April 2, 2018 | Before modern philosophy, there were Erasmus and Luther. Their dispute stands as a lasting reminder that among the threats to human flourishing, misplaced certitude shouldn’t be underestimated... more »


March 31, 2018 | Life with Doris Lessing. An author attempts to enact her radical concept of freedom. But can a life so liberated regain a conventional shape?... more »


March 30, 2018 | What happens to anthropology when its fundamental divisions are undone — when magic and reason, and “primitive” and “modern,” no longer organize the field?... more »


March 29, 2018 | The world’s least orthodox literary salon: a fascist lecturing to literary titans in an asylum. Ezra Pound’s visitors, the “Ezrologists,” pioneered the tale of the “bughouse” visit... more »


March 28, 2018 | Baffled cows, depressed does, and conniving roosters. Science paints an ever-fuller picture of the inner lives of animals. But are we any closer to understanding their minds?... more »


March 27, 2018 | Fatalism is a permanent temptation of politics. Optimistic fatalism competes with the pessimistic variety. Democracy requires finding a way between them... more »


March 26, 2018 | Don't underestimate the power of an impertinent question. That’s what drove Oriana Fallaci, whose interview subjects usually regretted giving her the time. “Being a journalist means being disobedient”... more »


March 24, 2018 | Each generation of historians conveys the Jewish past in a way that's bound up with its vision of the Jewish future. Those visions generally turn out to be wrong... more »


March 23, 2018 | Is criticism influential? If so, is that influence beneficial or malign? The first answer is yes. The second answer is complicated... more »


March 22, 2018 | “The two ways," Kierkegaard wrote. "One is to suffer; the other is to become a professor of the fact that another suffered.” But few suffered as much as the woman who loved him... 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 »


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