Caleb Crain is the author of the novel Necessary Errors and the ­critical study American Sympathy. His second novel, Overthrow, will be published in August.
 (June 2019)

Follow Caleb Crain on Twitter: @caleb_crain.


Idea Man

Ted Chiang; illustration by Joanna Neborsky


by Ted Chiang

Stories of Your Life and Others

by Ted Chiang
What fiction is made out of is a bit of a mystery, but an old bromide has it that ideas should not be a major component. T.S. Eliot praised Henry James for not having any in his fiction, which seems to accord with James’s own understanding of his work. “Nothing …

Blood in the Sky

Helen Macdonald with her goshawk, Mabel, near Cambridge, England, 2007

H Is for Hawk

by Helen Macdonald
After her father died in 2007, Helen Macdonald, a historian and naturalist at Cambridge University, began to dream about a goshawk she had encountered several years before. A concerned citizen had found the hawk unconscious—evidently the hawk had flown into a fence and knocked herself out—and had brought her, in …

A Very Different Pakistan

Daniyal Mueenuddin, South Punjab, Pakistan, April 2009

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders

by Daniyal Mueenuddin
Stendhal once wrote that “politics in a work of literature is like a gunshot in the middle of a concert, a crude thing and yet it’s impossible to withhold one’s attention.” His own example suggested that it was possible to reconcile the guns and the music—like the cannons in the …

‘Move Closer, Please’

The Art of the American Snapshot, 1888–1978: From the Collection of Robert E. Jackson

an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., October 7–December 31, 2007, and the Amon Carter Museum, Forth Worth, Texas, February 16–April 27, 2008.
In the early nineteenth century, if a bird came into view and a hunter fired without having time to aim deliberately, the hunter was said to have taken a snapshot. According to The Oxford English Dictionary, Sir John Herschel applied the term to photography in 1860. Herschel, who also coined …

The Miracle Woman

Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America

by Matthew Avery Sutton
In photographs, the face of the early-twentieth-century evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson has an uncanny way of changing, as if she were played by a different actress in each image. That’s fitting, because her contemporaries saw in her several different people. The pious saw a preacher with a gentle manner and …


‘Roma’: Through Cuarón’s Intimate Lens

Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo in 
Alfonso Cuarón's Roma, 2018

Roma is an act of understanding—an investigation by director Alfonso Cuarón of where he came from, and of what and who made him—and it’s moving in the way that an honest and generous investigation of that kind can be. The film’s juxtaposition of political violence so cruel and total as to seem almost an act of God, on the one hand, with tender and quiet appreciation of the gift that some people are able to make merely by their daily presence, on the other, made it feel to me like an act of mourning, as well—a pause to acknowledge the beauty of the world that we have lost and are continuing to lose.

Almost History: Plzeň, May 1991

Plzeň, 1991

At the end of World War II, as it became clear that Hitler was headed for defeat, Russia and the Western powers raced against each other to claim territory in Europe. Russian troops were the first to reach Warsaw, Budapest, and Vienna, and most observers expected that the Russians would also be the first to reach Prague, the capital of Czechoslovakia. It looked as if all of Eastern Europe was fated to fall under Soviet sway. At the last minute, however, it almost didn’t turn out that way. General Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized Patton to take Karlovy Vary, Plzeň, and České Budějovice, three of Czechoslovakia’s westernmost cities. Patton quickly took the cities, and he wanted to keep marching—all the way to Prague. If Eisenhower had given Patton a green light, the Iron Curtain of the next half-century would very likely have had a very different shape.