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Tim Radford, The Guardian
One sometimes forgets, given his recent combative secular humanism, just how warm and lyrical Richard Dawkins can be. This is a patient, often beautiful book from 1986 that begins in a generous mood and sustains its generosity to the end. It takes its title from a famous sentence in William Paley's Natural Theology (1802), which Dawkins calls "a book that I greatly admire..."
Robert Paarlberg, Foreign Policy
Stop obsessing about arugula. Your "sustainable" mantra -- organic, local, and slow -- is no recipe for saving the world's hungry millions.
AL Kennedy, The Guardian
You've been tremendously intimate with them long before you first say hello. This is a recipe for a disturbing experience.
John Lahr, New Yorker
Neil Simon’s comic empire.
Alex Witchel, New York Times
When I make my annual pilgrimage to Kalustyan’s, the hub of international spices on Lexington Avenue near 28th Street, I tend to stockpile, ending up with so much Imperial Hot Curry Powder that by the time I get around to using it three years later, I could coat chicken nuggets with it and toddlers wouldn’t blink an eye.
Nicholas Day, Salon
They've been blamed for everything from masturbation to drug abuse. No wonder I can't bear to let my son use one.
Zoe FitzGerald Carter, Salon
Watching HBO's movie about Dr. Death, I couldn't stop thinking about my mother's own planned suicide.
Dennis Overbye, New York Times
Three years after its debut, “The Big Bang Theory” has made its case to the scientific community, earning both fans and detractors.
Katherine Russell Rich, New York Times
When I was told I had a year or two, I didn’t want anything one might expect: no blow-out trip to the Galápagos, no perfect meal at Alain Ducasse, no defiant red Maserati. All I wanted was ordinary life back, for ordinary life, it became utterly clear, is more valuable than anything else.
Richard Wilbur, New Yorker
Carolyn Forché, New Yorker
John Kinsella, New Yorker
Allegra Goodman, New Yorker
The day her fiancé left, Amanda went walking in the Colonial cemetery off Garden Street. The gravestones were so worn that she could hardly read them. They were melting away into the weedy grass. You are a very dark person, her fiancé had said.
Simon Callow, The Guardian
If there is any one aspect of Shakespeare's work that singles him out from every other great writer, it is the astounding comprehensiveness of his treatment of love and sex. Not only do those great themes figure prominently in virtually every play he wrote, he explores, with detailed vividness, a range of sexual and amatory experience that leaves Masters and Johnson looking pretty skimpy. From the most exalted Petrarchan effusions to the basest bodily function, he covers the waterfront.
Michael Kimmelman, New York Times
So what does French culture signify these days when there are some 200 million French speakers in the world but only 65 million are actually French?
David Bodanis, The Guardian
David Bodanis grapples with inventive new ways of making the world add up.
Stephen Prothero, Boston Globe
It is misleading — and dangerous — to think that religions are different paths to the same wisdom.
Jerry A. Coyne, The Nation
While biologists agree that natural selection is not the only cause of genetic change in populations, the evidence is strong that it's the only one that can produce the remarkable adaptations of animals and plants to their environment--the elephant's trunk, the cactus's spines, the tiger's fangs and so on--the designlike quality of organisms that, as Darwin put it, "most justly excites our admiration."
James Wolcott, Vanity Fair
The 100th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s birth brings a fresh onslaught of retrospectives and books about a man who has already been mythologized more than any other director. But his genius is so richly varied and suffused with cryptic clues (and MacGuffins) that the hunt for the real Hitchcock may last another century.
Regina Charboneau, The Atlantic
My mother was way too joyful for me to dwell on the sadness, so I will share the lighter side of the past few days and some of the tender moments and thoughts on comfort food. Knowing there is not anyone reading this article that has not experienced a broken heart, I ask you what is the food that gives comfort and relief?
Michael Wood, The New York Review of Books
“He had it coming,” we read on the second page of Ian McEwan’s new novel. This is the character’s line of thought, a self-accusation, not an authorial verdict, and he returns to it eagerly a little later. “Yes, yes, he had been a lying womanizer, he had had it coming.” This is the least of what he has been, and at the end of the novel he still has it coming, it’s almost upon him, in the shape of two women about to tear him apart, a dangerous melanoma on his wrist, and what promises to be a series of lawsuits that will last his lifetime.
