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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Through A Glass Darkly

Traci Brimhall, Slate Magazine

Unearthly Powers

Wendy Lesser, Three Penny Review

Part of the pleasure of reading old science fiction is precisely this: with the special powers vested in you by historical hindsight, you can compare the playfully visionary forecasts with what actually took place.

Monday, August 30, 2010

I Like The Wind

Robert Wrigley, New Yorker

An Arranged Marriage

Nell Freudenberger, New Yorker

Theirs was the second-to-last house on the road. The road ended in an asphalt circle called a cul-de-sac, and beyond the cul-de-sac was a field of corn. That field had startled Amina when she first arrived—had made her wonder, just for a moment, if she had been tricked (as everyone had predicted she would be) and ended up in a sort of American village. She’d had to remind herself of the clean and modern Rochester airport, and of the Pittsford Wegmans—a grocery store that was the first thing she described to her mother once she got her on the phone. When Amina asked about the field, George explained that there were power lines that couldn’t be moved, and so no one could build a house there. After she understood its purpose, Amina liked the cornfield, which reminded her of her grandmother’s village. She had been born there, back when the house was still a hut, with a thatched roof and a glazed-mud floor. Two years later, her parents had left the village to find work in Dhaka, but she had stayed with her grandmother and her Parveen Auntie until she was five years old. Her first memory was of climbing up the stone steps from the pond with her hand in Nanu’s, watching a funny pattern of light and dark splotches turn into a frog hiding in the ragged shade of a coconut palm.

Western Conifer Seed Bug

Cleopatra Mathis, New Yorker

You Don't Know What Restaurants You Got Til They're Gone

Tim Carman, Washington City Paper

Losing a favorite restaurant is not easy, perhaps because a restaurant is one of the few businesses that actually nourishes and sustains you. A restaurant is more personal than a grocery store and less needy than a mother. Every time you walk into one, a restaurant feeds you and cares for you, and all it asks in return is a few (or many) shekels. Is it any wonder, then, that when a beloved eatery dies, we feel something close to mourning?

Steam-Driven Dreams

John Schwartz, New York Times

Steam is cool. Or rather, hot: the technology that helped usher in the Industrial Revolution shows up these days in neo-nostalgic steampunk fiction, design and fashion. It’s not just affection for leather and brass that drives the fascination; harnessing the power of steam broke humans out of what William Rosen calls the “Malthusian trap” that had kept mankind ever on the brink of famine and collapse. His book, “The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention,” is a sneaky history — ostensibly about the origins of the steam engine, though actually about much more.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The New York Stories Of Elizabeth Hardwick

Tim Adams, The Guardian

Over a range of troubling themes – the uncertainty of belonging, the inscrutibility of men – Elizabeth Hardwick's fiction shines with wisdom and craft.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Her Darkest Places

Terrence Rafferty, New York Times

A lot of writers, both in and out of the horror genre, know how to create a sense of dread. What makes Jackson’s sensibility so distinctive is that her brand of dread tends to be self-aware and even, at times, self-amused. There’s often a tinge of embarrassment to her characters’ fear, simply because it’s so tenuous, so apparently sourceless: they can’t tell if what’s troubling them is something or nothing.

The Language Of Exile

John Simon, New York Times

The Czech novelist Milan Kundera’s new essayistic book, “Encounter,” his fourth, is alternatingly elegiac and celebratory. An émigré from the Communist horror of what was then Czechoslovakia, he settled in Paris and proceeded to write in French. But he discovered in France “the sense that we have come to the era of post-art, in a world where art is dying because the need for art, the sensitivity and the love for it, is dying.”

Being Wrong: Adventures In The Margin Of Error By Kathryn Schulz

Stuart Jeffries, The Guardian

In this lovely book about human mistakes the sickeningly young, forbiddingly clever and vexingly wise American journalist Kathryn Schulz doesn't cite Aristotle, but he is a kindred spirit. Where Aristotle saw the value in a painful, ostensibly demeaning emotion, Schulz argues passionately for the value of error. The experience of being wrong, she argues, helps to make us better people, with richer lives.

