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Nota Bene

Shoes in literature
Beckett’s lost work
Why we yawn
Guide to Ha Ha
Crazy cartography
Odds of being murdered
Krugman on Piketty
Do recordings kill music?
Bruckner’s world
Like, degrading?
CIA and Doctor Zhivago
Beer geography
Mozart problem
John Rawls on baseball
Jobs for humanities Ph.D.s
The case for profanity
On Kahneman
History of whistling
Morality and sunglasses
Jonathan Schell, R.I.P.
Michael Jackson, inventor
What happened to France?
Two kinds of novelists

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Francis Fukuyama on the End of History

Robert Kagan on Power and Weakness

New York Review of Books, vol. 1 no. 1

The Russian Empire, 1910, in full color

Elizabeth Loftus on False Memories

Kahlil Gibran, forsooth

Is God an Accident?

The Death of Lit Crit

Keep Computers Out of Classrooms

Newsweek on Threats of Global Cooling

Julian Simon, Doomslayer

Martha Nussbaum on Judith Butler

George Orwell: English Language

World's Worst Editing Guide

The Fable of the Keys

The Snuff Film: an Urban Legend

The Abduction of Opera


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Articles of Note

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 ...
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»
Shakespeare was a scientist. His grasp of astronomy was greater than we might realize. Was Hamlet’s “infinite space” really about ... space?... more»
A superpower is challenged by a rival, a vital region is in turmoil. Europe is a mess, nationalist passions are inflamed. 1914? No, 2014... more»... more»
Richard Strauss regarded Joseph Goebbels as a barbarian. To Goebbels, Strauss was a “decadent neurotic” – one the Nazis were desperate to woo... more»
For Thoreau, the quarry was Walden Pond; for Faulkner, Yoknapatawpha County; for Benjamin, Berlin. Oh, The pleasures of literary cartography... more»
Expelled from one art school and the prime suspect in the arson of another, Lucian Freud had a gift for belligerence. But he just kept on painting... more»
For Karl Marx, the proletarian revolution was to be global: “Workers of all lands, unite.” It never happened. Here’s why it still might... more»
French culture holds the secrets to improve our diets, our children, our love lives? Piffle. The idea of France has become a parody of itself... more»
Positive psychology was supposed to bring rigor to the study of human flourishing. That was the promise. But Nick Brown saw bunk... more»
Proust was not a neuroscientist, Jane Austen was not a game theorist, and the two-cultures problem isn’t a problem. William Deresiewicz explains... more»
E.B. White abandoned Manhattan for a saltwater farm in Maine. He was more at home with animals than with people... more»
We think of Émile Zola as polemicist, pamphleteer, moral beacon. But as an art critic, he helped bring about a painterly revolution.... more»
Rationality’s tyranny. For Theodor Adorno, both academe and pop culture were drags on creativity. Beware the “salaried profundity” of professors!... more»
How to explain extreme altruism: sacrifice with no genetic payoff? Francis Collins calls it a divine gift, but to Paul Bloom it’s a cultural accomplishment... more»
Erez Aiden slaloms between the sciences and the humanities, accumulating patents, publications, and skepticism as he goes... more»
Laziness, panic, narcissism, low self-esteem, ambition, deliberate self-sabotage: Why so many poets are plagiarizing... more»
Nietzsche called himself the “last antipolitical German,” a declaration that did little to deter Nazi officials from staking a claim on his ideas... more»
Three trends in art – technology, abstraction, conceptualism – opened the door for dilettantes and amateurs, so Julian Baggini walked right in... more»
When the life of the mind reaches an end. Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen combs obituaries in search of companions of the intellect... more»
Science in an age of instrument worship. High-tech tools are mental prostheses, replacing the skills of hypothesis and imagination... more»
Camille Paglia, self-described street-smart feminist, is worried about men. “Masculinity is just becoming something that is imitated from the movies”... more»
“Mugged by reality” is how Irving Kristol explained his move from left to right. But his neoconservatism wasn’t an epiphany. It was an odyssey... more»
How did a kid from Belarus become an Internet buzzkill? Evgeny Morozov likens his polemics to grenades. “In five years, I am returning in a tank”... more»
The discovery of Richard III beneath a parking lot in Leicester prompted not only a media frenzy but also a bizarre battle over the royal remains... more»
