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Since 1998, Arts & Letters Daily has linked to more than 17,000 articles, book reviews and essays. Consider supporting us. »
Dec. 11, 2018

Articles of Note

Harvey Mansfield has the tragic pleasure of bringing two books to posthumous publication. The first is by his daughter, the second by his wife... more »


New Books

Students trained to speak in a rarefied lexicon, vying for professors’ approval, competing for a few, unstable jobs: "The M.F.A. is graduate school in a funhouse mirror"... more »


Essays & Opinions

Ponderous, posturing, even silly, Hemingway’s fiction becomes more out of fashion every year. So why do we still read it?... more »


Dec. 10, 2018

Articles of Note

Maya Angelou, food writer. A recipe — and its candid, confessional back story — can be as bracing and uncompromising as her verse and prose... more »


New Books

Philip Larkin wrote 4,000 letters home, some masterpieces of curmudgeonly comedy. But over time, his ample gift hardened from playfulness into habit... more »


Essays & Opinions

Pleasure and expertise. Those who play tennis well or cook well experience a kind of pleasure unavailable to others. Is the same true for those who read well?... more »


Dec. 8, 2018

Articles of Note

The world’s nicest know-it-all. Why does John McPhee know so much about Sophia Loren, the Moscow State Circus, and the golf habits of the Washington elite?... more »


New Books

Writing weakens the intellect, or so claimed Socrates. Despite this, two new books set out to rehabilitate classical philosophy... more »


Essays & Opinions

“We’re in hot water”; “the straw that breaks the camel’s back”; “a leopard cannot change its spots”: What exactly makes a cliché a cliché?... more »


Dec. 7, 2018

Articles of Note

The invention of the telescope sparked a revolution in art. For Milton, who visited Galileo, seeing the cosmos was a visit from the Muse... more »


New Books

Philip Johnson wasn't a casual Nazi. He was very Nazi — the sort who insisted on reading Mein Kampf in the original German... more »


Essays & Opinions

The story of how a cripplingly shy, often sickly boy became Andy Warhol is also the story of our own antihumanist swerve... more »


Dec. 6, 2018

Articles of Note

Solzhenitsyn was viewed as an arch-reactionary rooted in the 19th century. But his revolt against liberal condescension foresaw the 21st... more »


New Books

“Was I a man or was I a jerk?” Saul Bellow inquired on his deathbed. The answer was both... more »


Essays & Opinions

“What a complex foamy mixture a couple is,” wrote Elena Ferrante. In our eagerness to uncover her identity, have we erred in assuming she is one person?... more »


Dec. 5, 2018

Articles of Note

The hedonist and the artist. If excess often accompanies creativity, why do so many artists seek asceticism?... more »


New Books

Lord Byron was “dangerous to know” and “irritable to the point of mental disease.” The women in his life responded accordingly.... more »


Essays & Opinions

Art is a way of contending with life, even in its shadiest corners. But does that cover artists like Egon Schiele, who displayed interest in prepubescent girls?... more »


Dec. 4, 2018

Articles of Note

Ghostwriters, noms de plume, plagiarism, forgery — the elements of literary hoaxing have a long history. But the rules have changed... more »


New Books

To understand the semiotics of sleep, consider its opposite. Insomnia feels like collage, like looking at the world atilt... more »


Essays & Opinions

Should studying literature be fun? Not if you want to be a serious scholar. Thus aesthetic appreciation became the province of nonacademic critics... more »


Dec. 3, 2018

Articles of Note

Owen, Sassoon, Gurney, and Graves: The words of the war poets hardened into a kind of orthodoxy. But that wasn't their fault... more »


New Books

"The internet hasn’t so much changed people’s relationship to news," says James Meek, "as altered their self-awareness in the act of reading it"... more »


Essays & Opinions

How did an uncharismatic Oxford medievalist create the most popular adventure story of the 20th century? Tolkien's stories had ideas, not ideology... more »


Dec. 1, 2018

Articles of Note

With his “free-energy principle,” the neuroscientist Karl Friston believes he has discovered the organizing principle of all life. Unfortunately, no one can understand it... more »


New Books

Toward the end of his life, René Girard’s views darkened. “More than ever, I am convinced that history has meaning,” he wrote. “Its meaning is terrifying”... more »


Essays & Opinions

Want to be an artist? Jerry Saltz has some advice: Know what you hate, scavenge, be delusional, and, of course, accept that you will probably be poor... more »


Nov. 30, 2018

Articles of Note

Poetry printed on bags of sauerkraut; a “bed” made out of bread; an exhibit called “Chicken Knickers.” What are artists who use food as their medium up to?... more »


New Books

The African Middle Ages were fascinating, but the era’s structures have largely disappeared — a consequence of mosques built of coral; palaces made from grass; whole towns built of salt... more »