The Empty Family

Colm Tóibín, The Guardian

I have come back here. I can look out and see the soft sky and the faint line of the horizon and the way the light changes over the sea. It is threatening rain. I can sit on this old high chair that I had shipped from a junk store on Market Street and watch the calmness of the sea against the misting sky.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Does Your Language Shape How You Think?

Guy Deutscher, New York Times

In the last few years, new research has revealed that when we learn our mother tongue, we do after all acquire certain habits of thought that shape our experience in significant and often surprising ways.

Books Of The Times: Safety In Numbers? Not For This Heroine

Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

It’s hard to imagine that a novelist could lift such elements from several of the best-known best sellers of recent years and turn them into something original and gripping, but that’s exactly what Mr. Guilfoile has done in “The Thousand.”

Who's A Journalist? Does That Matter?

Dan Gillmor, Salon

If you're a creator of media, and most of us are these days in one way or another, what should I call you?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Punditry at the Drive-Thru

David Rieff, The National Interest

The intellectual equivalent of this sensible preference for slow food should be for nuance and complexity. And yet in this age of the sound bite, the twenty-four-hour news cycle, multitasking and new media, the books that commercial publishers seem to want to publish, and that ambitious policy intellectuals aspire to write—which came first is probably best viewed as a chicken-and-egg question—are for the most part the intellectual equivalent of a meal at Burger King or Taco Bell. At first bite, tasty, appealing and seemingly complete; in the end, bloating, cloying and empty of genuine intellectual fortification.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The 72-Hour Expert

P. J. O'Rourke, Weekly Standard

If you spend 72 hours in a place you’ve never been, talking to people whose language you don’t speak about social, political, and economic complexities you don’t understand, and you come back as the world’s biggest know-it-all, you’re a reporter. Either that or you’re President Obama. I called my wife. She said, no, she certainly is not vacationing at government expense in some jet-set hot spot with scads of her BFFs. Looks like I’m not President Obama. But I am a reporter, fresh from Kabul. What do you want to know about Afghanistan, past, present, or future? Ask me anything.

A School Fight Over Chocolate Milk

Kim Severson, New York Times

Most recently, chocolate milk has emerged as both villain and victim in a cafeteria drama that pits the milk industry, administrators and parents against one another.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Matthew Zapruder, Slate Magazine

Terra Infirma

Daniel Engber, Slate Magazine

The rise and fall of quicksand.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Men At Work

Julie Bruck, New Yorker

The Science Of Flight

Yiyun Li, New Yorker

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sarah Silverman: The Bedwetter | Book Review

Stephanie Merritt, The Guardian

"Look, there's not much useful to take away from this book," says Sarah Silverman, halfway through her memoir. "It's largely stories of a woman who has spent her life peeing on herself." This is not entirely true; at least, like the rest of this fascinating if frustrating memoir, it offers a glimmer of truth wrapped in a joke designed to keep the reader at arm's length.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What ‘Fact-Checking’ Means Online

Virginia Heffernan, New York Times

In short, fact-checking has assumed radically new forms in the past 15 years. Only fact-checkers from legacy media probably miss the quaint old procedures. But if the Web has changed what qualifies as fact-checking, has it also changed what qualifies as a fact?

What’s Left Behind

Mary Jo Murphy, New York Times

Kim Dana Kupperman seems obsessed with her relatives’ ashes. Those of her mother, who killed herself. (“What kind of person keeps her mother’s ashes on a shelf in the closet like a sweater that’s too tight or a handbag that requires repair?”) Of her father, who had long since moved on to other wives. (“I did not want to parcel out my father’s ashes. I felt superstitious about dividing a man loved and hated by his two surviving children.”) Of her brother, who died of AIDS. (“I take the Métro home with what is left of my brother, in a bag that now hangs from my shoulder.”)

Christians And Muslims

Linda Robinson, New York Times

The influential political scientist Samuel P. Huntington theorized about the “clash of civilizations.” The journalist and poet Eliza Griswold takes on the same topic in a much more visceral way: she traveled through the “torrid zone” to see, smell, taste and write about it. Her book “The Tenth Parallel” is a fascinating journey along the latitude line in Africa and Asia where Christianity and Islam often meet and clash. Since Americans commonly equate Islam with the Arab Middle East, this book is a useful reminder that four-fifths of Muslims live elsewhere.

