Ian Frazier is the author of ten books, including Great Plains, Family, On the Rez, and Travels in Siberia.
 (October 2015)

Who Can Find the True West?

Jackson Pollock: Going Wes, 1934–1935
A few years ago I discovered that I am what is called a “rut nut.” I had known for a long time that the ruts of long-abandoned trails and historic highways fascinate me. In western North Dakota, at the grassy, overgrown rise where Fort Union, a fur-trading fort near the …

A Strangely Funny Russian Genius

Daniil Kharms, early 1930s
Given the disaster Russian history has been more or less continuously for the last five centuries, its humor is of the darkest, most extreme kind. Russian humor is to ordinary humor what backwoods fundamentalist poisonous snake handling is to a petting zoo. Russian humor is slapstick, only you actually die.

Alaska Through New Eyes

The whaling schooner San Jose, Bering Sea, circa 1886

In 1886, the sole representative of American authority in Alaskan waters was the US Revenue Cutter Bear, a 198-foot, reinforced-hull vessel powered by both steam and sail. Newly published photographs from the Bear’s cruise that summer chronicle its journey from San Francisco to Alaska and Siberia, and are among the earliest photos of that part of the world.

‘A New Way of Life’

Dale Carnegie returning to New York from Europe on the SS Normandie, 1938
An early edition of How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie—say, a copy from 1936, the year the book came out—is nothing special to look at. It has no bullet points, no triumphal photos of the author, no boldface chapter headings. Mostly it’s just plain text. From …

Let Us Now Praise James Agee

Walker Evans: Crossroads Store, Post Office, Sprott, Alabama, circa 1935–1936
Amazing to think that in 1936 the editors of Fortune magazine cared enough about the hard lives of tenant farmers in the South’s Cotton Belt that they sent a reporter and a photographer to Alabama to do a story on them. One explanation is that the magazine was going through …

In the Beautiful, Threatened North

Subhankar Banerjee: Caribou on Sand, from his Oil and the Geese series (Teshekpuk Lake wetland, Alaska), 62 x 70 inches, 2006
Among the wonders to appear in the changing Arctic in recent years is the India-born photographer and activist Subhankar Banerjee. Coming from Kolkata (Calcutta), where the average mean temperature is 80.4 degrees Fahrenheit, Banerjee has dedicated himself to recording and working for the preservation of Arctic places. It is safe to say that he has been colder than most people from his native country have occasion to be.

The Quest

The New York Times war correspondent Barney Darnton (left) examining a B-25 bomber at Amberley Field, Brisbane, Australia, 1942
An important thing to know about memoirs is that although there are a lot of them already, there will soon be more. Seventy-six million baby boomers are reaching retirement age. Many of us own computers, and we find ourselves fascinating. Perhaps the best way to regard the future deluge is …

The Magic of Crazy Horse

Crazy Horse’s last moments, recorded by the Oglala artist Amos Bad Heart Bull. According to Thomas Powers in The Killing of Crazy Horse, ‘One fact was remembered with special clarity by almost every witness—Little Big Man’s effort to hold Crazy Horse as he struggled to escape, shown here in Bad Heart Bull’s drawing.’
In the 1990s, when I was on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in western South Dakota researching a book about its residents, the Oglala Sioux, people sometimes told me about sightings of the devil. A woman who had lived on Pine Ridge all her life told me that her friend …

Little House off the Highway

The prairie grasses rippled in the warm spring wind as Laura ran down the trail past the lookout post above her family’s cabin on the banks of the Big Ravine. Puffs of dust rose under her bare feet as she hurried. The sound of wheels in the gravel of the …