Article archive

October 10, 2013

  • The Two Faces of American Education

    Andrew Delbanco

    To read Michelle Rhee and Diane Ravitch in sequence is like hearing a too-good-to-be-true sales pitch followed by the report of an auditor who discloses mistakes and outright falsehoods in the accounts of the firm that’s trying to make the sale. Both books are driven by hot indignation.

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  • Seamus Heaney (1939–2013)

    Fintan O’Toole

    Nancy Crampton
    Seamus Heaney, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1991

    While the Nobel committee was looking for Seamus Heaney to tell him that he had won the 1995 prize for literature, he was driving through, of all places, Arcadia in southern Greece. This was doubly apt. Heaney was surely the English language’s last great Arcadian poet, the last whose memory cells contained personal images of a pastoral life, the last who could ...

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  • A Magus of the North

    A.S. Byatt

    Every now and then a writer changes the whole map of literature inside my head. The most recent has been the Icelander Sjón, whose work is unlike anything I had read, and very exciting. I think of Icelanders as erudite, singular, tough, and uncompromising. Sjón is all these things, but he is also quicksilver, playful, and surreal.

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  • Unlike Others

    Jerome Groopman

    Heather Forbes
    Rachel Adams and her son Henry, New York City, 2009

    Homer and Herodotus, Sophocles and Plato, Aristotle and Dante, Shakespeare and Milton. All names engraved in the edifice of Columbia’s Butler Library. They may be “dead white men,” but to undergraduates in the 1960s, they seemed very much alive in the classes where we engaged their texts and debated their ideas. The skills in thinking that we ...

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  • The Splendid Monstress

    Cathleen Schine

    In Lookaway, Lookaway, Wilton Barnhardt has found his people, wonderful, crackpot, exasperating people. He has given them a story seamlessly composed, emotionally textured, bitter, touching, and funny. It is a happy reminder of what an unlikely, endearing, and precious phenomenon the novel can still be.

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  • Oh, What a Lovely War!

    Charles Simic

    Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos
    Children playing among the ruins in Freiburg, Germany, 1945

    “How empty, how sickish, how senseless everything suddenly seems the moment the war is over!” Edmund Wilson—who had opposed US involvement in World War II—said after a visit to England in 1945. If London looked grim, the appearance of Berlin, Cologne, Warsaw, Stalingrad, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and hundreds of other places, both in Europe and Asia ...

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  • The Collages of Mark Strand

    Francine Prose

    Mark Strand/Lori Bookstein Fine Art
    Mark Strand: Collage, 4 x 4 3/8 inches, 2012; from the exhibition ‘Mark Strand: Collages,’ at Lori Bookstein Fine Art, New York City, September 5–October 5, 2013

    Just when we think that we have seen enough works on paper to have some sense of the possibilities and the limits of what paper can do, the poet Mark Strand’s beautiful collages—made ...

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  • India’s Women: The Mixed Truth

    Amartya Sen

    Public anger at gender inequality in India must be seen as an important—and long-overdue—social development, and it can certainly help in remedying the persistent inequalities from which Indian women suffer. It is, however, very important to understand the nature of female disadvantage in India, which can take many different forms. If the lack of safety of women is one aspect of it, the old phenomenon of “boy preference” in family decisions is surely another. There is, moreover, strong evidence that the economic and social options open to women are significantly fewer than those available to men.

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  • The Greatest Intellectual Diary of Italian Literature’

    Tim Parks

    Portrait of Giacomo Leopardi by Domenico Morelli, 1847

    In 1817 in the small central Italian town of Recanati, some six miles from the Adriatic coast, a nineteen-year-old hunchback began a notebook with the words “Palazzo Bello. Cane di notte dal casolare al passare del viandante.” (Dog in the night from the farmhouse, as the wayfarer goes by.) Palazzo Bello was the house of family friends, but the note proceeds with ...

