Peter Brooks, Sterling Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Yale, teaches at Princeton. He is currently at work on a book called Flaubert in the Ruins of Paris.
 (July 2016)


On the Track of Evil in Dublin

Even the Dead

by Benjamin Black
“Death,” writes Walter Benjamin, “is the sanction of everything the storyteller has to tell.” And also: the storyteller “borrows his authority from death”; the endstop of death creates the meaning of a life recounted. The classic detective story shares this belief. It starts from a dead body. As the story …

‘The Mysteries of Paris’

Eugène Sue; portrait by François Gabriel Guillaume Lépaulle, 1837
On June 19, 1842, readers of the staid Journal des Débats discovered installment one of The Mysteries of Paris by Eugène Sue on the “ground floor” (the bottom quarter) of their daily newspaper’s front page. Over the following months, the story unfolded in 150 breathless episodes, reaching its end only …

The Strange Case of Paul de Man

Paul de Man with Renée and Theodore Weiss, Bard College, circa December 1949

The Double Life of Paul de Man

by Evelyn Barish
In The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith created high drama from imposture: the almost unbearable tension of suspense that comes with living a double life. That novel seems to have inspired Evelyn Barish’s notion of how to write the biography of Paul de Man. “With every passing year,” she tells us of de Man in the 1950s, “he felt a little more safe, but the stakes were high and the anxiety never left him.” That’s a good novelistic premise. A biographer has to earn it.

Behind the Iron Mask

Alexandre Dumas, 1857; photograph by Nadar

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

by Tom Reiss
As a boy I wanted above all other professions to be a musketeer. After Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers, read to me by my father, I carried on myself with the sequels, Twenty Years After, The Man in the Iron Mask. They were, though I didn’t want to admit it, …

Our Universities: How Bad? How Good?

Couch in Car, Vassar College, 2010; photograph by Tim Davis from Vassar’s sesquicentennial exhibition ‘150 Years Later: New Photography by Tina Barney, Tim Davis, Katherine Newbegin,’ at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Poughkeepsie, New York, through March 27, 2011

Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses

by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa

Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids—And What We Can Do About It

by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus
The university is a precious and fragile institution, one that lives with crisis—since education, like psychoanalysis, is an “impossible profession”—but at its best thrives on it. It has endured through many transformations of ideology and purpose, but at its best remained faithful to a vision of disinterested pursuit and transmission of knowledge. Research and teaching have always cohabited: anyone who teaches a subject well wants to know more about it, and when she knows more, to impart that knowledge.


From Egypt to Paris: An Artist Prized for His Travel Sketches

Dominique-Vivant Denon, the subject of my piece in the November 19, 2009 issue of the New York Review of Books, is known above all as the first Director of the Louvre—which, under his guidance, became the first encyclopedic public museum. But he was also an artist prized for his travel sketches and engravings. Since I could only touch on this aspect of his career briefly in my piece, I offer here some further notes and selections from his work.