March 21, 2018 | Profanity was long considered low and dirty, the opposite of the sublime. Then came Philip Larkin, Eileen Myles, and the rise of poetic profanity... more »

March 21, 2018 | Many of our best theories are not true in a strict sense, but rather are idealizations. Such concepts, useful in everyday life, are intellectually dangerous... more »

March 20, 2018 | We used to know what people meant when they spoke about someone’s "reputation." Now it's supposedly an elusive concept... more »

March 19, 2018 | The notion that history consists of a single grand narrative is almost universally regarded as a comforting myth. But not to Marcel Gauchet ... more »

March 17, 2018 | The bloodiest genre: books by dictators. Mao's Little Red Book,, Gaddafi’s Green Book, Saddam Hussein’s Get Out, You Damned One! ... more »

March 16, 2018 | Eugene Genovese found much to admire in the culture of the slaveholding Southern planter class. It's a view shared by few, if any, historians today... more »

March 15, 2018 | Darwin had eczema, so he grew a beard; Dickens hid his receding chin. Then there was the matter of George Eliot’s hands... more »

March 14, 2018 | As a nurse during the Civil War, Walt Whitman met thousands of wounded soldiers. He confronted the sheer physicality of death: The soul may move on, but the body remains... more »

March 13, 2018 | Writers and their mothers. Is there any hope for a broken heart? Eva Larkin asked her son, Philip. He was the best-qualified person to answer, or the worst... more »

March 12, 2018 | What happens when biography — which, after all, is embodied history — puts mouths, bellies, and beards back into the 19th century? A wonderful experiment... more »

March 10, 2018 | A thousand pages of heavily redacted text, years of legal appeals, a censorious scolding of the FBI. James Baldwin’s FBI file has had a life of its own... more »

March 9, 2018 | "Excellence," "profession," "symposium," "text,": Where did the language of academic life come from, and how do certain words become the property of one ideology?... more »

March 8, 2018 | Agatha Christie's unsolvable mystery: In 1926 she vanished for 11 days. When she was discovered — at a British spa — she refused to discuss her disappearance... more »

March 7, 2018 | On his last legs, Oscar Wilde wore expensive clothes, smoked gold-tipped cigarettes, and requested fresh toiletries and cologne. He was, he insisted, “dying above his means"... more »

March 6, 2018 | The automobile, Renoir said, was an "idiotic thing"; trains were a "crazy idea." His crankiness, however, was tempered by self-awareness: "I am the worst old fogy"... more »

March 5, 2018 | Biographers establish facts, collect anecdotes, link cause and effect so that a life can be made whole on the page. But why should a personality hang together?... more »

March 3, 2018 | Paris's Left Bank during the war: Strict rationing, shocking poverty, and yet: “I lived in a kind of blessed island, in the middle of an ocean of mud and blood”... more »

March 2, 2018 | The value of not understanding. For Grace Paley, “write what you know” was a guarantee of dullness. Art comes from exploring the unknown... more »

March 1, 2018 | The Jewishness of Jewish comedy shows itself in only obscure ways, because the comedians didn't want to identify themselves as Jewish... more »

Feb. 28, 2018 | Do animals possess language, culture, morality, a soul? “It would be less interesting to know what animals are, if it were not a means to know what we are”... more »

Feb. 27, 2018 | Wanted on charges of homosexual activity, Oscar Wilde was given time to flee to France. Even his mother urged him to go. Yet he would not... more »

Feb. 26, 2018 | In the 1920s, John W. Dunne, an aeronautical engineer and fly fisherman, set the literary world on fire with an idea: Dreams can predict the future... more »

Feb. 24, 2018 | Isaac Newton’s views included Arianism, alchemy, Egyptian theology, and the Noachian faith. Why was such a seemingly modern thinker so obsessed with ancient ideas?... more »

Feb. 23, 2018 | The East German writer Christa Wolf grew up under state surveillance. Later, in her diaries, she continued a sort of spying on herself... more »

Feb. 22, 2018 | The persistence of fairy tales. From Angela Carter onward, authors have retold, revised, and remixed classic stories. Today the genre is delightfully chaotic... more »

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