Essays & Opinions

Besides book blurbs, there are “pre-blurbs” and even “pre-pre-blurbs.” The blurbing industrial complex is out of control and must be destroyed... more »


Nov. 29, 2018

Articles of Note

Uwe Johnson, the Faulkner of East Germany, wrote a 1,700-page tome describing America's empty grandiosity. Is it the most ambivalent immigration novel ever written?... more »


New Books

Read Lucia Berlin and you’ll think: “Here is a woman who really knows what it’s like to vomit.” Patricia Lockwood explains... more »


Essays & Opinions

Selfies, with machinelike monotony, reduce us to predictable characters. Can they become artistic statements, like self-portraits once were?... more »


Nov. 28, 2018

Articles of Note

The path to literary glory is paved with calumny, envy, bias, and malice. Past those obstacles, many others await... more »


New Books

“What’s a hundred years?” asks John McPhee. “Nothing. And everything.” His quiet, meticulous writing style was built to last... more »


Essays & Opinions

We build the boxes we live in, write on square pieces of paper, and invented the four-cornered frame. This frame is what separates us from nature itself... more »


Nov. 27, 2018

Articles of Note

Alexander Weygers, the Leonardo of Silicon Valley, subsisted on dandelion soup and gopher stew while designing flying saucers. It was a simpler time... more »


New Books

The modern world teems with beliefs in astrology, paranormality, and demonic possession. But that isn't evidence we've left the Enlightenment’s legacy unfulfilled... more »


Essays & Opinions

In the works of Richard Rorty and Michael Walzer is an argument for how to liberate the left from itself. Their ideas can look feeble or sentimental or unsophisticated. They are, in fact, necessary... more »


Nov. 26, 2018

Articles of Note

The borderless fluidity of open-office plans was supposed to break down creativity-stifling partitions. Instead, workers have never been more isolated... more »


New Books

Edward Gorey created his modern Gothic aesthetic with one self-described aim: "make everybody as uneasy as possible." He was uniquely successful... more »


Essays & Opinions

Saint Oscar, Wilde the Irishman, Wilde the wit, classicist, socialist, martyr for gay rights: The Oscar Wilde industry gives us the Wilde we need — or at least the Wilde that sells... more »


Nov. 24, 2018

Articles of Note

"I have no better expression than the term 'religious' for this trust in the rational character of reality," said Einstein. But his was a god of philosophy, not religion... more »


New Books

The hawking of Stephen Hawking has not ceased with his death. "The final book" would have benefited from a little more editing and a little less marketing... more »


Essays & Opinions

William H. Gass compiled a final collection near the end of his life, resigned to the fact that his real legacy would be buried by the fickle winds of literary opinion... more »


Nov. 23, 2018

Articles of Note

What if the theory of mind that underwrites our individual distinctiveness has no basis in what neuroscience tells us about how the brain works? Alex Rosenberg explains... more »


New Books

Atheism needs theistic ideas to give it life. “Some of the most radical forms of atheism,” says John Gray, are indistinguishable from “some mystical varieties of religion”... more »


Essays & Opinions

What's the burden of the black public intellectual? She defends and explains black culture, and argues for black people’s humanity, but does so for a white audience... more »


Nov. 22, 2018

Articles of Note

The monochrome myth. Plenty of evidence that ancient sculptures were full of color can't compete with our ardor for whiteness. It's a centuries-long act of collective blindness... more »


New Books

Claude Debussy's seeming aimlessness kept him in financial peril. It also afforded him the time to write La Mer, Pelléas et Mélisande, and exquisite chamber music... more »


Essays & Opinions

The greatest book ever written about the theater? The Season by William Goldman, who died recently. What makes it great? Its bluntness... more »


Nov. 21, 2018

Articles of Note

Calculating, cutthroat, self-interested, teacher of tyrants: What was Machiavelli up to? Debunking ideas of virtue and vice... more »


New Books

In 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that technology would give rise to a 15-hour workweek. Instead it gave rise to pointless work... more »


Essays & Opinions

An idiom is like a musical phrase; a cliché is like an earworm. "If idioms help us think outside the box, clichés box us in"... more »


Nov. 20, 2018

Articles of Note

Meet the geno-economists, who believe that genes measurably influence social outcomes. Dangerous idea. But impossible to ignore... more »


New Books

Taciturn, discreet, undemonstrative, Fryderyk Chopin, that frail, tubercular Pole, was comfortable only at the piano... more »


Essays & Opinions

What do we mean when we talk about “quality of life”? Aging is not a problem to be solved. It is a meaning to be lived out... more »


Nov. 19, 2018

Articles of Note

Douglas Prasher works at a Toyota dealership in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2008, he should have won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. What happened?... more »


