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Nov. 20, 2017

Articles of Note

Stephen F. Cohen, who says he's skeptical about everything except horses and bourbon, is oddly credulous about Putin. His enemies and friends ask the same question: Why?... more »


New Books

To join the Martin Amis Canon of Approved Writers, you must be a virtuoso at the sentence level. It also helps to be male, straight, and white... more »


Essays & Opinions

What does it mean to be a jerk? It is to be ignorant of the value of others and the merit of their ideas. Maybe you know one. Maybe you are one... more »


Nov. 18, 2017

Articles of Note

In the Vale of Malmesbury, 80 miles west of London, the clay soil is shaped into gentle hills, dotted with stone farmhouses. It's here that conservatism meets conservation... more »


New Books

“In my poetry a rhyme / Would seem to be almost insolent,” Brecht wrote in “Bad Time for Poetry,” just before the Nazi invasion of Poland. He nonetheless kept crafting quatrains... more »


Essays & Opinions

We knowingly assert that civilization “collapsed” on Easter Island. The truth is more complicated. After all, history isn’t about conveying neat moral lessons... more »


Nov. 17, 2017

Articles of Note

Glass is everywhere in photography, especially broken glass. When it breaks, what intrigues us is the brittleness that was there all along... more »


New Books

Techno-optimists once prized testicular material from apes; today they plan to upload human minds. As always, one person’s dream is another’s nightmare... more »


Essays & Opinions

From hippie fun to shell of its former self: Rolling Stone is a mirror of the baby-boom generation. The reflection isn't pretty... more »


Nov. 16, 2017

Articles of Note

Ever heard of a wimmelbilderbuch, grimoire, or sammelband? Maybe you've visited a xylotheque? If that makes sense, congratulations: You know your obscure archival lingo... more »


New Books

Millennials are portrayed as brittle. But they're not fragile — they're overstretched. "Efficiency is our existential purpose, and we are a generation of finely honed tools”... more »


Essays & Opinions

What’s it like to be from “an abstract nowhere”? Midwesterners have a regional identity built on the idea of unqualified normality. But that isn’t as simple as it sounds... more »


Nov. 15, 2017

Articles of Note

Kierkegaard is a favorite of angsty adolescents. But it is adults, more than ever, who can most benefit from the ethical seriousness of his life and work... more »


New Books

Odysseus loses all the men under his command, cheats on his wife, lies, and gets help at every turn from the gods. What kind of “hero” is he?... more »


Essays & Opinions

How do we engage with the past? Archaeology, art, coins, legal documents, living witnesses. For Thomas Carlyle, however, literary works were unsurpassable... more »


Nov. 14, 2017

Articles of Note

Universal beauty is an old and compelling idea. Our species, however, is marked not by a particular aesthetic preference, but by the multiple paths of creativity itself... more »


New Books

Zora Neale Hurston co-founded Fire!!, a journal seeking to take down respectable, middle-class black literature. After one issue, its headquarters burned to the ground... more »


Essays & Opinions

The fortunes of free speech and the fate of universities are intertwined. Expedient attempts to appease students will further weaken the academy's intellectual prestige... more »


Nov. 13, 2017

Articles of Note

Children's literature is concerned essentially with adventure, returning home — and with food. Whether teatime or the threat of being devoured, the motif is inescapable... more »


New Books

Sabina Spielrein was a pioneer psychoanalyst, a student of Carl Jung and also his victim. Her ideas were "borrowed,” and then her memory was defamed... more »


Essays & Opinions

Economics, for all its pretensions, envies the hard sciences, while the humanities is just plain embarrassed. In reality, they need each other... more »


Nov. 11, 2017

Articles of Note

The invention of John Wayne. He was hard, brutal, anachronistic, a rebuke to the softness of postwar affluence. He was a creation of John Ford... more »


New Books

“A landscape of jade, teak, bamboo, fried dog.” So wrote Susan Sontag about China — not that she’d been there. Her fiction was, like all her work, uneven... more »


Essays & Opinions

We tend to valorize paying attention, but should we? As Diderot had it, distraction allows ideas to strike against or reawaken one another... more »


Nov. 10, 2017

Articles of Note

Did the ancient Greeks lack consciousness? So asserted Julian Jaynes, in a 1976 best seller. Now science has caught up with him... more »


New Books

The history of the book, once the domain of collectors, has been seized by scholars who've built a field around how people used to interact with print... more »


Essays & Opinions

Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is brilliant, readable, and short. It's also bad history, bad economics, and bad theology... more »


Nov. 9, 2017

Articles of Note

How did Mark Bray, a buttoned-up academic historian, became the public face of antifa? By shedding his "inessential weirdness"... more »


New Books

After five decades, it's unlikely that Daniel Dennett will change his views on consciousness. He is a fanatic — an intellectually consistent fanatic... more »


Essays & Opinions

Readers of biography, beware. You lean too heavily on anecdotes, and you construct false visions of the past. When you study the dead, tread lightly... more »


