Benjamin Demott is Mellon Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Amherst. His most recent book is Junk Politics: The Trashing of the American Mind. (May 2005)

Jocks and the Academy

What standards govern the admissions policies of the country’s most “selective” institutions of higher learning, i.e., the prestigious schools with the highest standards of admission? Often not the advertised standards, according to the authors of Reclaiming the Game, a book aimed at exposing and ending a scandal in American academic …

Guilt Stalker

“Literature is on a dialectic that has fiction and nonfiction on either end. Together, they form one narrative…. The Black Veil will not be shelved with my [fiction], which is incredibly irritating to me. I want people to read it in the context of everything else I’ve done.” …

Caught in the Curve

The title piece in Tom Wolfe’s latest collection looks back jeeringly, from a not very distant tomorrow, on today’s American costumes, affluence, and linguistic, intellectual, and sexual behavior. There’s an account of the life of the “average electrician, air-conditioning mechanic, or burglar-alarm repairman”—“a life that would have made the Sun …

Notes of a Son and Brother

In little over a month, in the early Nineties, a twenty-one-year-old college senior named Dave Eggers lost both his parents to cancer. Eggers’s older brother and sister were launched on business lives and postgraduate education, so he took over as de facto guardian of the family’s youngest child, eight-year-old Christopher …

The West Virginian

Aided by native intelligence, an unusual upbringing and job experience, and study of a few master texts (The Captive Mind, for one), a youngster just out of college, Jedediah Purdy, teaches himself why not to give up on politics and how to resist high-fashion knowingness. The work that describes this …

It’s a Wonderful Life

The city of Northampton, Massachusetts (pop. 30,000), a county seat in the Connecticut River valley, is located ninety miles west of Boston, three hours north of Manhattan. Until fairly recently it was best known as the home of Smith College. Two decades ago the National Enquirer and the news weeklies …

City Light

Hold a mirror up to Manhattan’s literary man-of-all-work and what do you see? Virtues, vices, neutral peculiarities. The chief virtue is the man’s guilefulness as a performer. (Aware of the perils of working to a chilly house, the New York wit comes on with warm gossip—a swift inside glance at …

A Hard Case

“We cannot leave history entirely to nonclinical observers and to professional historians,” says Erik Erikson in his magnificent study of Luther; the latter become immersed in “the very disguises, rationalizations, and idealizations of the historical process from which it should be their business to separate themselves.” Professor Rogow, a young …

The Fate of the Union: Kennedy and After

He knew nobody and nobody knew him. What he was after, at the beginning as at the end, was a sign—a word from Out There, to acknowledge his difference, his specialness. But before the first hint reached him (from New York, on Party stationery), there were terrible silences and several …

America Absolved

For saints and seers History is all one: they call it terror (Eliade) or nightmare (Joyce) or inertia (Nietzsche), and dream of escape. For lesser men, though, the matter is complicated. Aware of history as an oppressive dead hand on experience, they think of it also as a contrivance, that …