A little Proust can be too much. “Nobody told me he was a mental defective,” said Evelyn Waugh, who was immune to Proustian humor... more»
Alan Turing predicted that computers would be able to think by 2000. No dice. Not even close. We still don’t understand what thinking is... more»
Making up Hollywood. Brick dust and paprika, petroleum jelly and vegetable shortening, flour and white paint. Enter Max Factor... more»
“I have a bizarre feminism!” says Élisabeth Badinter, who leads a decades-long assault on the idea of maternal instinct... more»
We communicate more now than ever: email, text, tweet, Facebook. No boring bits in making a point. But is efficiency at the expense of conversation?... more»
A tireless investigator into “the variability of the self” concludes, “What one knows does not belong to oneself.” Tibetan mystic? No, Proust... more»
The making of a satirist. Jonathan Swift honed his skills studying Latin 10 hours a day and writing letters to a mysterious woman... more»
Colin Wilson was self-taught, erudite, and prone to fatuous speculation. Just the man to help generate the modern era of Holocaust revisionism... more»
Paul Bowles, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gore Vidal: Why have so many writers been so attached to Tangier?... more»
Friedrich Hayek spent his life arguing for man’s freedom. He said little about how man should exercise that freedom... more»
H.L. Mencken called Ambrose Bierce Americas one genuine wit, but the satirist ended up far better known in death than in life... more»
Like his writing, Nabokov’s scientific obsession with butterflies was rooted in nostalgia. He was a taxonomist in a time machine... more»
On December 15, 1913, Ezra Pound wrote to an unknown Irish author, James Joyce. The letter set in motion a literary revolution... more»
Teaching people to write is charlatanism, says Geoffrey Hill. More therapy than poetry. “The idea that you write to express yourself is revolting”... more»
He discovered Faulkner, Kerouac, and Kesey and helped start the careers of Kazin and Trilling. Yet Malcolm Cowley is so little remembered... more»
A reimagined Emma, a new Marlowe mystery. Fun. But literary revivals are perilous: like “gnawing on the corpse of one of the mighty dead”... more»
The Heidegger question: Was he led temporarily astray or was his Nazism deeply rooted? His “Black Notebooks” suggest a definitive answer... more»
Away with abstraction! Philosophers are physical beings, insisted Miguel de Unamuno. It is man, not ideas, that is the subject of all philosophy... more»
The American political system has decayed, says Francis Fukuyama. The necessary repair requires more than a few reforms. It requires rethinking the basics... more»
Odious exercise in ambiguity, waste of space in magazines, or something else entirely? Strange ideas arise when you consider the poem as an object... more»
The Internet has revived the dream of access to all knowledge. The dream is naïve. The Internet has not liberated curiosity, but bent it to corporate profit... more»
The upper reaches of the art world are marked by an absence of principle, taste, and embarrassment, says Jed Perl. Art is now a fantasy object for the rich... more»
The art of Google Books. Tobacco stains, wormholes, dust motes, ghosts of flowers pressed between pages. And an index finger wrapped in hot pink... more»
“Undergraduates should be kept away from theory at all costs,” says Daniel Mendelsohn. They should read Kael, not Derrida... more»
How to spot a Proustian: Louboutins and tailored skirts, gold jewelry and well-tied scarves. Cashmere on the men. After all, Proust was a dandy... more»
Bernard Berensons appetite for images was insatiable, but he insisted on coherent criteria for judging paintings. We still see through his eyes... more»
The gobsmacking detail, the stunning use of light, the uncanny realism: How did Vermeer do it? A tinkerer in San Antonio thinks he’s figured it out... more»
The great debate. Philosophy can move history, as it did when Burke and Paine squared off over the French Revolution... more»
The richest, most famous artist of his time, Michelangelo lived spartanly and gave generously. When he died, his corpse showed a touch of the divine... more»
Boozing with Boswell. Calling himself a “virtuous man who is inclined to drink,” Boswell was not well-suited to sobriety. Though he tried... more»
Three cheers for the jellyfish. For Louis Agassiz, father of fieldwork, naturalistic observation had philosophical, even poetic significance... more»
As the last big unregulated industry, the art world attracts pirates, rogues, eccentrics, bullies, and snobs. Ruling it all is the dealer-king... more»
Weeks before Lolita appeared, Dorothy Parker had a story in The New Yorker. It was about an older man and a young woman. The title: “Lolita”... more»