Nov. 8, 2017

Articles of Note

When language met love. To a romantic interest, the budding poet Sylvia Plath wrote, “I love you more than the alphabet and Roget’s thesaurus combined.”... more »


New Books

Philip Roth and the meaning of America. “Not only can you go home again, Roth insists. You can only go home again.” Newark was his sensory key... more »


Essays & Opinions

The fake machismo, the boozing, the braggadocio -- Hemingway kept up the facade of the hairy-chested artist for as long as he was able. But who was he really?... more »


Nov. 7, 2017

Articles of Note

“Curator” once meant amateur or iconoclast (think Barnum showcasing “industrious fleas”). Now we have “museum studies” and credentials. Have exhibits improved?... more »


New Books

Critics think that David Foster Wallace has been studied too narrowly, and that he belongs in a broader cultural context. But is it geographical, philosophical, or economic?... more »


Essays & Opinions

Stendhal compared Rossini’s reach to Napoleon’s, but life went bad for the composer. He lost his pension, his protégé died, his gonorrhea worsened... more »


Nov. 6, 2017

Articles of Note

Can a pure and radical idealism be sustained without eventually curdling into despair or cynicism? The Center for Political Beauty, in Berlin, tests the limits of aggressive optimism... more »


New Books

Does a new biography of Jann Wenner mark the last epic tome devoted to the exploits of mercurial, white, male jerks? Probably not... more »


Essays & Opinions

"Writing or reading an essay isn’t the only way to stop and ask yourself who you really are and what your life might mean," says Jonathan Franzen. "But it is one good way"... more »


Nov. 4, 2017

Articles of Note

We talk about books we haven’t read and books we’ve read but forgotten. Maybe one day we’ll discuss books that we’ve imagined... more »


New Books

What if the story of civilization — from savagery to hunting/gathering to the invention of writing and leisure and freedom — is wrong?... more »


Essays & Opinions

The job of the critic is changing, says Lionel Shriver. It's not to assess a book’s storytelling, but to castigate writers guilty of any crimes of the imagination... more »


Nov. 3, 2017

Articles of Note

The curious influence of Samuel Moyn. How did the deceptively boyish-looking historian at Yale became a role model to a generation of young political thinkers?... more »


New Books

Joseph Conrad was a skeptic who believed that civilization was fueled by illusions. He was suspicious of all schemes of improvement. He is a man for our times... more »


Essays & Opinions

Does the pursuit of knowledge trump the pursuit of ethical behavior? That question fueled Foucault's turn from madness and sexuality to politics... more »


Nov. 2, 2017

Articles of Note

Herman Melville’s son, Stanwix Melville, rode through cemeteries, experienced a shipwreck, and dealt with failing eyesight. He was dead at 34... more »


New Books

Mary McCarthy became a novelist almost by default. She had to be coerced into writing by her husband, Edmund Wilson. Nevertheless, her fiction lives on... more »


Essays & Opinions

Kant thought entire civilizations incapable of philosophy. Derrida said China had no philosophy, only thought. Why did Western philosophy turn its back on the world?... more »


Nov. 1, 2017

Articles of Note

Theodore Dreiser tried just about everything to succeed, even working for a publishing house whose motto was “The worse the swill, the more the public will buy”... more »


New Books

In the arts, “outsider” means something specific. But what is an outsider writer? And can Virginia Woolf plausibly be considered one?... more »


Essays & Opinions

Alexander Calder wanted to be clear and unfussy, to get straight to the point. At the same time, he liked to linger over life’s oddities and obscurities”... more »


Oct. 31, 2017

Articles of Note

Where does the human capacity for counting come from? Is our understanding of, say, “18” a biological endowment? Or is it a product of culture? ... more »


New Books

Angela Carter found meaning in antagonizing foes, especially Andrea Dworkin. “If I can get up … the Dworkin proboscis,” she said, “then my living has not been in vain”... more »


Essays & Opinions

In the era of the quantified self, does the old-fashioned chronicling of passing thoughts and daily minutiae still serve a purpose? Dear Diary…... more »


Oct. 30, 2017

Articles of Note

Reading books is an excellent thing to do, but there are any number of excellent things that someone, even a writer, might wish to do. Orwell did them.... more »


New Books

No sooner had photography been invented than it became inextricably connected with lying. Such deceptions were born from a hope that the camera could transcend death... more »


Essays & Opinions

If Allan Bloom’s surname had been Smith, would The Closing of the American Mind have been written? Probably not, says Jonathan Kay, who reads a lot into Bloom's biography... more »


Oct. 28, 2017

Articles of Note

How to be good at literary parties: Stay away from rich people. Skip networking events. The best way to befriend famous people is to have no idea who they are... more »


New Books

Whatever you may think about Arturo Toscanini or his interpretation of a specific work, there is no doubt that he changed the concept of conducting... more »


Essays & Opinions

"Public conversation is overpoliticized and undermoralized,” says David Brooks. "Relationships and mercy and how to be a friend — these are the big subjects of life, and we don’t talk about them enough"... more »