Astral Weeks: Why Worry? It's All Taken Care Of In The Future

Ed Park, Los Angeles Times

Stripped of its SF trappings, the emotional core of the novel is about a family trying to make its way in a new country, trying and failing to fit into its culture and learn its strange tongue. What Yu does is take this familiar story (too familiar, perhaps) and, in the guise of science fiction, make it potent again.

Human Chain By Seamus Heaney

Colm Tóibín, The Guardian

In the early 1990s Seamus Heaney began to contemplate how to deal with time passing and the death of family and friends. In a lecture, he contrasted Philip Larkin's poem "Aubade", in which death comes as something dark and absolute and life seems a trembling, fearful preparation for extinction, with Yeats's "The Cold Heaven", which allowed a rich dialogue between the ideas of life as a cornucopia and life as an empty shell. Heaney saw poetry itself, no matter what its content or tone, standing against the dull thought of life as a great emptiness.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Premature Maturity

Darshak Sanghavi, Slate Magazine

Are children today really going through puberty earlier?

Our Ever-changing English | Alison Flood

Alison Flood, The Guardian

I get grumpy about crimes against language. But we Brits have been lamenting declining standards of English for centuries.

Sex For Beginners

Ellen Handler Spitz, The New Republic

Robie Harris’s fine book on sexuality has been updated and reworked for the fifteenth anniversary of its publication. It actually lives up to its promise and delivers “honest, reliable, accurate, and accessible information” about human sexuality and reproduction. Harris’s scientific bent prompts her to provide thoroughgoing up-to-date research on every topic from reproduction and contraception to HIV/AIDS and abortion law. But this book is far from a heavy-handed textbook.

My Father Didn't "Take" Pictures

Stephanie Tames, Salon

My father was a news photographer. When he talked about his work he would say he didn't take photographs, he made them. There's a difference, he'd say.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

For Some Foods, You Just Had To Be There

Sarah Maslin Nir, New York Times

Although Internet buying makes sense — why haul a treat through Customs if a computer click brings the same result? — plenty of purists favor lugging over logic. For them, a treat bought at its source and carried home by their own (or a loved one’s) hands is somehow more genuine, more delicious, more earned, than one secured in an easy, remote transaction on the Web.

Telling Tails

Tim O'Brien, The Atlantic

The problem with unsuccessful stories is usually simple: they are boring, a consequence of the failure of imagination. To vividly imagine and to vividly render extraordinary human events, or sequences of events, is the hard-lifting, heavy-duty, day-by-day, unending labor of a fiction writer.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Not-So-Secret Guide To Our Lost Language

Christopher Howse, Telegraph

Lexicographers are hoarders, and they still have 6×4in cards with words, written in ink with dip-pens, dating back to the days before Tolkien invented Middle Earth and was shovelling away at drifts of lexical items in the corrugated-iron shed that once sheltered the OED.

Numberplay: The Relativity Of Probability

Pradeep Mutalik, New York Times

The determination of probabilities is a well-established branch of mathematics. Very often probability calculations are simple and yield exact values that seem absolute and objective. Not so! Today I give you three scenarios with questions whose calculations are mostly simple. They are meant to show two things: first, that probability is relative – the probability of something may be very different depending on the way it is measured; and second, that probability is a measure of our ignorance. Any piece of knowledge, no matter how seemingly irrelevant, can change the probability for us.

Coping With Crises Close To Someone Else’s Heart

Harriet Brown, New York Times

In the wake of 9/11, two wars and the seemingly ever-rising tide of natural disasters, we’ve come to understand the various ways in which people cope with crisis when it happens to them. But psychologists are just beginning to explore the ways we respond to other people’s traumas.

Step 1: Post Elusive Proof. Step 2: Watch Fireworks.

John Markoff, New York Times

The potential of Internet-based collaboration was vividly demonstrated this month when complexity theorists used blogs and wikis to pounce on a claimed proof for one of the most profound and difficult problems facing mathematicians and computer scientists.

Fraser Island

Roff Smith, Photograph by Peter Essick, National Geographic Magazine

Aboriginal gods wanted a paradise on Earth. So they created Fraser Island.

