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Sept. 26, 2017

Articles of Note

The Italian artist Carol Rama saw the psychiatric ward as a place of vibrancy and liberty. “Madness is close to everybody,” she said... more »


New Books

The “eerie, queery, sometimes weary” Edward Lear. A gay man in Victorian times, he lived a life full of sadness. Nonsense helped fill the void... more »


Essays & Opinions

Democracy can be an unsightly spectacle. Much of the demos is ignorant or has just enough knowledge to screw things up. Is "epistocracy" the answer?... more »


Sept. 25, 2017

Articles of Note

In the beginning was the pissing boy. Since then, painters and sculptors have depicted the act of urination. "A river of piss runs through art history"... more »


New Books

Montaigne was a politician, soldier, bureaucrat, and courtier before he became a philosopher. His work stands as a reminder of the permanent necessity of judgment... more »


Essays & Opinions

Why has the concept of truth become so problematic? It's a consequence of the opening of a distinction between truth-as-meaning and truth-as-fact... more »


Sept. 23, 2017

Articles of Note

Secrets of the stacks. The New York Public Library’s archives contain dentures, roller skates, and, as David Grann discovered, evidence of a systematic campaign of murder... more »


New Books

Consider the couch. From the supine symposia of ancient Greece to Freud’s psychoanalytic sessions, horizontality has been associated with deep thinking -- why?... more »


Essays & Opinions

Why is Gottlob Frege, one of the founders of analytic philosophy, largely unknown today? For starters, little was recorded of his personality -- except his virulent racism... more »


Sept. 22, 2017

Articles of Note

“The era of world literature is at hand,” proclaimed Goethe in 1827. His colleagues disagreed, and gave him a turban for his birthday. Thankfully, the debate has evolved... more »


New Books

Modernity brought speed, stress, and sensory bombardment. In Austria, this “nervous age” drove the ideas of psychiatrists and architects together... more »


Essays & Opinions

The latest neuro-nonsense, “empathetics” is the scientific (and corporate) attempt to map empathy biologically. How did this neo-phrenology come about?... more »


Sept. 21, 2017

Articles of Note

Hemingway in LA. He was there to raise money but “came like a whirlwind,” wrote Fitzgerald, and ended up throwing a wineglass into Dorothy Parker’s fireplace... more »


New Books

What writers wear. Updike’s look, like his prose, was “normcore with flair.” Beckett cultivated a “nonchalantly seductive” look via turtleneck. And then there’s Knausgaard... more »


Essays & Opinions

Evelyn Waugh's prose, known for its lethality, is seen by some as inconsistent with his Catholicism. But he couldn't have been a great satirist were he not a Catholic... more »


Sept. 20, 2017

Articles of Note

Do hallucinogenic fungi have a significant place in art history? If the works of Hieronymus Bosch and Matthias Grünewald are any guide, yes indeed... more »


New Books

A poem is a machine, "one that for the reader produces discoveries, connections, glimmers of expression,” says Matthew Zapruder. How should that machine function?... more »


Essays & Opinions

James Burnham, Trotskyist turned CIA operative, wasn't an unscrupulous shape-shifter. He was a committed activist who never tired of hawking himself... more »


Sept. 19, 2017

Articles of Note

Amis at 70. Once young and belligerent, now a domesticated elder statesman hoping that his daughter won't opt for college in California... more »


New Books

Books by Charles Darwin number 25. Books about Darwin number 7,500, with 160 more titles each year. Is there anything new to say on the subject? Yes... more »


Essays & Opinions

Pankaj Mishra: “Longing for the ancien régime increasingly defines the Atlantic seaboard’s pundits as much as it does the fine people defending the honour of Robert E. Lee”... more »


Sept. 18, 2017

Articles of Note

The International Congress on Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science doesn't sound romantic. But it's where Hilary Putnam met his future wife, Ruth Anna. Pragmatism would never be the same... more »


New Books

A.E. Housman's work is suffused with the pain of life, and the beauty of that pain. Yet his emotional armor was heavy. How to explain the gulf between poet and poetry?... more »


Essays & Opinions

The idea of "white people" has a history, but it’s a short one. It was invented on October 19, 1613, the brainchild of the Jacobean playwright Thomas Middleton... more »


Sept. 16, 2017

Articles of Note

“It is difficult to live in Brooklyn without becoming a deep thinker,” wrote Clifton Fadiman, littérateur to the masses. Was he more than a middlebrow salesman?... more »


New Books

"The essay is subject to laws that are not less strict for appearing to be delicate and ineffable,” says Brian Dillon, who attempts the thankless task of defining those laws... more »


Essays & Opinions

HBO, TED, podcasts, documentaries: Those cultural totems of the educated elite are entirely consistent with the lazy nature of elite intellectual activity... more »


Sept. 15, 2017

Articles of Note

NASA’s leaders had an early revelation: Discovery means little if the public can't see it. The agency has commissioned outer-space art ever since... more »


New Books

Five and a half years. That's how long Otis Redding's career lasted. Given where he came from, it's astonishing that his career happened at all... more »