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  • The Coach

    Robert Gottlieb

    Elena Tchernichova
    Elena Tchernichova with a Vaganova Institute classmate, Leningrad, circa 1958

    It’s not only star dancers and choreographers and impresarios who contribute significantly to the art of ballet. Crucial, too, are the teachers, coaches, and ballet masters who keep classical technique—and classical dancers—honest. In our day, Elena Tchernichova, who was trained as a dancer in the Soviet Union and later emigrated to the US, has been ...

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  • Good-Bye

    Pierre Reverdy, translated from the French by Geoffrey O’Brien

             The glow farther than the head
                                   The heart’s leap
    On the slope where the air rolls its voice
                 the spokes of the wheel
                 the sun in the rut

                 At the crossroads
                 near the hill
                          a prayer
    A few words unheard
                 Closer to the sky
          And in his footsteps
                        the last square of light

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  • Losing Libya’s Revolution

    Nicolas Pelham

    Many books have been published on Libya since Qaddafi’s killing in October 2011. Most highlight his quixotic megalomania and the way Western leaders pandered to it in his last decade, reducing the forces and interest groups that grew up around him to bit players at best.* And yet Qaddafi was not quite the one-man show he is often portrayed as being.

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  • Relicts of a Catholic Renaissance

    Garry Wills

    Minneapolis Star Tribune
    Evelyn Waugh and J.F. Powers, 1949

    A hotbed of the Detachment movement—people detaching themselves from the commercialism of the modern world—was in Minnesota around World War II. Eugene and Abigail McCarthy were part of it. So were their good friends the writer J.F. (“Jim”) Powers and his wife Betty. So were their East Coast friends Robert (“Cal”) Lowell and his wife Jean Stafford ...

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  • On Your Own in Russia

    Darryl Pinckney

    National Archives
    Frederick Bruce Thomas, a black American who became a millionaire nightlife entrepreneur in pre–World War I Moscow, circa 1896

    After the Decembrist uprising of liberal officers in Russia in 1825, the imperial government restricted where the young Alexander Pushkin could go and what he could publish. In 1827, he began “The Negro of Peter the Great,” a novella about his great-grandfather Ibrahim Hannibal that he left unfinished ...

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  • The Founding Birdman

    Robert O. Paxton

    Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University
    Clockwise from top left, the head of a turkey vulture, the head of a black vulture, a peregrine falcon, black vulture, turkey vulture, and common raven; painting by Alexander Wilson, early nineteenth century

    Most people would say without hesitation that the founder of American ornithology was John James Audubon. Audubon himself knew better. “The Ornithology of the United States may be ...

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  • America’s Best Unknown Writer

    Jonathan Raban

    After being suspended from college, William Gaddis worked in the fact-checking department at The New Yorker for a year before motoring south with a friend to Mexico City, hoping for an opening in journalism. What he found instead was his vocation as a novelist, and a self-prescribed curriculum for a literary education more intense and driven than his Harvard studies.

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  • Our Steamboat Imperialism

    Maya Jasanoff

    Slaves returning from a cotton field in the American South, early 1860s

    Chugging against the current on a boxy steamer, the officer closely monitored the course of the Congo River. You’d think a river might be easier to navigate than the sea, since it flows in one direction and looks, more or less, like a line. You’d think it would be more interesting to look at, and presumably ...

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  • Syria’s Refugees: The Catastrophe

    Hugh Eakin and Alisa Roth

    By last September, the number of Syrians fleeing abroad had grown to more than 300,000, a figure that doubled again over the following three months. In March of this year, it reached one million. At the beginning of September, more than two million Syrians had left the country, while the average pace had reached five thousand people a day. The UN projects there will be 3.5 million refugees by the end of the year.

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  • On Sylvia Plath

    Anne Stevenson

    To the Editors:

    It probably will do no good to complain that Terry Castle’s presentation of Sylvia Plath’s life and fate in your issue of July 11 does little to shift the popular emphasis from her sensational story to her remarkable poetry—which is all that matters about her. I do, though, want to correct some of Professor Castle’s factual errors.

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  • Naipaul’s Book of the World

    Hilary Mantel

    The following is an extract from “Naipaul’s Book of the World,” a review of V.S. Naipaul’s The Writer and the World.

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