Ian Rankin On The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde

Ian Rankin, The Guardian

The notion of a "Jekyll-and-Hyde" character has become a lazy way of describing someone when they do something contrary to their normal nature. But that's not quite what Dr Henry Jekyll does. Rather, he consciously searches for a chemical that will allow him to separate out the two sides to his nature.

Letting A Flying Hairy Arm Take It Away

Troy Patterson, New York Times

Following a dedication page that offers his fifth novel to the memory of Kurt Vonnegut — implicitly announcing as his goal to employ Vonnegut’s shades of dark comedy and fluorescent farce — Rick Moody turns things over in “The Four Fingers of Death” to one Montese Crandall. This character is not the narrator of the novel but the “author” of a slab of sci-fi horror hack work coextensive with it. This is to say that Mr. Moody here undertakes an extended impersonation of a long-winded ham, convincingly so.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Drake Bennett, Boston Globe

What if our moral judgments are driven instead by more visceral human considerations? And what if one of those is not divine commandment or inductive reasoning, but simply whether a situation, in some small way, makes us feel like throwing up?

America: Land Of Loners?

Daniel Akst, The Wilson Quarterly

Since Asimov wrote The Naked Sun, Americans have been engaged in wholesale flight from one another, decamping for suburbs and Sunbelt, splintering into ever smaller households, and conducting more and more of their relationships online, where avatars flourish.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Christopher Hitchens, Not Going Gently

Liesl Schillinger, New York Times

Two fierce battles are being waged this summer — one against esophageal cancer, by the irreverent columnist, commentator and critic Christopher Hitchens (who scorns the use of the word “battle” in this context), and the other for his soul, by those who hope to persuade him to convert to Christianity in extremis. It’s a paradox that Mr. Hitchens, a confirmed atheist and the author of “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” can appreciate, if not relish.

Why There's More To Cookbooks Than Recipes

Rachel Cooke, The Guardian

I don't know if the New York Times was right; I don't know if most cookbooks are filled with missing ingredients and mistyped weights and measures. But if they were, would any of us know? I'm not sure. We buy them by the dozen, and we read them, many of us, in bed and elsewhere, devouring every page as hungrily as if they were novels. But how many do we really use? Not many, is my guess.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Chilled To The Bone

Stacey D’erasmo, New York Times

In “I Curse the River of Time,” set in 1989, three monumental events twine around one another in Arvid Jansen’s penumbral soul. His 15-year marriage is dissolving, his mother is dying of cancer and the Berlin Wall is tumbling down. The parallels are obvious — worlds are ending, internally and externally — but the analogies Petterson draws among these dramatic endings are not. Instead of describing the crash and slam of destruction, Petterson locates and threads his story along the meridian of suspension between one life, one world, and another. His tale lives in the liminal, nauseating space where you don’t know who you are anymore or what will become of you.

The Precious Unprinted Contents Of Books

Sam Jordison, The Guardian

These scribbles in the margins already seem like messages from a dying age. Will the next generation of writers leave similar guides to the workings of their minds for the future? Perhaps – but not in a format we can currently comprehend.

Boxer, Beetle By Ned Beauman | Book Review

Scarlett Thomas, The Guardian

What follows is a gripping and clever story, as Kevin reconstructs the events that led to the letter from Hitler, and uncovers the tragically doomed love affair between the eugenics-obsessed entomologist Dr Erskine (he provides the beetles) and the Jewish boxer Seth Roach.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Book That Tells The Colourful Early History Of Britain's Newspapers

Roy Greenslade, The Guardian

The real value is the way in which Clarke picks out a range of content that records Britain's social history alongside pen portraits of long-forgotten newspaper characters.

Here, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty

Brian Palmer, Slate Magazine

When police in Western New York pulled over Gary Korkuc for blowing off a stop sign on Sunday, they found a live cat in his trunk, covered in cooking oil, peppers, and salt. Korkuc told authorities that his pet feline was "possessive, greedy, and wasteful" and that he intended to cook and eat it. Korkuc has been charged with animal cruelty. Is there a legal way to cook and eat a cat?

