Louis Menand is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of English at Harvard. His books include The Marketplace of Ideas, American Studies and The Metaphysical Club.

Edmund Wilson’s Vanished World

Hecate is a goddess whose career has obscured whatever may have been the original intention of her imaginers. She can represent, in Greek mythology, the moon, the earth, and the underworld, and she is associated with Persephone and Demeter. She was believed to extend goodwill, in the forms of wealth …

Goblin Market

I read The Lord of the Rings in 1963, when I was eleven, two years before the American paperback edition became a cult book on college campuses. My mother had ordered the book from England—it had an American publisher, Houghton Mifflin, but the American hardcover must have been unavailable, or …

College: The End of the Golden Age

Except for a brief contraction in the early 1990s, the higher education system in the United States has been growing steadily since the late 1970s. Roughly half of all Americans now have attended college at some point in their lives, and roughly a quarter hold a postsecondary degree. (In the …

The Socrates of Cambridge

Chauncey Wright was a village philosopher whose village happened to be Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was not a professor—he taught two courses at Harvard near the end of his life, and both were generally considered complete failures—and he never wrote a book. His production consisted almost entirely of dense and extremely …

Bloom’s Gift

Saul Bellow and Allan Bloom were friends. They taught together at the University of Chicago, and Bellow wrote the foreword to Bloom’s phenomenal best seller, The Closing of the American Mind, which came out in 1987. In spite of its popularity, The Closing of the American Mind was a quirky …

A Fine Detachment

“Thinking is the great enemy of perfection.” —Joseph Conrad, Victory Only one person has ever been elected president of the United States after losing the New Hampshire primary. This is a statistic of no predictive value, but it does qualify a little the perception that American presidential campaigns get …

Opening Moves

The morning after Al Gore and Bill Bradley’s first joint appearance in the presidential campaign, at a “town meeting” at Dartmouth College, the New England edition of The New York Times ran a picture on the front page of Gore responding to a questioner, his arms extended in a gesture …

Kubrick’s Strange Love

Eyes Wide Shut, the thirteenth and last feature film directed by Stanley Kubrick, who died on March 7, is based on Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle, which was published in 1926. Schnitzler’s story is set in turn-of-the-century Vienna and Kubrick’s movie is set in contemporary New York City, but otherwise the adaptation …

Billion-Dollar Baby

Star Wars is entertainment for eight-year-old boys. Its creator, George Lucas, had his first major success with a movie for teenagers, American Graffiti (1973), which was one of the most profitable pictures ever made: it cost $775,000 to produce and sold $111 million worth of tickets. Star Wars was his …

William James & the Case of the Epileptic Patient

In 1901, when he was fifty-nine, William James delivered the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh. James was an international academic celebrity. The Principles of Psychology, which appeared in 1890 and which had taken him twelve years to write, was quickly recognized as the leading summation of developments in …

Beat the Devil

The Time of Our Time is an anthology of Norman Mailer’s writing, selected by Mailer himself and arranged as a commentary on American life since the Second World War. Almost all of Mailer’s books are represented, starting with The Naked and the Dead (1948), and there are several magazine pieces …

Jerry Don’t Surf

Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, which was released in July and has become one of the summer’s biggest hits, is the story of eight American soldiers who, after surviving the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach, are ordered to find a private named Ryan who parachuted in during the invasion and …

Not Getting the Lesson of the Master

Agnieszka Holland’s Washington Square is a movie about a shy and awkward young woman, Catherine Sloper, who falls in love with a smooth and beautiful young man. He is irresponsible and sybaritic, but he is also ardent and attentive, and he makes her bloom with passion and self-esteem. His suit …

Inside the Billway

In a speech in San Francisco last month, President Clinton announced three new urban initiatives. First, the Department of Housing and Urban Development will offer a 50 percent discount to police officers who buy homes owned by the department in neighborhoods they patrol. The program is designed to reach one …

Made in the USA

Robert Hughes’s American Visions is the descendant of one of the most successful noncommercial television series ever made, Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation, which was produced by the BBC and broadcast here in 1970. In a medium that favors trim, ageless, flawlessly coifed word-machines, Clark was an unlikely star. He had, as …

Entropology

Thomas Pynchon is the unlikely offspring of Jack Kerouac and the Cornell English department. He was born in Glen Cove, Long Island, in 1937. He attended Oyster Bay High School, and entered Cornell in 1953, majoring in engineering physics before switching to English. In 1955, he left college to serve …

How Eliot Became Eliot

In the summer of 1910, when he was twenty-two, T.S. Eliot bought a notebook at a bookstore in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he was vacationing with his parents, and transcribed into it the poems he had written since the previous fall. He continued to use the notebook as a depository for …

Born Free

Charles Murray is the author of two books that have become touchstones (or lightning rods) of a sort in American political debate. Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980 argued that postwar welfare programs have actually made people worse off; The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (written …

It’s a Wonderful Life

The People vs. Larry Flynt, which opened on Christmas Day, is the story of a free-spirited entrepreneur who dares to flout every canon of piety and taste. Though his irreverence is ratified by an enormous commercial success, he is persecuted incessantly by hypocritical bluenoses, convicted of absurd charges, imprisoned for …

Between Planes

When Casey Singleton, QA (that’s Quality Assurance rep) on the IRT (that’s the Incident Review Team) at Norton Aircraft, gets a message on the beeper to meet in the War Room at 0700 hours BTOYA (that’s Be There Or It’s Your Ass), because TPA Flight 545 has reported passenger fatalities …

Dole’s Three Strikes

A foreigner observing this year’s presidential campaign could be forgiven for coming away with the idea that American political history since 1960 has consisted largely of a series of changes in the tax rate. A list of highlights, drawn from the presidential and vice-presidential debates, would look something like this.

Hollywood’s Trap

It would be edifying to learn what William Bennett, whose expertise as a moral diagnostician is currently on loan to the Dole campaign, has to say about The Nutty Professor, which has become one of the top moneymakers of the summer season and which is essentially a movie about—let us …

Eliot and the Jews

Anthony Julius is head of litigation at the British firm of Mishcon de Reya and the legal representative of the Princess of Wales. It seems unlikely that a dispute over the correct interpretation of The Waste Land will arise in the course of the divorce proceedings now underway against the …

What Jane Austen Doesn’t Tell Us

The six-hour Pride and Prejudice now showing on the Arts and Entertainment network is the fourth screen adaptation of a Jane Austen novel to appear since August, though it is by no means the best. This Pride and Prejudice is a BBC production; the script is by Andrew Davies, who …

Journey into the Dark

The Tunnel is about a man who undertakes to establish an identity between the frustrations and disappointments of ordinary domestic life and the Holocaust. The man is a professor of history at a university in the American Midwest. The frustrations and disappointments are his own—The Tunnel is, in effect, his …

Under Western Eyes

John le Carré redesigned the spy novel so it could be enjoyed by liberal anti-Communists. This was not an insignificant service. For liberal anti-Communists like a good spy story as much as anyone else does, and it would have been unfair to ask them to get through the cold war …

Finding It at the Movies

Pauline Kael began writing about movies for The New Yorker in 1967. She was not a “discovery.” She was forty-eight years old, and she had already written for just about every well-known magazine in America but The New Yorker, including The New Republic, Partisan Review, The Atlantic, Mademoiselle, Holiday, Vogue, …