon has been bloodied by a decades-long assault of politicized professors and theory-happy revisionists. But the idea of the canon endures... more»
In life and love, Patrick Leigh Fermor liked to meander. His charm was considerable, but not foolproof. To Somerset Maugham, he was a “middle-class gigolo for upper-class women”... more»
Philosophers tend to be terrified of bodies, so having sex can be a problem. John Kaag managed. But then he faced the question of fatherhood... more»
When what qualifies as iron will is not checking your email for an hour, there is little hope of finding the focus to read a long and complex book... more»
The goalkeeper is a man for any season – crazy person, intellectual, scapegoat, literary hero. No other position attracts such odd and iconoclastic characters... more»
Is the unexamined biographer’s life worth living? Not for David Levering Lewis, who has some thoughts on why biographers have become less discreet... more»
Step aside, Strunk and White. To combat the scourge of bad writing, we need a science of crafting stylish prose. Cue Steven Pinker... more»
Has Francis Fukuyama’s end-of-history hypothesis been proved wrong? Not according to him. The power of liberal democracy remains immense... more»
For Simon Critchley – lifelong Liverpool fan – football is war by other means. Also a working-class ballet and an aesthetic break from routine... more»
Death is a topic about which much has been said, little of it reassuring. For Montaigne, who thought about it constantly, life meant preparing to die... more»
Jerks! They’re everywhere, with their scornful cynicism and callousness. What we need is a theory of jerks, not least to determine if we fit the description... more»
Suspicion of government may be justified, but let’s not ignore a self-evident truth: Government is natural to the human condition. Roger Scruton explains... more»
Schlock is extravagant, pretentious, sentimental. It has no shame. With its timeworn tropes and overwrought gestures, schlock is bad taste at its finest... more»
Here’s a challenge: Scan the faculty roster of humanities and social-science departments at public universities. Can you spot a conservative or two? It matters... more»
Hersey on Hiroshima, Orwell on the Spanish Civil War: Sometimes writers find their topic. Geoff Dyer on Mailer and the moon landing, 45 years later... more»
When Evelyn Waugh’s scandalous Black Mischief was published, in 1933, everybody read it, including Ernest Oldmeadow. Commence the literary feud... more»
Wine has always been more than a beverage. “I put my nose in the glass and feel time and space grinding to a halt”... more»
Go, the ancient board game, has long been a favorite of computer scientists. Yet no computer has yet defeated a top human player. Does it matter?… more»
A forgotten pioneer of the French cinema, long written off as a swindler and pornographer, is ready for his close-up... more»
Alain de Botton's up. Altruistic genius or self-help huckster, the pop philosopher has gained a level of influence that's difficult to deny… more»
Reading Joyce in Dublin. His words were an act of rebellion. Now they footnote the city--cast in bronze, set in cement. It's all quite unavoidable... more»
“It is an arduous thing to plead against abuses of a power which originate from your own country,” said Burke. By that standard, David Bromwich has had a very arduous decade... more»
Doom for democracy? Judt, Habermas, and Piketty warn that our system of government is irrational, dysfunctional, in trouble. Has it always been?... more»
Over the past 80 years, U.S. gross domestic product has grown, in real terms, by a factor of 16. But more wealth has not meant more leisure. Cue the yuppie kvetching... more»
Beware those who think marriage + military inclusion + a few queers on TV = rainbow nirvana. Not so, says Suzanna Walters. Tolerance is a trap... more»
Drunken Irishmen, crafty Jews, lazy Africans: Race has always been a convenient way to explain inequality. The genome era is no different... more»
Misused words, abused grammar, sloppy syntax: English might seem in decline. But woot! Recognize the persistence of slang... more»
Even Germaine Greer, that curmudgeonly old feminist (her words!), has found cause to rejoice: Glossy women’s magazines are on the wane... more»
Impoverished by erudition. Learned references can snuff the poetic flame. What we need, says Clive James, is more “brilliantly articulated bitching”... more»
Not long ago, Tim Parks settled in for a night of experimental theater. Five minutes later, he was bored silly. His dilemma: To bail or not to bail... more»
