Andrew O’Hagan is the author, most recently, of The Secret Life: Three True Stories of the Digital Age and the novel The Illuminations. (April 2018)


A Deep Dark Place

Hans Rausing arriving at the West London Magistrates’ Court, July 2012


by Sigrid Rausing
More than two decades ago, I sat in a courthouse in the English country town of Dursley. The murderer Fred West had just killed himself. It was a cold week in February, and we had all gathered—lawyers, reporters, grieving mothers and fathers—to hear evidence in a pretrial hearing centering around …

Macbeth Without Evil


a film directed by Justin Kurzel
The weird sisters in Macbeth are never delicate in their cooking. Only in Roman Polanski’s film adaptation of 1971 do they take pains over the hell-broth, though the lingering shots might have something to do with their nakedness (the film was produced by Hugh Hefner) as opposed to their …

He Changed the Game and Dared to Know

James Boswell, 1765; portrait by George Willison

Boswell’s Enlightenment

by Robert Zaretsky
The Boswell family tomb lies beneath an old building in the Scottish town of Auchinleck. When you go down the steps into the black vault, you are immediately enclosed in a coldness that troubles your own bones. The air is damp—a struck match goes out, then a second—and the experience …

The Dark Dreams of William Burroughs

William S. Burroughs in the Hotel Villa Mouniria Garden, Tangier, 1961; from Patricia Allmer and John Sears’s Taking Shots: The Photography of William S. Burroughs, published by Prestel

Call Me Burroughs: A Life

by Barry Miles

Kill Your Darlings

a film directed by John Krokidas
Some writers have a style that readers must absorb and adopt, and for fans of William Burroughs, the compulsion can be a little hallucinogenic, particularly for vengeful teenagers with a plan to shock their parents. The irony is that Burroughs is probably the most adult American writer of his generation.


Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher launching the Conservative manifesto on the Isle of Wight, May 1983
Politicians have always been disliked and always blamed, but Margaret Thatcher appeared to many people in Britain to have no feeling for the people whose lives were hurt by her policies. No feeling and no understanding. Her stridency appeared to excite boys who remembered their nannies, but to other men and women, the poorer sort, she was the incarnation of blind authority. She knew there were real families out there in Britain’s hinterlands or northern lands, yet, like a crazed statistician or a bad novelist, she couldn’t really imagine what their lives must be like.

Jack Kerouac: Crossing the Line

William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, photographed by Allen Ginsberg in his East Village living room, 1953; from ‘Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg,’ an exhibition organized by the National Gallery of Art and on view at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery until April 6, 2013. The catalog includes an essay by Sarah Greenough and is published by the National Gallery and DelMonico Books/Prestel.

On the Road

a film directed by Walter Salles

The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac

by Joyce Johnson
On the Road, as a movie, might have worked brilliantly in 1957 if Brando had accepted Kerouac’s challenge. It might have tapped into the same energy the book did—the same sources that fueled Brando’s The Wild One (1953), the James Dean vehicle Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and The Blackboard Jungle (1955), with Sidney Poitier. But that didn’t happen. Instead, it was the lives of those involved in the Beat Generation that had cultural reality. The movies found that the best subject wasn’t really the books at all but the people who wrote them. That might seem normal nowadays: the personalization of everything is now total. But the Beats, oddly, were probably part of the process by which fictionality became entwined with everyday selfhood.