Islam’s Answer To MTV

Negar Azimi, New York Times

As the brains behind 4Shbab, the world’s first Islamic version of MTV, Abu Haiba is the consummate man in the middle — situated between the dictates of Islam and those of the pop-music business.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Leonardo’s Disquiet

Zbigniew Herbert, The New York Review of Books

The Point Of No Return

Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic

It is possible that at some point in the next 12 months, the imposition of devastating economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran will persuade its leaders to cease their pursuit of nuclear weapons. It is also possible that Iran’s reform-minded Green Movement will somehow replace the mullah-led regime, or at least discover the means to temper the regime’s ideological extremism. It is possible, as well, that “foiling operations” conducted by the intelligence agencies of Israel, the United States, Great Britain, and other Western powers—programs designed to subvert the Iranian nuclear effort through sabotage and, on occasion, the carefully engineered disappearances of nuclear scientists—will have hindered Iran’s progress in some significant way. It is also possible that President Obama, who has said on more than a few occasions that he finds the prospect of a nuclear Iran “unacceptable,” will order a military strike against the country’s main weapons and uranium-enrichment facilities.

But none of these things—least of all the notion that Barack Obama, for whom initiating new wars in the Middle East is not a foreign-policy goal, will soon order the American military into action against Iran—seems, at this moment, terribly likely. What is more likely, then, is that one day next spring, the Israeli national-security adviser, Uzi Arad, and the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, will simultaneously telephone their counterparts at the White House and the Pentagon, to inform them that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just ordered roughly one hundred F-15Es, F-16Is, F-16Cs, and other aircraft of the Israeli air force to fly east toward Iran—possibly by crossing Saudi Arabia, possibly by threading the border between Syria and Turkey, and possibly by traveling directly through Iraq’s airspace, though it is crowded with American aircraft. (It’s so crowded, in fact, that the United States Central Command, whose area of responsibility is the greater Middle East, has already asked the Pentagon what to do should Israeli aircraft invade its airspace. According to multiple sources, the answer came back: do not shoot them down.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The BP Cover-Up

Julia Whitty, Mother Jones

Though it won't be understood for weeks, the Deepwater Horizon is different from any other spill in human history. The extreme technology used to drill at unprecedented depths lacks the extreme safety equipment and protocols needed to stave off disaster. BP, gambling at the border of controllable engineering, has lost spectacularly in its bid to be the deepest and cheapest driller of them all.

How Much Energy Do Escalators Use?

Nina Shen Rastogi, Slate Magazine

How much energy do escalators use? They keep those things running all day long! Should I take the elevator instead?

In Saratoga Springs, Catering To The Horse Set

Glenn Collins, New York Times

Dining in this food-focused town, which claims to have invented the potato chip and the club sandwich, comes in every guise. Newness intrudes here often, too. At the Saratoga Race Course, for instance, Danny Meyer has just opened a Shake Shack satellite — just five betting windows down from his new Blue Smoke.

Charlie Chan: A Stereotype And A Hero

Charles Mcgrath, New York Times

Yunte Huang, who was born and grew up in China, can’t get enough of Chan and has written a book about his obsession: “Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous With American History.” The book, which comes out from Norton next week, is part memoir, part history, part cultural-studies essay and part grab bag of odd and little-known details.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Blank Villanelle

Ron Spalletta, Slate Magazine

A Masterpiece Of Nature? Yuck!

Natalie Angier, New York Times

Let’s not pussyfoot. They are, by our standards, ugly animals — maybe cute ugly, more often just ugly ugly. And though the science of ugliness lags behind investigations into the evolution of beauty and the metrics of a supermodel’s face, a few researchers are taking a crack at understanding why we find certain animals unsightly even when they don’t threaten us with venom or compete for our food.

Generation X Hits Its Midlife Crisis

Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon

This morning, Generation X awoke to discover that its favorite jeans no longer zipped up effortlessly, its laugh lines stayed put even when it most assuredly had nothing to laugh about, and an entire generation knew Courtney Love only as that crazy lady on Twitter. Sure, it continued to make plans for Burning Man and enthuse about the new Arcade Fire, but it also found itself adjusting its reading glasses to take in the crushing news that it was now officially a "Formerly." As in, "Formerly Hot."

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Boomerang Effect

Marni Jackson, The Walrus Magazine

How did the forever young generation turn into perpetual parents?