Sabina Cehajic-Clancy fled Bosnia as a teenager. Now the social psychologist has returned to find out what makes humans capable of horrific violence... more»
Orwell thought we'd be destroyed by the things we fear. Huxley thought we'd be undone by the things we crave. Huxley was right... more»
The third edition of the OED was supposed to be done by 2010. But 20 more years of work are needed. Blown deadlines are an Oxford tradition... more»
Margaret Mary Vojtko has become a symbol for adjuncts who are overworked, underpaid, and far from the tenure track. But her life was no morality play... more»
The FBI’s philosophy files. Ever suspicious, J. Edgar Hoover was especially suspicious of French existentialists. He kept his eye on Sartre and Camus... more»
Doris Lessing, prolific, abrasive, incendiary, brilliant, is dead. She was 94... NYTimes... Telegraph... Washington Post... LA Times... FT... Bloomberg... Margaret Atwood... Justin Cartwright... Eileen Battersby... Margaret Drabble... Clancy Sigal...
Ten percent of survivors of cardiac arrest report having a near-death experience, of seeing things. Are such events neurologically explicable?... more»
Do you spend too much time reading about Miley Cyrus on your iPhone? Zadie Smith, sentimental humanist, offers a remedy: Consider the corpse... more»
Coming across a kindred spirit in a text can cause sweating, crying, even disrobing. Thus Marshall Berman’s first encounter with Marx... more»
The Korean literary scene is plagued by an inferiority complex. The country pines for its own world-famous writer. Enter Kim Seong-kon... more»
Art became philosophical in 1964, when Andy Warhol erased the line between art and reality. For Arthur Danto, it was a conversion moment... more»
In 1933, Patrick Leigh Fermor began a walk across Europe. He wrote two books about two thirds of the journey, but never a final volume. Why was he blocked?... more»
Abrasiveness and stridency are not character flaws everywhere and always. Intellectual progress requires rudeness... more»
William T. Vollmann writes in a dress and wig. Why? "Women are the ones who give life." Should he win the Nobel, he’ll give the prize money to prostitutes... more»
On a boat in the Aegean, Daniel Mendelsohn receives a call. Family emergency? No. It’s Robert Silvers. There’s a word amiss... more»
The epics of Homer, the poems of Sappho, the tragedies of Sophocles were all, originally, set to music. What did they sound like?... more»
When her mother died, the poet Joy Katz’s faith in words faltered. Grief poems felt false, uplift poems irksome. She sought words about the failure of words... more»
About Jonathan Swift, a biographer is forced to speculate – his parents, his politics, his personality, his use of “coffee” as a euphemism for sex... more»
The drone warrior's day: 12 hours in a sealed shed in the Nevada desert, stinking of sweat, farts, and cigarettes. Best to stay in "zombie mode"... more»
Harper Lee, 87, is suing the museum in her small town, accusing it of exploiting To Kill a Mockingbird. In this court, there's no Atticus Finch... more»
The Ouija board does offer a link between the known and the unknown. Just not the one users want to believe in... more»
A mathematical constant predicting satisfaction or discontent? How one psychology student set out to deflate an accepted theorem... more»
Stanley Edgar Hyman was a short and stocky intellectual, a critic and a professor, not a fashion plate. Now he’s Mr. Luxury Boots. Huh?... more»
Wikipedia aims to collect the sum of all knowledge. How’s it doing? Pokemon and porn stars are well covered; female novelists, not so much... more»
Writing for one another, the Brontës learned to write for others. But literary siblings are rarely peaceable. “Where there is ink, there is envy”... more»
Douglas Hofstadter has collected 10,000 malapropisms and malaphors, converting an old bathroom to hold them. They’re clues to consciousness, he says... more»
Irony pervades our lives, but it tends to fall flat on the page. That’s an old problem. In the 17th century, the Rev. John Wilkins invented the “irony mark”... more»
Meet David Birnbaum, a jeweler from Queens who says he cracked the code of the universe while sunbathing in Barbados. He is impervious to ridicule.. more»
What could be more doomed in America than a socialist magazine? Dissent started in 1954 with enough money to put out four issues. Sixty years later... more»
The literary theorist Paul de Man was a charmer, bully, bigamist, and anti-Semite. We knew that. Turns out he was a convicted criminal, too... more»
Swann’s Way was turned down by two publishers. They were right to be wary; the novel is elusive and maddening. But it’s also masterly... more»

