“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 …
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 …
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.
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, …
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.
Poetry and the Police: Communication Networks in Eighteenth-Century Paris
By Robert Darnton
Historians are often self-described as detectives. Perhaps the most probing discussion of their sleuthing is Carlo Ginzburg’s essay on “Clues”—Spie—and their decipherment. Ginzburg speculates that following the path laid out by clues—connecting bits of evidence on the ground—may go back to the way hunters tracked their prey: Man has been …
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.