The Straightforward Mermaid

Matthea Harvey, New Yorker

Second Lives

Daniel Alarcón, New Yorker

The ‘Ode To Man’ From Sophocles’ Antigone

Anne Carson, New Yorker

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Great White Delicacy

Hank Shaw, The Atlantic

Properly handled, however, shark meat is white, firm, and surprisingly juicy. It tolerates a little overcooking the way codfish will not. Shark is firm, but not as dense as swordfish or sturgeon, and it is more tightly flaked than most fish.

Let Us Now Praise The Great Men Of Junk Food

Manny Fernandez, New York Times

The death of an obscure New York entrepreneur on July 27 — Morrie Yohai, 90, a World War II veteran who was the man responsible for Cheez Doodles — was a reminder that the world of junk food is no different from celebrated American industries. The pioneers behind the automobile and the personal computer are household names, and their ingenuity and a-ha moments have become part of the folklore of American entrepreneurship. But the back story of junk food and fast food has its own moments of genius, serendipity and clever adaptations.

The Kids’ Books Are All Right

Pamela Paul, New York Times

It isn’t just the kids who graduated with the Hogwarts crowd who are tuning in.

Never Say Die

Michael Wood, New York Times

Early in Gary Shteyngart’s “Absurdistan” the narrator says he is “almost disabused” of the belief that he can fly. The word “almost” is beautifully exact. Shteyngart’s characters never give in to reality all at once. They have immigrant skills and immigrant illusions, and they come from countries that are themselves in the process of migrating: in one novel a Russia that wants to be America, in another an America that imagines it is not Russia.

Astral Bodies

M. G. Lord, New York Times

Anyone who thinks astronauts ply a glamorous trade would do well to read Mary Roach’s “Packing for Mars.” The book is an often hilarious, sometimes queasy-making catalog of the strange stuff devised to permit people to survive in an environment for which their bodies are stupendously unsuited.

The Frugal Superpower By Michael Mandelbaum

George Walden, The Guardian

Michael Mandelbaum, professor at Johns Hopkins University and a respected foreign policy expert, is no noisy neocon. Nor is he one of those Americans who can't wait for their country to become just one more pole in a multi-polar world. The message of this cool and concise book is: irrespective of whether you approve of US foreign policy, what matters is her shrinking financial ability to carry it out.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Creative New Uses For Books

Rob Walker, New York Times

Set aside any emotional attachment you may feel toward the reading of physical books; the truth is that creative uses for books that do not involve engaging with words on a page already abound.

The Music-Copyright Enforcers

John Bowe, New York Times

Most Americans have no problem with BMI charging for its music — except when they do.

Two-Up Two-Down

Sam Willetts, The Guardian

Grace Williams Says It Loud By Emma Henderson

Tessa Hadley, The Guardian

The conceit is ingenious, and it works. Most novels, after all, find words to express the experience of subjects who could never have put it so well.

Friday, August 6, 2010

David Berman And Epistemological Closure In The Propaganda State

Jeremy Schmall, HTMLGIANT

David Berman’s life has been one of failure and refusal. At least, that’s what he said at the very rare talk he gave at NYU on July 25th, the concluding event of the inaugural Open City Summer Writing Workshop. Although the idea of Berman being a failure was news to me—I am an enormous fan of his book of poems (Actual Air) and his former band (Silver Jews)—he does have a point.

Rescuing The Enlightenment From Its Exploiters

Tzvetan Todorov, Spiked

While the Enlightenment, ‘one of the most important shifts in the history of man’ as one recent account put it, has certainly had its detractors, who blame it for anything from the Holocaust to soulless consumerism, it now also has a veritable army of self-styled heirs. Militant secularists, New Atheists, advocates of evidence-based policy, human rights champions… each constituency in their turn will draw justification from the intellectual emanations of that period beginning roughly towards the end of the seventeenth century and culminating – some say ending – in the 1789 French Revolution and its aftermath. And each in their turn will betray it.

Mary We Crown Thee With Blossoms Today!

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

My grade school couldn't get state approval today. The teachers were unpaid and lived communally. Two grades were taught in one classroom. There were no resources for science, music, physical education, or foreign languages except the Latin of the Mass and hymns. No playground facilities. The younger students were picked up by the single school bus; as soon as we were old enough, we rode our bikes to school, even in winter.