New Books

“In a few years I can be top-flight painter if I want.” So said Jack Kerouac in 1956. Was his work really that good?... more »


Essays & Opinions

The pun, long considered the lowest form of wit, is widely — and unfairly! — reviled. Puns are at once pedestrian and profound... more »


Nov. 17, 2018

Articles of Note

“I totally let my freak flag fly now,” says Jonathan Franzen. So he imitates bird chirps, ponders the cat problem, and goofs off... more »


New Books

About 4.5 billion years ago, Earth was born. Not long after, life emerged. Was it an inevitability of the laws of nature?... more »


Essays & Opinions

What is "cultural Marxism"? An old slander posing as a new insight. The myth led to grievous harm in the last century. How about ours?... more »


Nov. 16, 2018

Articles of Note

Saul Bellow adjusts to fame. "If I find now that I can’t control the volume, I can always stuff my ears with money”... more »


New Books

Remembered for serene portraits, Félix Nadar lived a frenetic life. He was first to photograph underground and from the air, and was possibly the inventor of airmail... more »


Essays & Opinions

What makes bullshit bullshit? The answer is psychological and sociological, as well as linguistic and philosophical... more »


Nov. 15, 2018

Articles of Note

Giacomo Leopardi felt trapped by his reactionary father and penny-pinching mother. What emerged were his musings on the darkness of the human condition... more »


New Books

The bedroom, a place of love and of death, seduces us. Unfortunately, a new "intimate history" does not... more »


Essays & Opinions

How did Sartre come to embrace Marxism? The tale involves his friendship with Camus, and his work at a clandestine newspaper... more »


Nov. 14, 2018

Articles of Note

How a niche publication for evolutionary psychologists tested the limits of iconoclasm on gender, race and intelligence... more »


New Books

What caused Nietzsche’s insanity? The usual theories — syphilis, seeing a horse being whipped — don’t hold up... more »


Essays & Opinions

"It remains startling to me how little many men have to do to earn intellectual authority," says Jill Lepore, "and how much more women have to do"... more »


Nov. 13, 2018

Articles of Note

Dickens died before putting the final touches on The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Theories abound as to his intent for Drood, but can we know for sure?... more »


New Books

Automata of antiquity. Mythic Crete was the Silicon Valley of the ancient world, home of the cryptic maze, manned flight, self-guided arrows... more »


Essays & Opinions

The American Memoir tells a recurring story of personal responsibility and freedom from history. As Christopher J. Lebron explains, it is a lie... more »


Nov. 12, 2018

Articles of Note

Yuval Noah Harari's prophecies might have made him toxic in Silicon Valley. Instead the dystopian futurist is the darling of the tech elite... more »


New Books

Tragedy and religion. Disease killed her son; her husband fell off a mountain. "No one escapes terrible loss," says Elaine Pagels... more »


Essays & Opinions

Difficult books are difficult in different ways. Some are just plain bad. But readability is not always good. The case for difficult books... more »


Nov. 10, 2018

Articles of Note

Thomas More’s Utopia, published in 1516, contained the first fantasy map in a work of fiction. It was hardly the last... more »


New Books

Hermann Hesse was intent on alienating his parents. He smoked, read Turgenev with a revolver, and wrote bad poetry... more »


Essays & Opinions

Calling bullshit has a venerable intellectual pedigree. And why not? Bullshitters get the kudos without the work... more »


Nov. 9, 2018

Articles of Note

Canadian fiction is often cloying and safe. What explains the absence of the socially ambitious Great Canadian Novel?... more »


New Books

The Enlightenment definitively and rigidly shapes modern society. But the idea of all-encompassing rationality is a mirage... more »


Essays & Opinions

Wars of conquest have declined sharply over the past seven decades. Could a treaty signed in 1928 be the cause?... more »


Nov. 8, 2018

Articles of Note

Yes, nearly every great thinker of the past was sexist or racist or both. But that doesn't mean you can't admire them... more »


New Books

The unlikely odyssey of Sergei Shchukin: How a Russian textile magnate became one of the most important patrons of the Parisian avant-garde... more »


Essays & Opinions

Art, before the age of mechanical reproduction. The four extant original manuscripts of Old English poetry are a reminder of the yawning void of history... more »


Nov. 7, 2018

Articles of Note

Nero wanted to kill his mother, but how? Poison wouldn’t work, weapons were too obvious, a defective boat somehow failed to sink... more »


New Books

The two Sylvia Plaths. How to reconcile her cheery letters — cooking, acquiring a hunky husband — with a disenchanting domestic life?... more »


Essays & Opinions

When Donald Hall turned 80, he’d stopped writing poetry. He'd lost 60 pounds. He was ill and depressed. Then he rediscovered prose... more »