New Books

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»
Robert Frost loathed arty pretension, but he was no folksy rustic. His poems are wonders of sophisticated construction. Clive James explains... more»
Locating intellectual origins is problematic, rarely more so than when unearthing the roots of liberalism in Christianity... more»
Not civil strife, opportunism, or economic deprivation can explain why wars start. The real culprits are overoptimism and impatience... more»
It’s come to this: reviewing a collection of book reviews. David Lodge on Pico Iyer on Graham Greene. Where will it end?... more»
The story of theory is an unruly mess. Its origins are an “intellectual pinball game,” labyrinthine and dizzying... more»
To be around pop music was to be where things were happening. No more. What killed pop?... more»
Junkie, misogynist, murderer, artist: William S. Burroughs searched for an identity that didn’t arouse his own self-contempt...more»
Fifty books, 200 short stories, 400 nonfiction pieces: Not drink, jail, or fatherhood kept Jack London from grinding out 1,000 words a day... more»
Whether mocking donnish folly or remarking on the weather, the letters of Hugh Trevor-Roper were full of wit, whimsy, and indiscretion... more»
Marianne Moore’s view of poetry was that it ought to be clear and simple, but her own verse – and her life – was anything but... more»
“Being published by Oxford Press is like being married to a duchess: the honor is almost greater than the pleasure”... more»
Reading difficult writing. Ulysses and Tender Buttons can be slogs, but modernist writers didn’t deny readerly pleasure. They redefined it... more»
Ours is a hurried age, says Leah Price. Take time to read slowly. But remember: Beauty can be found online, and banality can lurk between covers... more»
In death Walter Benjamin is a victim. In life he was cruel, thoughtless, greedy, vain, and, according to his widow, an intellectual fraud... more»
“One of the things that modern society has damaged has been thinking,” says Timothy Morton. “One of the damaged ideas is that of nature itself”... more»
Siege and symphony. In 1942, Leningraders attended concerts by emaciated musicians in freezing halls. It was a time of terrible beauty... more»
We are doomed. Whether by sudden asteroid or failing ozone, humanity will come to an end. But don’t despair! Life is not a Ponzi scheme... more»
George Orwell was an intellectual who disliked intellectuals, a socialist who distrusted socialism. He belonged nowhere. Except England... more»
Popularizing punctuation. Some characters, like “@” and the pilcrow, thrive, while others, like the interrobang, go kaput. Why?... more»
Describing historical events doesn’t make you a historian, nor does writing on a range of topics make you a polymath. Consider Arthur Herman... more»
Isaiah Berlin was not one to take public positions on the issues and people of his day. It was a different matter in private ... more»
We are born social, wired to be tribal, prone to conflict with those who hold different values. Is a universal moral philosophy possible?... more»
Hemingway, wary of distraction, focused on essentials: “fighting and eating and drinking and begging and stealing and living and dying”... more»
Philip Roth met Primo Levi in 1986. Months later, Levi was dead. “It hit me like the assassinations of the 60s,” Roth says... more»
The ideas of a few South Asian historians snowballed into an influential concept: Subaltern studies. What have they wrought?... more»
How did the population of passenger pigeons drop from billions to zero in less than 50 years? Jonathan Rosen explains: They tasted good... more»
The Great American Novel is mocked as a foolhardy notion, reeking as it does of hubris. But the American fetishization of fiction persists. Why?... more»
Tennyson was a bore at dinner parties with his many prominent friends, who endured recitations of his latest, longest poems... more»
In conversation, Susan Sontag was most expansive on the vagaries of literary reputation and her own depthless seriousness... more»
James Joyce had an intimate relationship with scandal: He courted it, incorporated it, and transformed it in distinctive ways... more»
The Adam Smith problem: Can the altruism of Theory of Moral Sentiments be reconciled with the self-interest of Wealth of Nations?... more»
We are self-conscious readers. Cracking a book is a testament to our culture, our concentration, and the fate of literature in a digital age... more»
A sense of belonging. Has ever an intellectual been so unconflicted about his proximity to power as Arthur Schlesinger Jr.?... more»
Like Edward Lear and Dorothy Parker, Morrissey is skilled at couplets, epigrams, aperçus. He should stick with pop songs, not memoirs... more»
Artists in the kitchen. Can we interest you in a taste of Motherwell’s whiskey cake, Monet’s madeleines au citron, or Picasso’s charlotte au chocolat?... more»
We like to think we’ve abandoned old language taboos, escaped the tyranny of politeness. We haven’t. We’ve simply redefined obscenity... more»
Isaiah Berlin was practiced in the dark arts of academic intrigue. The Oxford don’s record can make for ugly reading today... more»
Hemingway did it standing up. Nabokov started standing up, then sitting, and finally lying down. Proust did it propped on one elbow... more»
Email didn’t kill the art of letter writing. It was already dead, killed by the telephone, typewriter, and telegraph... more»
Anna and Sigmund. They discussed housework, foraging for mushrooms and berries, her weight, his health. Oh, the minutiae of life as a Freud... more»
“Why is a man punished when he kills another man, yet the killing of a million is a lesser crime than the killing of an individual?”... more»
The Bard as upstart freelancer. Forget his reputation: Shakespeare began as an apprentice, a poet among playwrights, a journeyman... more»
Nikolai Leskov suffered in comparison with his contemporaries, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. But it was Leskov – bawdy and humane – who embodied Russia... more»
Meaning in verse comes in two kinds: that which is immediately discernible and that which is not, but then explodes. Gerard Manley Hopkins believed in both... more»