Charlotte Allen, In Character
Welcome to the simplicity movement, the ethos whose mantras are "cutting back," "focusing on the essentials," "reconnecting to the land" - and talking, talking, talking about how fulfilled it all makes you feel. Genuine simple-living people - such as, say, the Amish - are not part of the simplicity movement, because living like the Amish (no iPod apps or granite countertops, plus you have to read the Bible) would be taking the simple thing a bit far.
Erik Eckholm, New York Times
Asian carp are reviled as vanquishers of native species, feared as hefty jumpers able to break a boatman’s jaw, and scorned as, well, carp. But even as Northern states battle to keep them from ravaging the Great Lakes, officials in the South, where the alien species have multiplied like guppies, are working to transform the carp into marketable assets.
David S. Landes, Wilson Quarterly
Critics have tried to explain away the West’s centuries-long economic domination of the globe; they would do better to study its lessons.
Stefan Beck, Salon
William S. Burroughs' subversive classic turns 50 -- and is still as vile and embarrassing as it always was.
Chris Cox, The Guardian
Granta's new issue dedicated to sex reminds us that only the sin of Onan really retains the power to shock readers.
Dwight Garner, New York Times
Paul Davies’s new book, “The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence,” is a birthday card of sorts to SETI, an appraisal and acknowledgment of the interesting (if quixotic) work the project has done thus far. It’s also a pointed wake-up call. Mr. Davies believes that SETI has grown conservative in its methods. He thinks we’re looking for alien life in all the wrong places, and in all the wrong ways.
King Kaufman, Salon
Monuments of purple prose have been built to fathers and sons tossing the ball. The truth: It's just plain fun.
Erika Meitner, Slate Magazine
Abigail Zuger, New York Times
In most states, it’s still a crime to transmit H.I.V. But science has moved on.
Steven Strogatz, New York Times
The integral, perhaps mathematics' most graceful sign, is a foundation of calculus.
E. L. Doctorow, New Yorker
David Wagoner, New Yorker
Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal
To deny that Shakespeare's plays could have been written by a man of relatively humble background is, after all, to deny the very possibility of genius itself—a sentiment increasingly attractive in a democratic culture where few harsh realities are so unpalatable as that of human inequality. The mere existence of a Shakespeare is a mortal blow to the pride of those who prefer to suppose that everybody is just as good as everybody else. But just as some people are prettier than others, so are some people smarter than others, and no matter who you are or how hard you try, I can absolutely guarantee that you're not as smart as Shakespeare.
Erin McKean, Boston Globe
Sexting, chexting, drexting...the rise of a salacious suffix.
Elif Batuman, New York Times
In Olga Grushin’s second novel, “The Line,” hundreds of citizens spend several hours a day, every day for a year, waiting to buy tickets to a concert that may or may not take place. The premise is loosely based on Stravinsky’s 1962 concert in Leningrad, which was likewise preceded by a yearlong ticket line.
Christopher Hitchens, The Guardian
Still outlawed by regimes around the world, Animal Farm has always been political dynamite – so much so, it was nearly never published.
Joan Brady, The Guardian
"Ballet dancers are stupid." God knows how many times I heard that while I was in the ballet. When I gave up performing, I decided on a trial by fire and somehow got into Columbia University to study philosophy and maths.
Scott Timberg, Los Angeles Times
The late author's epic of a desert planet anticipates contemporary issues and poses a lasting challenge to filmmakers.
Peter Beinart, New York Times
Reading Ian Buruma makes you feel parochial. In “Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents,” he writes intimately about the relationship between politics and faith in Britain, the Netherlands, France, China, Japan and the United States. And beneath every cliché — about American religious fervor, French intolerance or Japanese godlessness — he uncovers ironies that wreak havoc with popular stereotypes.
Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times
Look past Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos to the forgotten Bob Brown and his 1930s reading machine.
Joanna Weiss, Slate Magazine
Just about everything movie directors do, only faster.
Christopher Hitchens, The Atlantic
Why Charles Dickens was among the best of writers and the worst of men.
Fred Siegel, Commentary
It was only in the 1920s, the same decade in which Lawrence wrote his poem, that such contempt for the bourgeoisie—and with it a deep hostility toward the United States’s position as the quintessentially middle-class, democratic, and capitalist nation—found a wide audience in this country through a new generation of writers such as Sinclair Lewis and H.L. Mencken. Weaned on the work of H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw and their loathing for conventional mores, Lewis and his confreres became the dominant force in American letters, and their views went largely unchallenged in the literary world. It was left to a critic named Bernard DeVoto to issue the first serious and meaningful challenge to their worldview—the opening salvo in a brave and lonely battle that still resonates, even though DeVoto and the book in which he took up arms for the United States against its own intellectuals are both forgotten.