So much academic art history is turgid with jargon. That’s not Deborah Solomon. She’s got a different problem: a prurient obsession with Norman Rockwell’s sexuality... more»
Andrew Wyeth is misunderstood as a master of Thomas Kinkade-like kitsch. His work is melancholy and terrifying – nothing sentimental about it... more»
“I am a storyteller,” Susan Sontag declared. Yet she wasn’t. Her fiction is overwrought, overthought, overwritten. Can a critic be a good novelist?... more»
Truman Capote called the celebrity profile – well-worn platitudes, quasi confessions, feigned intimacy – the “lowest form of journalism.” Why can’t we look away?... more»
Mozart never finished his Requiem, nor Schubert his Unfinished Symphony. Bach didn’t live to complete his Art of Fugue. But what of composers who intentionally make music feel unfinished?. .. more»
A great die-off is under way. Animals once abundant are now nonexistent. It’s a tragedy that our fellow creatures are being massacred. But it’s entirely natural... more»
The aesthetic brain. Scientists are in search of a neurological explanation for how we experience and produce art. Can neuroscience tell us anything about beauty?... more»
Will Self waves goodbye to literary fiction. The future will be full of tweets, text messages, and computer games – nothing too difficult, nothing too serious... more»
The unbearable whiteness of the writing workshop. Junot Díaz went to get an M.F.A. from Cornell, but received a different kind of education... more»
Everyone has opinions, says Joseph Epstein, but not everyone has a point of view. His own is cantankerous, comedic, cogent. He’s been serving it up for five decades... more»
What happens when Communist censors strip a text of the word “suitcase”? And instead of “coffin” insist on “earth furniture”? A strange poetry... more»
Lean In, The Richer Sex, The End of Men: Women may have won the battle of the sexes, but feminism was supposed to liberate men as well. It hasn’t... more»
The story of confetti. Typically it's traced to gift-giving in ancient Greece, but another explanation lurks: The paper shrapnel signals darker desires... more»
In the 1950s, America became nation of paper pushers. We still are: status and prestige, emotional games and office politics. Paging C. Wright Mills... more»
A paradox: Distrust of science has spiked at a time when science and technology have achieved so much. Why the public fixation on perceived failures?... more»
Art is of the world, and poets are some of the best rumor-spreaders. Why immortalize gossip in poetry? Because the results are delightful... more»
How much gay sex should a novel have? If the writer happens to be gay and is at all ambitious, he will have a complicated answer. Caleb Crain explains... more»
An ascendant view holds that while philosophy may pose important questions, progress isn’t possible until science provides answers. That view is wrong... more»
Capitalism’s new critics. On one side are the sad young literary Marxists flogging journals and tweets. On the other, the self-appointed masters of data... more»
Rioting, kidnapping, breaking and entering, violence: For Elizabeth Russell, warfare was a way of life, as Shakespeare learned the hard way... more»
On being and not being. If Husserl and Heidegger are right, there is no difference between solitary confinement and death. A phenomenologist’s prison plight... more»
Here’s what confronts contemporary novelists: A social landscape changing so rapidly that it defies representation. Must be time for a new literary movement... more»
We romanticize illness and idealize suffering; we glamorize female pain. The wounded woman might be a stereotype, but she’s still wounded... more»
Matthew Arnold is best remembered as an elitist scold or a crucial defender of high culture. He was both, but neither explains his legacy... more»
Living—and dying—for a cause. For a poet, for a suffragette, and for Socrates, self-sacrifice was a principled last act. But what does it actually mean?... more»
At the age of 46, depressed and aimless, Rod Dreher read the Divine Comedy. In Dante’s tale of of psychological crisis, Dreher found a way out of his own... more»
World literature” is a fraught term, tied as it is to the economic structures of a globalized world. For it or against it: Let’s have that debate. But first: What is it?... more»
Futurology is alive and well, though futurologists are almost always wrong. Still we listen, yearning for salvation from our human condition... more»
Prostitution used to be a bad thing – degrading, retrograde and to be opposed. Now sex work is just another service job, like being a waitress... more»
Philip Roth writes novels about novelists who are “Philip Roth” and stumble across guys named “Philip Roth.” He insists that he isn’t writing about himself. Sure... more»