“Art breathes from containment and suffocates from freedom,” said Leonardo. Skeptical? Consider Marianne Moore’s appallingly circumscribed life... more»
John Gray, incessant pessimist, has spent the past decade sharpening his attack on humanism. But look closely: He is himself a humanist... more»
Nora Ephrons journalism was chatty and fearless – like looking at life in a funhouse mirror. She was the anti-Didion... more»
Was Shakespeare more significant than Darwin, or Mill more than Malthus? Can greatness be quantified? Cass Sunstein has his doubts... more»
Dedication to argument. His pursuit of philosophical unity led the legal scholar Ronald Dworkin to dwell, finally, on the nature of the sacred... more»
The map and the sea denizen. From mermen to Moby-Dick, cartography informs our mythic fears, monstrous imaginations, and sense of awe... more»
Amorous, social, and family aspects of Jonathan Swift’s life are shrouded in mystery. Biographers must proceed by hypothesis... more»
The great Victorian. Walter Bagehot – wit and seer, man of letters – left no memoir. What we have instead is tantalizingly close to the real thing... more»
Nazism was a triumph not so much of the will as of modern sales techniques, especially film, Hitler’s favorite medium for swaying emotions... more»
Forget the affairs, brawls, and political ambitions. Norman Mailer had one overriding concern: getting published... more»
In 1952, Michael Ventris announced that he’d deciphered Linear B, a strange script from prehistoric Greece. But had he fiddled with the data?... more»
Balloons, said Victor Hugo, would liberate mankind from the “tyranny of gravity.” They would also end war. Naive, sure, but glorious... more»
The British say "sorry" an average of eight times a day: quick to apologize for what they have not done, but slow to apologize for what they have done... more»
Countless books have warned about the shrinking middle class. Little changes. Tom Frank questions the utility of journalism, and prose itself... more»
Machiavelli has been unjustifiably scandalous for 500 years. Why? Critics mistake his realism for cynicism, his impatience with moralizing for cruelty... more»
Paul Cézanne was serious, eccentric, and intent on solitude. But he kept his eye on the competition: “Pissarro is an old fool, Monet is a wily bird”... more»
After Franco. Spain is engaged in a history war: Score-settling has hijacked memory, and one man's truth is another’s treason... more»
Religious proofs don’t function like science. In their failure we learn something about the meaning of the word “God”... more»
On May 18, 1922, Proust, Joyce, Picasso, Stravinsky, and Diaghilev gathered at the Hotel Majestic, in Paris. It was the greatest dinner party ever... more»
Leonard Bernstein was defined by his musical gifts and intellectual promiscuity. A friend asked, "Is your mission in life to be the greatest of all dilettantes?"... more»
What of today’s art will last? What will future critics be able to label “age-defining”? Keep in mind: Age-defining art can be really, really bad... more»
Beware the lapsed true believer, especially if his name is Morozov or Lanier. They’ve secularized the technology debate and undermined Internet evangelists... more»
Good poets, good men. Shelley was not the last to show that creativity and morality are unrelated. We are never tired of the bad behavior of great writers... more»
Michael Clune was a successful graduate student in English at Johns Hopkins. He was also addicted to heroin. It helped him in his work, until it didn’t... more»
A 400-plus-page book on Norman Rockwell’s willfully uninteresting life? Better tart it up with an allegation that he was gay... more»
The planless poetry of D.H. Lawrence. His best work, said T.S. Eliot, displayed “an incapacity for what we ordinarily call thinking”... more»
Mark Twain wrote spontaneously; his plots were makeshift, his approach seat-of-the-pants. So he dictated his autobiography. The result: tedium... more»
Susan Sontag took all of knowledge as her province. To be curious was a moral obligation. A taste for conquest was her intellectual style... more»
Trade one life to save five? A Harvard psychologist thinks “deep pragmatism” can transcend the moral limitations of man. Thomas Nagel is dubious... more»
Isaac Deutscher’s optimism explains his misjudgments – worst of all, about Stalin. But what explains Deutscher’s formidable reputation?... more»
A modern Marx. Jonathan Sperber's attempt to confine the man to his milieu misses the point. Marx's ideas shape our world... more»
Her father cut off his own right hand. Her mother killed a kitten with chloroform. The unhappy but strangely sustaining family life of Marianne Mooremore»
There’s nothing wrong with being a werewolf, as long as you can run off to the forest at the crucial moment... more»
One amiable grammarian is refreshingly tolerant of less-than-strict usage. But tolerance does have its limits… more»
Drawing on moral monism, Ronald Dworkin turned his thoughts to the universe. His conclusion? There is religion for secularists... more»
Could humans – so fractious and violent – forge a moral lingua franca, a unified system for weighing values? Let the metacognitive revolution begin... more»
Before Soho was boho, there was Covent Garden. Its theaters, bordellos, and back alleys gave rise to a modern archetype: the poverty-stricken artist... more»
James Wolcott, pugilist par excellence, has gone soft. He says he’s “becoming a more loving, caring, dulcimer-strumming individual.” Let’s hope not... more»
The demonic Picasso. In the absence of morality, it is monstrosity that carries the weight of his work, and shakes the viewer’s beliefs... more»
By the time the polymath economist Albert O. Hirschman set sail for California, in 1940, it was his fourth or fifth emigration; even he’d lost track... more»
Schopenhauer dismissed dignity as “the shibboleth of all perplexed and empty-headed moralists.” But the notion has been revived as a liberal ideal... more»
Modesty, humiliation, secrets. How did the modern idea of privacy emerge from family dysfunction in Victorian-era Britain?... more»
Achilles and Patroclus, David and Jonathan, Nisus and Euryalus, Tennyson and Hallam, Kirk and Spock: What is friendship?... more»