Miles Clements, Los Angeles Times
It may boast an Italian heritage, but pizza is now claimed by South Americans and South Asians alike, not to mention Croats, Israelis and Armenians.
Elissa Strauss, Salon
The truth is, despite the warnings of much of the chick lit and chick flicks from the last decade, finding love and marriage turned out to be not so hard. Instead, it was the perfect girlfriend, or girlfriends, that has been so elusive.
Tracy Clark-Flory, Salon
Change your surname after marriage and you just might be seen as a walking female stereotype.
Julia Moskin, New York Times
New delis, with small menus, passionate owners and excellent pickles and pastrami, are rising up and rewriting the menu of the traditional Jewish deli, saying that it must change, or die. For some of them, the main drawback is the food itself, not its ideological underpinnings.
Jay Parini, The Chronicle Of Higher Education
Relationships among poets are about much more than anxiety.
Jill Lepore, New Yorker
What was at stake in the spat between Henry Luce and Harold Ross?
Stefany Anne Golberg, The Smart Set
Why would anyone want to play with a toy that is so damn hard? The Rubik’s Cube entered our collective cultural experience 30 years ago, next month, and there is still no satisfying answer.
Rachel Hadas, Slate Magazine
Heather Havrilesky, Salon
"It's just stuff." This is what my father told a reporter as he watched his condo burn down a year before his death. The reporter referred to him as "stoical," but I get it: Thanks to a faulty attic fan, his life was in flames and all he could do was stand there and watch. He had to be wondering which things he might lose, and how much it would bother him to lose them: The sweatshirt he wore in college? The book he was reading, beside the bed? Witnessing an inferno where your home once stood, the orange and red flames dancing against a clear blue sky, you might just feel awe at having escaped a fiery death. What does stuff matter, in that context?
Jayme Reid, Salon
What keeps me going? It's not faith. It's not hope. I don't have either. I think it's just motherhood. That unsinkable tenacity that makes women do whatever they have to do for their children.
Roberto Bolaño, New Yorker
Robert Bly, New Yorker
Jorie Graham, New Yorker
Nicholas Kulish, New York Times
Chelsea, you are chocolate. Claim cappuccino, the East Village. Thank your Strawberry Fields, Central Park, for your flavor is strawberry.
Sorry, SoHo, but you are plain old vanilla.
Paul Johnson, Literary Review
John Casey, a Cambridge English don with a Catholic upbringing followed by many years of doubts, has written an excellent book about what may follow death. Beginning with the ancient Egyptians, the first people to believe in an afterlife, he surveys over 3,000 years of ideas about futurity, concentrating particularly on hell and heaven but, quite rightly, finding a key place for purgatory too.
Matthew Hollis, The Guardian
Richard Howard, New York Times
How the communion of writer and translator bridges generations, cultures and languages.
Russell Baker, The New York Review of Books
Gerald Boyd was a classic specimen of the self-made man. Born poor, he worked and studied his way up out of poverty under the guidance of his widowed grandmother. Childhood was work and study, study and work, and though they do not always guarantee success, for Gerald Boyd they did just what movies, books, and professional moralizers said they would do, probably because his widowed grandmother contributed a lot of wisdom, love, and iron to the self-making; and in his early fifties Gerald Boyd became managing editor of The New York Times. This was the second most important job in the newsroom of one of the world's better newspapers. He was the first black ever to reach such a dazzling position in the Times hierarchy, and the gaudiest job of all—the executive editorship—seemed within his reach almost until the very moment he was fired.
John Allen Paulos, The New York Review of Books
Masha Gessen's Perfect Rigor is a fascinating biography of Grigory (Grisha) Perelman, the fearsomely brilliant and notoriously antisocial Russian mathematician. Perelman proved the Poincaré Conjecture, one of mathematics' most important and intractable problems, in 2002—almost a century after it was first posed, and just two years after the Clay Mathematics Institute offered a one-million-dollar prize for its solution.
Paula Marantz Cohen, The Smart Set
Sure, people wear shorts to the opera. But that just means I can wear a cocktail dress to the supermarket.
Shalom Auslander, Tablet
The population of the town in which I live is roughly 2,400 people. Of those people, I know approximately 50 or so by name, and of those 50, there are only 17 who I think will let me hide with my wife and children in their attic during the next genocide. This is assuming those 17 people haven’t already promised their attics to other Jews, blacks, homosexuals, Asians, Europeans, immigrants, etc., which I’m fairly sure at least six of them already have.