Essays & Opinions

French was “the pinnacle of logic”; Flemish was the true first language. Behold the folly of early linguistics, a field full of crackpots... more »


Sept. 14, 2017

Articles of Note

Frederick Wiseman's documentaries — which lack voice-over narration, soundtrack, titles, and interviews — add up to a comprehensive exploration of the American condition... more »


New Books

John McPhee is the maestro of 40,000-word nonfiction articles. He spent weeks staring at the sky thinking about how to begin. Can anyone still afford to write like that?... more »


Essays & Opinions

Paris’s Bureau of Found Objects includes a wedding dress and a human skull. People who come to claim a lost possession often lose another in the process... more »


Sept. 13, 2017

Articles of Note

Freud has been debunked, yet the apparatus that defends him persists. Why do his ideas endure? Because we want to believe them... more »


New Books

The Enlightenment emerged from a 150-year “staccato burst” of European philosophy. Why did these thinkers — Hobbes, Descarte, Voltaire, Rousseau — write as they did? ... more »


Essays & Opinions

Every generation discovers its own Edgar Allan Poe. Now gig-economy writers have a kindred spirit: Poe, too, was a broke-ass freelancer... more »


Sept. 12, 2017

Articles of Note

Ira Lightman ferrets out poets who pilfer lines, and then he shames them. Does that make him a hero or a bully?... more »


New Books

Over three years, Mozart composed eight piano concertos, three symphonies, and The Marriage of Figaro. He also bought a pet starling. Coincidence?... more »


Essays & Opinions

For a time, the personal essay colonized the internet. Now the boom is over. Sadly, nobody told Joyce Maynard... more »


Sept. 11, 2017

Articles of Note

“What the hell have I taken on?” That was Ian Buruma's second reaction to being named editor of the NYRB. His first reaction: "a sense of euphoria"... more »


New Books

What happened to the public intellectual? She became a partisan. Hannah Arendt warned about translating philosophical insight into political commitment ... more »


Essays & Opinions

Poet-critics long ago traded the patronage of aristocrats for that of the government, foundation, or university administrator. That system is now partially in ruins... more »


Sept. 9, 2017

Articles of Note

Silicon Valley's latest "body hack": microdosing LSD. It's supposed to make you more creative. The real allure: It makes you more productive... more »


New Books

Does what you eat reveal the content of your character? "While extraordinary circumstances produce extraordinary women, food makes them recognizable"... more »


Essays & Opinions

He couldn’t sing and didn’t know anything about the music, yet James Baldwin called himself a blues singer. What does it mean for a writer to be a blues singer?... more »


Sept. 8, 2017

Articles of Note

Has the Voynich manuscript been deciphered at last? According to a new theory, it’s a health manual for well-to-do women. Experts are dubious.... more »


New Books

If we were to take a lesson from the Iliad, it would be to resist the seductions of rage. But beware of authors touting lessons from ancient Greeks... more »


Essays & Opinions

Philip Levine was the poet of the left wing of the left wing of the past, the bard of workaday exhaustion and routine. Paul Berman has come to praise him... more »


Sept. 7, 2017

Articles of Note

John Ashbery, for whom writing was an immersive experience, like taking a bath in words, is dead at 90... Christian Lorentzen... Evan Kindley... Larissa MacFarquhar... Rae Armantrout... Ben Lerner... Tania Ketenjian... Paul Muldoon... David Orr... Katy Waldman... Alex Ross... Eileen Myles... Kimberly Quiogue Andrews... Luc Sante... The Guardian... The TLS... AP... Poetry Foundation...... more »


New Books

The Quran is an allusive text. Precisely that difficult and poetic style, says Sari Nusseibeh, is what makes it a "progenitor of reason"... more »


Essays & Opinions

"The term 'resilience' was coined in the 1970s," says Edgar Jones. Before that, "everyone was assumed to be tough, so there wasn’t really a word for it"... more »


Sept. 6, 2017

Articles of Note

Salman Rushdie is either disinclined or unable to disguise his status-consciousness. Hard to say if that’s due to a surfeit of self-awareness or its opposite... more »


New Books

There is a long and sordid tradition of trying to diminish Darwin by insisting that his ideas are not original. A.N. Wilson is no more successful than his predecessors... more »


Essays & Opinions

Meet Henry George — economist, pamphleteer, journalist. Once famous, now dead and forgotten, he's the guru whom Silicon Valley doesn't know it needs... more »


Sept. 5, 2017

Articles of Note

Descartes found imagination “more of a hindrance than a help”; Hume considered it “faint and languid.” Why do philosophers fear imagination?... more »


New Books

Jane Carlyle was the greatest letter writer of her time. A correspondent of Mill, Darwin, Forster, she is remembered as a genius. But a genius of what?... more »


Essays & Opinions

"All that is solid melts into air," wrote Marx in the 19th century. He was premature. Postmodernity, which aspires to melt solids, arrived a century later. A pre-history of post-truth... more »


Sept. 4, 2017

Articles of Note

Dr. Faustus, Dr. Frankenstein, Los Alamos — there are reasons to fear the power of labs. Is David Reich's ancient genetics lab at Harvard a threat to humanity?... more »


