Why the Pope Chose Francis

Garry Wills

RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource

In 1219, Saint Francis traveled to Egypt to carry the words of Jesus to the Sultan al-Kami, a nephew of the great Saladin. While others were trying to make converts with the sword, he communicated the words of Jesus by dialogue. The sultan heard him out, and though he was not converted, he sent him safely back through the lines. Pope Francis, too, communicates with Muslims, and is trying to prevent a modern holy war. When he was elected, Pope Francis chose a name no other pope has used, for a very good reason.

Fragments of a Family

Francine Prose

Joan Marcus/Circle in the Square Theatre

Part of what’s fascinating about the Broadway adaptation of Fun Home is how closely it adheres to the outline and details of Alison Bechdel’s story—yet so differs from the book that it seems to be a related but entirely original work. Together, the memoir and the musical argue for the fact that plot and character are just a part of what affects us when we experience art. Our response is also determined by form, genre, setting—not only by the story but by the way the story is told.

Reining in the NSA

David Cole

Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

If Edward Snowden had not revealed the NSA’s sweeping surveillance of Americans, Congress would have simply renewed Section 215, the USA Patriot Act provision that the NSA relied on—as it had done on seven previous occasions since 2001. Instead the Senate has passed the USA Freedom Act, which will bring an end to the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.

Simenon’s Island of Bad Dreams

John Banville


In Georges Simenon’s The Mahé Circle, translated now into English for the first time, François Mahé is suffering from a sense of general dissatisfaction. It is a quintessential Simenon crise, in which a man who has spent his life in servitude to family, work, society, suddenly lays down his burden and determines to live for the moment, and for himself.

Gaza: Killing Gets Easier

David Shulman

Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum Photos

In early May, Breaking the Silence, the organization of Israeli ex-soldiers, published a report on the Israeli army’s campaign in Gaza last summer. It revealed that the large number of civilian casualties on the Palestinian side was a consequence, among other things, of military tactics and orders explicitly adopted by the IDF.

The Venice of the Sands in Peril

G.W. Bowersock

Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

The fall of the ancient city of Palmyra before the brutal forces of ISIS last week raises the terrifying prospect of damage that could potentially eclipse the recent destruction at Mosul, Nimrud, and Hatra in Iraq. The tragedy of all this is the calculated disregard of a tradition of Palmyrene achievements that really means something to the Arab world.

Michelle Obama Breaks the Rules

Garry Wills

Brynn Anderson/AP Photo

In her May 9 commencement address at Tuskegee University, the historically black institution, Michelle Obama actually said (what I bet the students already suspected) that she is black. How dare she? In her own quiet way Ms. Obama was breaking all of the four rules of racial discourse the right wing now wants to enforce.

Who’s Afraid of African Democracy?

Helen Epstein

Ndabashinze Renovat/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

As the events in Burundi suggest, US support of ugly regimes may ultimately undermine the very stability we are supposedly seeking. In many cases, austerity programs, intended to lead to more efficient government, instead encourage unprecedented corruption.

1776: The Revolt Against Austerity

Steve Pincus

Lewis Walpole Library, Farmington, Connecticut

Was the Declaration of Independence a powerful indictment of British austerity policies? Does America’s founding document need to be seen as part of an economic debate about the British Empire? These questions may seem jarring, almost anachronistic. But eighteenth-century political argument, like that of our own day, often revolved around responses to fiscal crisis.