The New Review: Cover art by Roy Lichtenstein, fiction by Ian McEwan, essays by Isaiah Berlin, Philip Larkin, A.J.P. Taylor, Clive James. Best literary magazine of the past 50 years?... more»
Ruins can evoke a pleasurable melancholy as well a nightmarish dread. They are about decay, oblivion, but also hope. Maybe that's why we can’t get enough... more»
Data are big these days. But size isn’t everything. Keep in mind what one professor, David Spiegelhalter, says about big data: “Complete bollocks. Absolute nonsense”... more»
Walter Benjamin was a man of broad interests and deep knowledge. His ideas were original but incomprehensible. He’s acclaimed, yes, but why?... more»
World War I is “the calamity from which all other calamities sprang,” says Fritz Stern. It shaped the modern world and gave rise to 25,000 books and scholarly articles. And counting... more»
In his last years, Maurice Sendak – stocky, bearded, glowering – became increasingly Sendakian, his carapace shielding his gentle psyche... more»
Mind over materialism. Humanists’ refusal to consider the inexplicable has made them boring. How to account for the mental telegraphy of Mark Twain?... more»
Immanuel Velikovsky, ambitious and exceedingly strange, sought a wholesale rethinking of astronomy, physics, geology – indeed, all of modern science... more»
Geoff Dyer thought he was too young, too healthy, to have a stroke. But he did. Now he’s worried, constantly, about his brain... more»
Karl Kraus said Germany, a country of poets, had with the rise of Nazism become a country of executioners. Such a shift should not surprise us... more»
Futurism presented itself as a break from the past, an aesthetic unlike anything ever seen. But newness is a trap. That is the essential discovery of futurism... more»
The omnivores contradiction. Foodies are zealous about ethical eating and expert at evading this question: How can we raise, love, and then kill an animal?.... more»
The elite live lavishly on inherited wealth, while the rest struggle to keep up. It’s the stuff of Austen and Balzac. Is it also our future?... more»
Stress is thought to be a bad thing. But there is vitality in anxiety. Kierkegaard called it “the dizziness of freedom,” and it’s perversely pleasurable... more»
Alain de Botton is a Twitter aphorist, a playful essayist, a self-promoter, a self-help guru. What he is not is a philosopher... more»
What’s sacred about sacred art? For some, it expresses the divine. For others, it conveys the essence of humanity, as in gazing upon a Rothko... more»
Creedence never advised, “There’s a bathroom on the right”; Hendrix never said, “’Scuse me while I kiss this guy.” Misunderstood lyrics are integral to rock and roll... more»
Pick up a music magazine to learn about fashion, gossip, the food preferences and travel routines of pop stars. Don’t expect much discussion of, well, music... more»
As science advances, myth and folklore aren’t banished but reinvented. At the limits of knowledge, scientists draw subconsciously on the old stories... more»
Shanghai Media Group – 29 TV channels, 11 radio stations, 10 newspapers and magazines, 10,000 employees – is how China spins a story of itself to itself... more»
Income inequality: It’s far too important an issue to be left to the economists, writes Thomas Frank. This is a people’s warmore»
The Selfish Gene is brilliant, thrilling, even poetic, a lodestar for a generation of scientists. But is it still a useful way to think about evolution?... more»
The adjunct intellectual. The ferment of ideas depends on grad students and twenty-somethings. What happens when they graduate and grow up?... more»
Lawrence frequently put people he knew in his novels. Joyce, too. Roth and Bellow? Well, pity their ex-wives. But does knowing all this tell us anything about literature?... more»
How is it that a random sequence of sounds comes to be imbued with a sense of musicality? Repetition: It’s how music carves a path through our minds... more»
For some, realpolitik is a synonym for evil; for others, it’s the bedrock of a sophisticated foreign policy. The truth is that it’s a word much used but little understood... more»
You, too, can write a “smart thinking” book. Take an accessible idea, leaven with self-deprecation and heartwarming anecdotes. Then oversell your argument... more»
Here come the neurothugs, and Roger Scruton is ready for battle. Can neuroscience tell us anything meaningful about the nature and meaning of art?... more»
Dear Marcel Duchamp, thank you for inaugurating a great tradition of artistic banality and pseudo-avant-garde outrage... more»