Essays and Opinion

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»
In 1979, Mark Edmundson tumbled out of the garden of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll into the Yale English department: tweed, sherry, de Man, Derrida, and sensible shoes... more»
What’s on the mind of a dog? Try coaxing one into an MRI machine – no sedation, no restraints. The secret: frankfurters. The result: impressive... more»
Harold Rosenberg was perhaps first, and not last, to complain about artists getting degrees. But the M.F.A. is not what ails art. No, the problem is the hubris of artists... more»
Ours is an age of acceleration. The demand is for instant, vertiginously fast. But wait: What’s the maximum speed of thought? A quarter of a second... more»
Are you suspicious of happiness, wary of those who offer a path to it, away from your woes? Good for you. Being well-adjusted is overrated... more»
Why are stories about entomological transformation a mainstay in the canon? The premise is hopeful, if creepy. David Cronenberg wants to be a dragonfly... more»
Novelty and the novel. Innovative writers – Cervantes, Swift – don’t merely create stylistic forms; they create new ways to tell the truth... more»
Reinhold Niebuhr called anxiety “the inevitable spiritual state of man”; Freud called it a riddle. But it isn’t either one. It’s an illness... more»
“Atop an entire civilization of aesthetic wonders, the contemporary academic wants only to study oppression, preferably his own, defined reductively according to gonads and melanin”... more»
Epigraphs, webisodes, DVD extras, tweets, bloopers: Distractions have morphed into the main attraction. Welcome to the world of paratexts... more»
Privacy is passé, surveillance is the norm, personal data are not our own. Who would feel at home in our world of secret bureaucracies? Of course: Kafkamore»
The moral case for literature lacks evidence: Novels can’t really teach us how to be good, right? But then we come across Middlemarch... more»
Here comes the maker movement, an agile band of tinkerers and do-it-yourselfers. You, too, can join. All you need is a credit card and an appetite for vulgar hustling... more»
Old notions – about art, addiction, love, truth – are not easily cast off. But it’s time to clear some detritus: What idea is ready for retirement?... more»... more»
Late in life, Georges Braque was asked about his friend Picasso. “Pablo? Oh, Pablo used to be a good painter; now he’s just a genius.” Braque had a point... more»
Literature is traditionally divided along national lines. But such distinctions are an illusion. Texts transcend borders. Time to imagine new arrangements... more»
“The epithet ‘American Jewish writer’ has no meaning for me,” says Philip Roth. Adam Kirsch isn’t buying it: Roth “is a Jewish writer or he is nothing”... more»
The Old West offered no shortage of ways for a man to die. The frontier’s brutality made it so damn dark – and, to Mark Twain, so damn funny... more»
The author interview makes commercial sense – for writers, periodicals, publishers, and bookstores – but does it validate the work or replace it?... more»
The best intellectual magazines help young writers find their voices. But for 50 years, The New York Review of Books has withdrawn from the cultural bank while making few deposits... more»
“When inspiration becomes manipulation, inspiration becomes obfuscation. If you are not cynical, you should be skeptical.” A TED talk takes on TED... more»
Roboticism holds that computers are the measure of man. It is the opposite of humanism, says David Gelernter, and it’s a social disease... more»
Revolution is often a messy, bloody, drawn-out affair. Indeed, exhaustion and disillusionment are what allow democracy to take root... more»
Man of steel. As a young man, Jorge Luis Borges sought the company of knife fighters. He even carried his own blade, later inspiring some of his finest fiction... more»
Audio guides, apps, multimedia: Museum-going is ever more mediated by technology. But attempts to woo audiences with razzle-dazzle can be alienating... more»
“A jest,” said Freud, “betrays something serious.” Chaplin, Pryor, Belushi, Grimaldi the clown. Are comedy and happiness incompatible?... more»
Forget pen and paper – literary critics employ scalpels, hand grenades, and dynamite. “Hatchet job” doesn’t begin to describe their work... more»
Dale Carnegie thought his future was in tinned meats. But then his bootstrappy sensibility took hold, and he glad-handed his way to the top... more»