New Books

Chester B. Himes disdained literary conventions. In prison, he reimagined himself as a new kind of "black literary realist." He was largely forgotten, until now... more »


Essays & Opinions

Vivian Maier was a street photographer with hoarding tendencies who produced startling and memorable images. Most else about her life is a cloud of unknowns... more »


Sept. 2, 2017

Articles of Note

In the early ‘80s, E.B. White was an octogenarian widower. He'd want the company of a fan, right? "There’s one of me, at most, and there are ten thousand of you. Please don’t come"... more »


New Books

What makes popular-science books popular? The opportunity to measure your comprehension against the best minds. Falling behind is part of the thrill... more »


Essays & Opinions

Few have played as central a role in the long, slow destruction of literary study as Stephen Greenblatt. And few have profited from it as much, professionally and financially... more »


Sept. 1, 2017

Articles of Note

Nabokov insisted on written interviews. Why? “I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, and I speak like a child”... more »


New Books

During the Gilded Age, some rich people dabbled in séances and breakfasted with corpses. Consider the portrait subjects of John Singer Sargent... more »


Essays & Opinions

When Norman Mailer heard that Elizabeth Hardwick was reviewing him in Partisan Review, he pre-emptively bought an ad defending himself. She got the last word, of course... more »


Aug. 31, 2017

Articles of Note

The avant-gardists Arthur Cravan and Mina Loy were happily married — until he disappeared. Did he fake his death to become a counterfeiter of Oscar Wilde manuscripts?... more »


New Books

An octopus is a soft-bodied mollusc with three hearts that beat blue-green blood. It is also remarkably clever... more »


Essays & Opinions

Nobody played Schubert like Sviatoslav Richter. His secret: tempo. Slow, even glacial, or making no sense at all, but all mesmerizing... more »


Aug. 30, 2017

Articles of Note

Napoleon was allergic to leather, Queen Victoria’s wedding cake weighed 200 pounds, and other unusual facts from Christie's... more »


New Books

Randall Jarrell thought that Richard Wilbur's poetry didn't go far enough — that he settled for good but not great work. Now 96, has Wilbur put that critique to rest?... more »


Essays & Opinions

How did religious freedom come to the West? Spinoza and Locke are often invoked, but in reality, persecution simply became too expensive... more »


Aug. 29, 2017

Articles of Note

Derrida dressed like a rakish ski instructor; Foucault was fond of leather jackets. Caring about clothes isn’t mere vanity — it can signal intellectual commitment... more »


New Books

Economic equality seems like a very good thing. Too bad it tends to occur only under the most barbaric of conditions... more »


Essays & Opinions

The author of a novel is not always well placed to interpret it. Ask Orhan Pamuk, who has spent a decade reflecting on the pitfalls of teaching his own books... more »


Aug. 28, 2017

Articles of Note

Their history is a catalog of lust, sex, theft, betrayal, and degradation. Characters are dangerous and damaged. Pulp novels? No, libraries... more »


New Books

Why do Americans think as they do about sex? Early Christian attitudes toward sin and shame play a role. But religion is only part of the answer ... more »


Essays & Opinions

Emotions are seen as something to be tamed by cool reason. This seductive view of intelligence reflects a bogus view of the brain... more »


Aug. 26, 2017

Articles of Note

A few years after the death of Degas, his renown was at its peak. Then a former model revealed his violence, anti-Semitism, and artistic impotence... more »


New Books

How books are read is as important as what’s in them. Reading out loud, for instance, was seen as a defense against the "seductive, enervating dangers" of sentimental novels... more »


Essays & Opinions

The e-book of The Godfather amounts to a million bytes. A picture of Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone: 35,000 bytes. We know this thanks to Claude Shannon... more »


Aug. 25, 2017

Articles of Note

The average museum visitor spends only a moment — about seven seconds — in front of an artwork. Why do so many people spend those seconds on selfies? ... more »


New Books

The personal essay has become an introspective exercise full of pretty phrases that mean nothing. Another type of personal essay is possible... more »


Essays & Opinions

If the pleasures of reading are not too far removed from the pleasures of life, becoming a good reader is akin to learning to live well... more »


Aug. 24, 2017

Articles of Note

Orwell and Churchill were, on the surface, quite different. But they shared a commitment to observing accurately the world around them... more »


New Books

Barthes was killed by a van; Althusser strangled his wife. Could those events be connected? In a new novel, they are... more »


Essays & Opinions

An accent in “élite,” a diaeresis in “reëmerge.” The New Yorker style, arbitrary and peculiar, somehow overshadows the substance of the writing ... more »


Aug. 23, 2017

Articles of Note

America endures another racial reckoning. Will this one lead to social disintegration, political breakup, or collective nervous breakdown?... more »


New Books

You can judge critics by the intensity of their feelings. Exhibit A: Michael Robbins, who swoons for Taylor Swift and tosses Molotovs at Charles Simic... more »


Essays & Opinions

Sex is nice but fleeting. The joys of syntax, on the other hand, are everlasting. For a good time, diagram a sentence or dive into Coleridge’s poetics... more »