Oct. 27, 2017

Articles of Note

Mark Twain had one goal: Make money. By the age of 50, he was rich. “I am frightened by the proportions of my prosperity,” he said, and he was right to be afraid... more »


New Books

The cartoonish anti-Semitism, the affinity for fascists: "Ezra Pound is a litmus test as much as he is a poet." Is his work proof of his insanity?... more »


Essays & Opinions

Peer review is essential. That’s obvious. What isn't obvious is that it should be organized as it is — or even that it should be organized at all... more »


Oct. 26, 2017

Articles of Note

Historical analogies are simplistic, misleading, and essential. We compare because it's necessary, even inevitable... more »


New Books

How did a KKK-supporting, neo-Confederate sculptor of modest reputation come to dominate salons in Washington? Inside the tangled history of liberalism... more »


Essays & Opinions

Designed by an expert on Swiss phallic cults, the Rorschach test remains influential among Argentines, Japanese marriage counselors, and American courts... more »


Oct. 25, 2017

Articles of Note

Kirkus, one of the country’s most prolific book reviews, has managed to misapprehend both the nature of reviewing and the nature of books... more »


New Books

Luisa Casati lived with albino blackbirds, a cheetah, and a life-size wax replica of herself. What can she teach us about the nature of bohemianism?... more »


Essays & Opinions

John Rawls called it "the best of all games"; Mark Kingwell calls it "the most philosophical of games." What is it about baseball and philosophy?... more »


Oct. 24, 2017

Articles of Note

Edgar Allan Poe was a savage but uncalculating critic. He spent years mocking “The Literati of New York City,” then attempted to work among them... more »


New Books

Who could be against empathy? Paul Bloom, or so he says. But is the Yale psychologist serious? Or is he just trying to sell books?... more »


Essays & Opinions

What makes male characters in Jane Austen so sexy? It has something to do with the taming of the masculine principle. William Deresiewicz explains... more »


Oct. 23, 2017

Articles of Note

Under fire with Allied troops during World War II, Jean-Pierre Melville made an oath to himself: If he survived, he'd get back to Paris and build a film studio... more »


New Books

The relationship between morality and neurology is complicated. Few people get it, fewer can explain it. Robert Sapolsky, one of those few, is a determinist, but not a simple one... more »


Essays & Opinions

In love, there’s no inoculation against betrayal. So think of affairs as a feature of relationships, not a bug. So says Esther Perel, who charges $1,500 a session for such insights... more »


Oct. 21, 2017

Articles of Note

War is horrible. It's also alarmingly attractive. Philip Caputo had to reconcile those two reactions before he could write about his experience in Vietnam... more »


New Books

Thinking about thinking. We think, says Alan Jacobs, because we hope to become “more than we currently are.” Therein lies both the promise and peril of a life lived thoughtfully... more »


Essays & Opinions

“If the rise of humanism was a sunrise, then in this present time we are seeing an eclipse.” Marilynne Robinson on the value and fate of the humanities... more »


Oct. 20, 2017

Articles of Note

O Niebuhr, Where Art Thou?” He died along with the literate public's interest in theology. Now Christian thought is in a long retreat. It doesn’t have to be that way... more »


New Books

Elizabeth Bishop had astonishing control and poetic technique. But below the surface was a gushing emotional register. Was she the loneliest person who ever lived?... more »


Essays & Opinions

"The fate of artists and of art itself is in the hands of too few persons, who share kindred tastes and cultish dogma," says Jonathan Meades. It is a cult of "puritanical, po-faced, censorious nothingness"... more »


Oct. 19, 2017

Articles of Note

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a political writer. But to see life solely in political terms, he believed, is to misunderstand it. The meaning of life lies elsewhere... more »


New Books

The past should be studied only to expose its failings. Or so goes liberal logic. How disparaging the past become a mark of intellectual respectability... more »


Essays & Opinions

Poor George Orwell. The bare-knuckled revolutionary has been reduced to a cuddly, bipartisan grandpa. Orwell’s deradicalization has a long and shameless history... more »


Oct. 18, 2017

Articles of Note

A philosophy of being at home. Consider your domestic surroundings along with Gaston Bachelard, and you will have “unlocked a door to daydreaming”... more »


New Books

Many of Alexander Calder's greatest works have their genesis in children’s toys. He was an overgrown man-child with a deep affinity for play
... more »


Essays & Opinions

After a decade of hype, the digital humanities has merely confirmed what should have been obvious all along: More information is not more knowledge... more »


Oct. 17, 2017

Articles of Note

Dream King, Swan King, Kitsch King: Ludwig II, Europe's most elusive bachelor, died in 1886. He still qualifies as the world's greatest opera fan... more »


New Books

Hitler sought to construct an empire of both military and cultural dominance. So did Mussolini. Their method: attract artists who were not themselves fascists... more »


Essays & Opinions

Whether in a scholar’s attempt to live like a badger or in recent nature writing, one question stands out: What is looking back at us through other species’ eyes?... more »