On the origin of politics. Can evolution explain the psychological, biological, and genetic differences between liberals and conservatives?... more»
Seeking the roots of Jamaican pop music, one will surely find Bratty. His song was astonishing. It was heartbreaking. It was immortal... more»
Without slavery, there was no 19th-century capitalism. The reverse is equally true: There was no slavery without capitalism. Walter Johnson explains... more»
W.H. Auden was disgusted by his early fame, and by preening artists who regarded themselves as moral visionaries. So he presented himself as rigid and uncaring... more»
Dance and literature. Samuel Beckett, a fanatic for stage direction, drew on Eurhythmy, music hall, ballet. He wasn’t alone. For modernists, movement was everything... more»
Techies have a new cause to champion: mindfulness. Unplug, at least for a while. But beyond the Buddhist rhetoric lies a business agenda... more»
When C.P. Snow threw down his “two cultures” gauntlet, F.R. Leavis picked it up, deriding Snow as “intellectually as undistinguished as it is possible to be”... more»
For better, for worse, forever. Marriage is a crazy promise, triply so the third time around. But Clancy Martin is fully aware of the power of self-deception... more»
The ego comes first. Julian Assange loves noise, glamour, fame, spectacle. But truth and authenticity? His psychology doesn’t allow for that... more»
Academic writing is knotty and strange, remote and insular, technical and specialized, forbidding and clannish. That’s because academe has become that way, too... more»
A price for being heard. From Telemachus to Twitter, women have been attacked for public outspokenness. Mary Beard investigates... more»
Can’t stop dreaming about what might have been? Makes sense: we regret more than we used to. In fact, the culture is awash in self-absorbed self-criticism... more»
Lane Cooper brooked no nonsense. He lived his life – and ran his Cornell classroom – by a favorite maxim: Read aloud, read slowly, read suspiciously... more»
English literary history is full of rainThe Canterbury Tales, The Faerie Queene, A Midsummer Night’s Dream – but no one was as damp as the Victorians... more»
Ava Gardner and Barbara Stanwyck were tough, talented, and certain that fame is fleeting. “Movie stars write their books,” said Gardner, “then they are forgotten, and then they die”... more»
A sunset, a painting, a person: What do we mean when we call something beautiful? That we’ve been struck by an odd combination of anguish and delight ... more»
Exile can be inspirational, says James Wood. So many exiles are novelists, chess players, and intellectuals. But there is no place like home... more»
Three moments of modern disbelief are discernible: just before the French Revolution; before the Russian Revolution; and our own... more»
Monkeys do it, minnows do it, even fiddler crabs do it. Play, that is. And that’s become an intellectual scandal. After all, what's the purpose of play?... more»
At Iowa, famous writers taught, gave readings, drank, philandered, and enriched themselves – with help from the CIA... more»
Orwell’s account of his grotesque days in prep school – gym socks, boiled cabbage, pederasty – is so memorable, and so far from the truth... more»
The burden of religious intellectuals. Convulsed by doubt, status anxiety, and existential drift, they struggle to put piety on a rigorous footing... more»
Pre-Bolshevik Russia had a meager sports culture. The revolution promised leisure, but not competition. Thus the 1928 Spartakiad workers’ games: no winners, no losers... more»
The quantified life is happier and more efficient, or so the data-obsessed insist. But how can you live a life that you are simultaneously tracking?... more»
The historian David Brion Davis is shy, austere, and intimidating. He projects little personality, founded no school of thought. Yet his influence is enormous... more»... more»
Opinions differ on whether Bach was a model citizen or an angsty rebel with a chip on his shoulder. Either way, the man was no bore... more»
The beard is back, though its legacy remains complicated. A fashion born of desperation, this “manly appendage” was once a symbol of white supremacy... more»
History is unkind to heretics. But not to e.e. cummings, who did for poetry what Henry Miller did for prose in writing about sex... more»
Jenny Diski knows what it's like to feel intolerable to oneself. No relief can be found – not from talk, analysis, medication, or cuddle... more»
“He disappeared in the dead of winter,” Auden wrote when Yeats died – lines that would forever link Auden to Yeats, but also to Brodsky, Eliot, Walcott, and Heaney... more»
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