Art’s value is not that it can astonish us with technical proficiency. The ultimate worth of art is therapeutic. It shapes our experience of life... more»
Professional journalism was a late and unexpected development in history, and there has never been a mass audience for serious news. Does newswriting have a future?... more»
American foreign policy has consistently overestimated the threat posed by weak or failing states, along with America’s ability to fix them... more»
“If I were a rich man,” sang Tevye, who was not. His creator, Sholem Aleichem, was, and used his fortune to shape the future of Yiddish literature... more»
Antiquity is always stranger than we think, and never more so than about sex. Peter Brown explains the flesh trade and the slave trade... more»
Bombay-born, Rudyard Kipling spent four years in Vermont, picking up an American accent and a penchant for stories that alternated between verse and prose... more»
The French biographer Pierre Michon is obsessed with uncertainty, with what scholarly inquiries can’t reveal about the lives of artists... more»
Robert Frost was a self-styled homespun sage, the poet as common man. He was also egomaniacal, lecherous, and loathsome. What, you’re surprised?... more»
Melville’s haunting Benito Cereno was inspired by an 1805 incident aboard a slave ship in the South Pacific. The facts are stranger than the fiction... more»
We live in an optimistic age, a time of great advancement in human knowledge. Failure will have no role in our more perfect future. What a shame... more»
The Salinger myth. Why did he stop writing? Did he stop writing? The answers aren’t in recently leaked stories... more»
Altruism tends to be parochial; people usually care most about their own kin. But an evolutionary basis for human morality can take us only so far... more»
There is no greater boon to a young scientist than to publish in Nature, Science, or Cell. But are those journals bad for science?... more»
We are mad for efficiency, obsessed by busyness. Thus life-hacking, treadmill desks, breakfast meetings. But is productivity a virtue or a vice?... more»
Robert Gottlieb has a Leonard Bernstein problem: Was the flamboyant conductor for real or was he an act? Do we love him or do we want to kick him in the ass?... more»
The new paternalism is so nonconfrontational, anti-ideological, and unwilling to claim moral authority that it can hardly be called “paternal.” Let’s call it “maternalism”... more»
It can be foolish to suggest that a person stands for something, that he represents an idea or a stance. But Seamus Heaney did represent something great and rare... more»
Catholics compose one-quarter of the American population, yet they’ve retreated to the point of invisibility from literary culture. Why?... more»
Despite Marc Chagalls adventures in Cubism, Fauvism, and Symbolism, and his move to Paris, his Russian-Jewish upbringing was unmistakable... more»
Biologists from Mendel to Dawkins have celebrated the supremacy of the gene. Their argument is simple, elegant, and wrong... more»
Is suicide a valid escape from misery, as Hume believed, the right of every individual? Or is it a moral transgression? On such questions, secularism has lost its way... more»
Auschwitz and the artist. Primo Levi tried to describe the indescribable. He succeeded but couldn’t escape his own anxiety and depression... more»
Revered, reviled, demonized, ignored, Balthus must be seen for what he was, says Jed Perl: a wildly ambitious visionary, a mystical magician... more»
Karl Kraus, the chief gossip of fin-de-siècle Vienna, lived in a glittering and embattled world. And he was the great hater... more»
The high/low life of Lucian Freud involved dukes, duchesses, gangsters, and bookies, as well as supermarket fistfights and sexual sadism... more»
18-year-old Simon Winchester needed money. Luckily, he found an occupation: mortuary assistant. All went well until all went horribly wrong... more»
Poetry was C.S. Lewis’s first love, although his verse never caught on. He blamed his “pathological hostility to what is fashionable.” There are other explanations... more»
“Bound to revolutionize,” “radical rethinking”: Such was the hype of literary studies in the 80s, when the professor was the rage. That era of vanity haunts the humanities still... more»
Intellectual adventure stories. The big problem with Malcolm Gladwell isn’t his tendency to oversimplify. It’s his uncritical reverence for the academic mind... more»
Intellectuals on film. Heidegger insisted that there is nothing interesting to say about the life of a philosopher. It was one more thing he was wrong about... more»
