Russia: Man vs. System

Masha Gessen

Sony Classics

Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan is riveting, visually and dramatically. It is also precise about Russia: the corruption, inequality, and ultimate hopelessness that drive its plot are becoming only more evident and pronounced in the current meltdown of the economy.

Mice: Naughty and Nice

April Bernard

Beatrix Potter

As with many classics, if Beatrix Potter’s tales have become invisibly “charming,” it is time to return to them and see them anew. The Tale of Two Bad Mice captures perfectly not only Potter’s “subversive” side with respect to bourgeois society, but more primitively, her reworking of what we must surmise are the frustrations of her youth.

A Poor Imitation of Alan Turing

Christian Caryl

Jack English/Black Bear Pictures

The Imitation Game, the new film about the mathematician and codebreaker Alan Turning, seems determined to suggest maximum tension between him and a blinkered society. But this completely destroys any coherent telling of what Turing and his colleagues were trying to do.

How I Read

Tim Parks

Agostino Ramelli

We all read from different places, different backgrounds, and my meeting with Proust or Woolf, or Lydia Davis or J. M. Coetzee, will not be yours, nor should it be. On the other hand I do believe reading is an active skill, an art even, certainly not a question of passive absorption. Borges would often remark that he was first and foremost a professional reader, not a writer, and he meant the claim as a boast, not a confession; certainly his wonderful essays on other writers, the fruits of that reading, are at least as fine an achievement as his stories. So if reading is a skill, there must be techniques and tools that everyone can use or try, even if we use them differently.

The New Chartres: An Exchange

Madeline H. Caviness and Jeffrey Hamburger, reply by Martin Filler

Hubert Fanthomme/Getty Images

Contrary to Martin Filler’s assertion that virtually nothing remains of the previous painting at Chartres, beneath the grime not one, but two layers of false masonry were visible, one dating to the thirteenth, the other to the fifteenth century. If there is anything controversial, it lies with the restorers’ decision to use the thirteenth-century false masonry as their guide.

We’re Not Going to Stand for This Anymore’

Michael Greenberg

Andrew Kelly/Reuters

The decision of a Staten Island grand jury not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner has thrust the city into the center of a rapidly intensifying national debate. Many New Yorkers seem to be just becoming aware of the fact that a huge number of their fellow citizens live daily in a state of high alert, if not outright fear of the police and have been doing so for decades.

A Scandalous Makeover at Chartres

Martin Filler

Hubert Fanthomme/Paris Match via Getty Images

Apparently with the full support of the French state, restorers have set out to do no less than repaint the entire interior of Chartres Cathedral in bright whites and garish colors. Looking upward we saw panels of blue faux marbre; nearby were floor-to-ceiling piers covered in glossy yellow trompe l’oeil marbling, like some funeral parlor in Little Italy.

How ISIS Rules

Sarah Birke


To judge from images distributed by the Islamic State, the Syrian city of Raqqa, its “capital,” is an extremist hotbed whose inhabitants crave radical Islam, enjoy public executions, and fervently support their ruthless black-clad overlords. Yet there is little about this provincial center that might have suggested jihadist tendencies. In fact, Raqqa did not even enter the Syrian conflict until 2013.

Courts Without Reporters

Francine Prose

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC/Art Resource

It was only partly a coincidence that my students have been reading two essays about trials, when so much national attention was focused on the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand jury decisions. I wondered how different things would be if a writer of Rebecca West’s or William Finnegan’s stature had been present to tell us what exactly transpired during the deliberations in both cases.