Jenny Uglow is the author of The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose ­Curiosity Changed the World. (December 2019)


What the Weather Is

Charlotta María Hauksdóttir: Topography Study XVI, 2018; from Hauksdóttir’s book A Sense of Place: Imprints from Iceland, to be published by Daylight in January 2020

Waters of the World: The Story of the Scientists Who Unraveled the Mysteries of Our Oceans, Atmosphere, and Ice Sheets and Made the Planet Whole

by Sarah Dry
At the end of July 2019 in the English Lake District, half a mile from the spot known as the wettest place in Britain, the river was low, the waterfalls silent. A heat wave was scorching Europe and there were wildfires across the Arctic Circle. Clare Nullis, from the UN …

Civility and Its Discontents

A satirical lithograph of Englishmen learning to bow in an etiquette course taught by the French, 1817

In Pursuit of Civility: Manners and Civilization in Early Modern England

by Keith Thomas
“Civility,” Keith Thomas notes, “was (and is) a slippery and unstable word.” “Civil” and “civilian” evoke the social life of a people not under military rule, the world of the civitas—the organized community—the only place, according to Aristotle and Cicero, where the good life is possible. While “courtesy” relates to the values of the court, “civility,” Thomas writes, is “the virtue of citizens”: in his Dictionary (1755), Samuel Johnson defined it as both “politeness” and “the state of being civilized.” Thomas explores the understanding and use of the term in England from 1500 to 1800, when it referred both to manners in daily life and manners as mores: the customs and attitudes of the allegedly civilized nation as a whole.

Big Talkers

‘In the Shades’; drawing of Samuel Johnson and James Boswell by Max Beerbohm, 1915

The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age

by Leo Damrosch
The Literary Club, known simply as “The Club,” was established in early 1764 after the portrait painter Joshua Reynolds became worried about his friend Samuel Johnson, who was sinking into a black depression. An old Oxford friend, William Adams, had visited Johnson the previous autumn and “found him in a deplorable state, sighing, groaning, talking to himself, and restlessly walking from room to room.” Johnson told Adams, “I would consent to have a limb amputated to recover my spirits.” An evening of talk with friends, Reynolds suggested, was a less drastic remedy.


Pandemic Journal, March 23–29

A running series of brief dispatches by New York Review writers documenting the coronavirus outbreak with regular updates from around the world, including Michael Greenberg in Brooklyn, Raquel Salas Rivera in San Juan, Aida Alami in Paris, Rahmane Idrissa in Niamey, Verlyn Klinkenborg in East Chatham, Tolu Ogunlesi in Lagos, Merve Emre in Oxford, Yasmine El Rashidi in Cairo, Keija Parssinen in Granville, E. Tammy Kim in Brooklyn, Adam Foulds in Toronto, Tom Bachtell in Chicago, Ivan Sršen in Zagreb, Sue Halpern in Ripton, Michael S. Roth in Middletown, Ben Mauk in Penang, Martin Filler in Southampton, Eula Biss in Evanston, Richard Ford in East Boothbay, George Weld in Brooklyn, Nilanjana Roy in New Delhi, Ursula Lindsey in Amman, Zoë Schlanger in Brooklyn, Dominique Eddé in Beirut, Lucy McKeon in Brooklyn, Yiyun Li in Princeton, Caitlin L. Chandler in Berlin, Nick Laird in Kerhonkson, Alma Guillermoprieto in Bogotá, Lucy Jakub in Northampton, Rachael Bedard in Brooklyn, Hari Kunzru in Brooklyn, Minae Mizumura in Tokyo, Jenny Uglow in Keswick, Sylvia Poggioli in Rome, and more.

Garden of Painterly Delights

Percy Horton: Suburban Garden, 1921

A bright, blowy day in London. Blue sky, tumbling white clouds. The trees are budding in the parks, and even the brown Thames seems to sparkle. Could spring be coming? We are fed up with snow and floods and sad, bad news. Many of us—myself including—simply want to get into the garden. In tune with this mood, thank goodness, the Garden Museum in Lambeth is showing an exhibition called “Sanctuary: Artist-Gardeners 1919–1939.”

David Bomberg’s ‘Desire to Emancipate’

Shocking his tutors, Bomberg was a blazing radical, influenced by Italian Futurists and by the Cubist experiments. Declining Wyndham Lewis’s invitation to join the Vorticist movement, Bomberg set off on his own. And it’s a shock even now, in the gloom of Room 1 of “Young Bomberg and the Old Masters,” to confront the sharp angles and singing colors of Bomberg’s canvases of the 1910s, and the great figures found in Sappers at Work, of 1918–1919. What are they doing here? It’s at once exciting and sad: all these early works, in different ways, have undertones of pain and passion, and it’s poignant to think that Bomberg never knew they would be on show here, in the National Gallery he loved.

Beauty in Ingenuity: The Art of Science

Roy Nockolds: Supersonic, 1948–1952

The complex, sometimes conflictual, relationship of man and machine is a constant thread in “The Art of Innovation,” at London’s Science Museum. Recalling how the mechanical telling of time itself became contested during the Industrial Revolution, as the historian E.P. Thompson described in a famous 1967 Past & Present article, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism,” here is a handsome double-dialled clock from a Macclesfield mill, dating from 1810. In the catalog, the curators tell us that while the lower dial showed the actual time, the upper dial was connected to the silk mill’s waterwheel: if the waterwheel ran slowly, or stopped, “mill time” was slowed or suspended, and the workers would have to make up the lost production time, “ruled by the pace of their machines.” Paradoxically, machines could also make men and women feel free as never before.