To understand how books and paintings and symphonies and buildings get made, we need to understand the role that misunderstanding plays in culture. Consider Proust... more»
Eric Hobsbawm had a take on everything: Europe, America, communism, cowboys, French fashion, jazz, photography, and avant-garde art, which he loathed... more»
For Simone de Beauvoir, it was a crushing weight. For Virginia Woolf, it meant feeling like the “youngest person on the omnibus.” When artists age... more»
The history of democracy is one of success saddled by accusations of failure, says David Runciman. Democracy inspires unwarranted optimism and excessive pessimism... more»
What does it say about our culture that some of the best-known intellectuals are looking to ancestors for advice on how to live? Nothing good... more»
Imagine that Tolstoy had a Flickr stream, or Virginia Woolf a browser history. You'd want to look, right? Behold the archives of the future... more»
Giacomo Leopardi against the world. The poet-philosopher disdained modernity, reason, the alphabet, and, above all, French... more»
Can a MOOC teach you to make seawater sorbet and ampoules of reduced prawn-head bouillon? Ferran Adrià is willing to try... more»
Swedenborg’s skull was stolen, faked, scrutinized, sold, memorialized in poetry, and repatriated. It had a life of its own... more»
The pleasures of Professor Borges. His message to students: The study of literature is about appreciation, not context or theory. “Reading should be a form of happiness”... more»
Beleaguered humanists tout studies showing that reading literature makes people more empathetic. Perhaps it’s true. But why must fiction be socially useful?... more»
Shunga, erotic Japanese art, flourished amid 18th-century brothels, Kabuki theaters, and teahouses. To look at the artworks today is to confront the thin line between art and pornography... more»
Happiness theorists eschew complexity for conventional piety, fact for fantasy. Their view of the good life makes Jackson Lears unhappy... more»
Sex, death, Decameron. Boccaccio’s amoral masterpiece depicted life as it really was. It helped that he was a master of erotic innuendo... more»
“It will not sell, and it will do immeasurable harm to a growing reputation. ... I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.” Thus an early publisher’s rejection of Lolita... more»
Against specialization. Experts are too often lazy, boring, and defensive. Polymaths, by contrast, find insight in safecracking, martial arts, and playing the bongos... more»
The man who would be philosopher-king. Michael Ignatieff left Harvard and reinvented himself as a politician. Or so he thought... more»
One way to know what you value, writes Francine Prose, is to see what you can't leave behind. A portrait of an elephant-head god, for example... more»
For all of us, but especially for Generations X and Y, a sustained and quiet read is harder to get than ever. Cultural studies is to blame... more»
Norman Mailer needs a nap. Behind the ego-acrobatics and literary pugilism was a man who used two walking sticks and wore Uggs… more»
Albert Camus’s writings on the Algerian war are marked by their honesty, consistency, even purity. His peers – Sartre, de Beauvoir, Aron – were cynical at best... more»
Technology confounds Sven Birkerts. What happens when this not-quite Luddite goes for a ride with Siri? A transcendental experience ensues... more»
Income inequality will worsen, predicts Tyler Cowen, but revolution is not stirring. Our economic and social future will be a “hyper-meritocracy”... more»
Oscar Wilde’s prophetic fairy tales. Newly a father, the writer composed stories for his kids. In the end, the tales foretold his downfall... more»
Another year, another crop of MacArthur geniuses. Universities gloat, publishers fawn, salaries (and egos) swell. But what does genius even mean?... more»
Big data erects “invisible barbed wire” around our lives, says Evgeny Morozov. The more we reveal, “the denser but more invisible this barbed wire becomes”... more»
George Scialabba has never been an academic or a journalist. He is a critic’s critic, eloquent in his outrage at America’s cultural debasement... more»
Imagine a dystopian novel that incorporates everything that can possibly be wrong with a human being. Chilling, right? That book exists, it's called DSM-V... more»
A future without regret. We tell ourselves not to dwell on failure, that doing so is whiny and unuseful. To the contrary, regret is what makes us human... more»