The Global War On Small People

Dwight Garner, New York Times

At its heart, however, “A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb” — the excellent title is a riff on the title of Edmond Jabès’s 1993 book, “A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Book” — is about the ordinary men and women, brown-skinned in general and Muslim in particular, who have had their lives upended by America’s enraged security apparatus. Mr. Kumar calls them the “small people,” and to them he extends his own impressive and trembling moral imagination.

Topic Of Cancer

Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair

I have more than once in my time woken up feeling like death. But nothing prepared me for the early morning last June when I came to consciousness feeling as if I were actually shackled to my own corpse. The whole cave of my chest and thorax seemed to have been hollowed out and then refilled with slow-drying cement. I could faintly hear myself breathe but could not manage to inflate my lungs. My heart was beating either much too much or much too little. Any movement, however slight, required forethought and planning. It took strenuous effort for me to cross the room of my New York hotel and summon the emergency services.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hard Science, Softened With Stories

Janet Maslin, New York Times

On the one hand, as Sam Kean points out at the start of “The Disappearing Spoon,” the periodic table of the elements is a clear, accessible-looking chart that ought to make sense to anyone who ever set foot in a chemistry classroom. On the other, many a would-be chemist has found it as impenetrable as it is alluring.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Writer’s Prayer, Halfway Answered

Dwight Garner, New York Times

What “Mentor” is really about, though, is the slow-motion derailment of Mr. Grimes’s own once promising literary career, a process that took his pride before it took his sanity. This is a book about striding up to the brink of success, only to have success disembowel you with a dull steak knife, bow, and then skip away, cackling.

An Academic Rip Van Winkle

David Hiscoe, The Chronicle Of Higher Education

Without much fanfare, I cashed out my stock options 18 months ago and quietly returned to the academy, after more than 20 years in devoted service to corporate interests.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"The Rooster King"

Jay Hopler, Slate Magazine

August: Let's Get Rid Of It!

David Plotz, Slate Magazine

August is the Mississippi of the calendar. It's beastly hot and muggy. It has a dismal history. Nothing good ever happens in it. And the United States would be better off without it.

Photos And Reflections From Arctic Alaska

Steve Zack, New York Times

Scientists at work in their offices, responding to e-mail, editing documents and returning phone calls — not the most stirring reading on the Web. But I do have more than 1,500 images from our recent Utukok River trip a few clicks away on my computer screen. It makes the wildlife viewing and memories, if not the mosquitoes, stirring.

NumberPlay: Seat Six

Gary Antonick, New York Times

You and a friend walk up to a table. You have your eye on one of its two chairs. Your friend sits first. What are the chances you get the seat you wanted?

Rumors In Astrophysics Spread At Light Speed

Dennis Overbye, New York Times

One culprit here is the Web, which was invented to foster better communication among physicists in the first place, but has proved equally adept at spreading disinformation. But another, it seems to me, is the desire for some fundamental discovery about the nature of the universe — the yearning to wake up in a new world — and a growing feeling among astronomers and physicists that we are in fact creeping up on enormous changes with the advent of things like the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva and the Kepler spacecraft.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Just-So Stories: Reading About Infinity

Elizabeth Bachner, Bookslut

It’s hard to remember, sometimes, that there are other worlds everywhere that coexist with ours. There are people in distant countries reading alphabets that are strange to us. There are tiny ecosystems in cesspools and near railroad tracks and even crawling around on human skin. There are cities and villages we’ve never visited, where the people tell each other histories and stories we’ve never heard.

Bishop In Louisiana

Frances Leviston, The Guardian

Russian Girl On Pařížská

Justin Quinn, New Yorker


Dana Goodyear, New Yorker

Winter In The Summer House

Robert N. Watson, New Yorker

The Train Of Their Departure

David Bezmozgis, New Yorker

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Beginning Of The Road

Scott W. Berg, Washington Post

High-tech computer wizardry and good old-fashioned historical sleuthing are re-creating the lost world of Washington's origins.

Room By Emma Donoghue

Nicola Barr, The Guardian

It is a brave act for a writer, but happily one that Donoghue, still only 40 but on her seventh novel, has the talent to pull off.

By Heng-Cheong Leong