First come, first saved.
Andrew Joron, The Nation
Edward Rothstein, New York Times
There is something daring, almost provocative, about the Cocoon. This eight-story-high egg-shaped structure, which contains major new exhibition space along with scientific-research facilities, is housed in an enormous glass-and-steel box. It is annexed to the Natural History Museum here as if it were a gigantic specimen brought back by 21st-century heirs to the collectors, entomologists and zoologists who created that great institution.
Ryan Bradley, The Atlantic
It's high noon in Manhattan, and all eyes are on David Chang's latest creation, Má Pêche. For those out of the Chang-Momofuku-pork-bun-craze-loop, a quick review: Momofuku is Japanese for lucky peach, and the restaurants—Má Pêche, opening later this week, makes four, plus a dessert spot called Milk Bar—are Asian-influenced in the same way that the avante-garde '70s cult rock group Can is Asian-influenced. Can came out of Germany, but its lead singer was a wandering Japanese-born gypsy named Damo Suzuki. Momofuku comes out of New York, but Chang is, like Suzuki, a wanderer.
Christopher Cox, Slate Magazine
Last summer, I visited a friend in San Francisco whom I hadn't seen in a while. Normally in such cases, I must gently remind my host that I eat neither meat, nor dairy, nor eggs, but my friend beat me to it: "I recall that you are a vegan," he wrote, "though one that appreciates fine oysters." Finally, someone who understands me.
James Sturm, Slate Magazine
My (probably crazy) plan to give up the internet.
David Barnett, The Guardian
A cache of letters I found in a set of secondhand Asimov tales sketches an intriguing true story.
Terri Witek, Slate Magazine
Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon
It's shirtless season -- should women be able to join in?
Jeremy Bernstein, The New York Review of Books
Kubrick explained that early in his career he too played chess for money in the park and that Duval was so weak that it was hardly worth playing him. I said that we should play some time and then left the apartment. I was quite sure that we would never play. I was wrong.
Jessica Greenbaum, New Yorker
Michael Robbins, New Yorker
Ben Loory, New Yorker
Thomas Rogers, Salon
Most of us accept these noises as a normal byproduct of our gadget-obsessed times, but in his new book, "In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise," George Prochnik argues that this barrage of noise is more than just a nuisance; it poses a real threat to our cardiovascular system and mental health, our ability to concentrate, and, perhaps most dangerous of all, it turns our political discourse into a shrill barrage.
Jon Mooallem, New York Times
The science of same-sex pairings in the wild.
Daniel Calingaert, Hoover Institution
The race between freedom and repression.
Rob Walker, New York Times
What can we learn from our (seemingly) pointless tools?
Julie Just, New York Times
Judging from The New York Times children’s best-seller list and librarian-approved selections like the annual “Best Books for Young Adults,” the bad parent is now enjoying something of a heyday. It would be hard to come up with an exact figure from the thousands of Y.A. novels published every year, but what’s striking is that some of the most sharply written and critically praised works reliably feature a mopey, inept, distracted or ready-for-rehab parent, suggesting that this has become a particularly resonant figure.
Claire Messud, New York Times
We’ve all met Kevin Quinn, the 50-year-old protagonist of James Hynes’s fourth novel, “Next”; indeed, a fair number of us actually are Kevin Quinn, caught at midlife somewhere between jaunty and defeated, living with one foot in the present and one foot firmly in the past. In some ultimately perilous way, as we should be warned by the novel’s title, Kevin isn’t very good at thinking about what’s next.
R. S. Gwynn, The New Criterion
On the poetry of Dorothy Parker.
A. O. Scott, New York Times
Critics, naturally, disagree over whether there is a future for criticism in the age of the internet.
Damien G Walter, The Guardian
If we are to have some some influence over how that change unfolds, isn't it important that our stories, whether they be in the news, on television screens or in the pages of science fiction novels, fully explore the optimistic possibilities that technology represents?
Patricia Cohen, New York Times
To illustrate what a growing number of literary scholars consider the most exciting area of new research, Lisa Zunshine, a professor of English at Kentucky University, refers to an episode from the TV series “Friends.”
Eli Saslow, Washington Post
Each day, 20,000 letters and e-mails addressed to Obama are screened for threats and then sent to a nondescript office building in downtown Washington. Hundreds of volunteers and staff members sort the mail into categories before a senior aide picks the 10 destined to provide Obama with his daily glimpse beyond what he calls "the presidential bubble."