Tag: Books & The Arts

The Dramatic Detachment of The Crown

About halfway through the new season of The Crown, Peter Morgan’s sweeping drama about the interior lives of the royal family, Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies) makes a drastic publicity move. It is the late 1960s, almost two decades into Queen Elizabeth’s reign, and public opinion has begun to curdle. After Philip whines on American television […]

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The Uneasy Uplift of The Testaments

When I first read The Handmaid’s Tale, the world was in the midst of a huge social experiment: If we just told girls that sexism was over, would it somehow turn out to be true? Growing up as a (rich, white) girl in the 1980s and ’90s was to be the target of a mind-blowing amount of propaganda […]

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Life Under the Algorithm

Henry Noll was one of the most famous workers in American history, though not by his own choice and not under his own name. Employed at Bethlehem Steel for $1.15 a day, and known among workmates for his physical vigor and thriftiness, Noll was—as the somewhat embellished story goes—selected by an ambitious young management consultant […]

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The Surprising Maturity of Marriage Story

You appear to have been dropped in at the climax of a romcom, when the man enumerates the large, small, and idiosyncratic things he appreciates about the woman, all those reasons he can’t love anybody else. Only here they’re already married, with a son, past the happy-ending goalpost, and both parties offer up their separate […]

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The Gentle Pleasures of Terrace House

In Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, the protagonist, Aomame, a martial arts instructor, is forced to live in a safe house. Tamaru, her bodyguard, suggests that she read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time: “This would be a good opportunity to read the whole thing.” “Have you read it?” Aomame asks. “No, I haven’t been in jail, […]

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The Strange Liberal Backlash to Woke Culture

There is a certain kind of liberally inclined writer who sees Donald Trump’s America as a nation in crisis. At every turn, in every tweet, she is confronted by the signs of an ongoing catastrophe, from which it may be too late to escape. An ugly, vicious intolerance spread on social media; the collapse of […]

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How Europe Stumped Britain’s Conservatives

Not long before Margaret Thatcher’s intensely dramatic departure from office in November 1990, the veteran Conservative politician William Whitelaw was talking to Sir Robin Butler, recently appointed as Cabinet secretary, the most senior permanent official in the British government. As Charles Moore relates in Herself Alone, the third and final volume of his authorized biography […]

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What John Rawls Missed

John Rawls, who died in 2002, was the most influential American philosopher of the twentieth century. His great work, A Theory of Justice, appeared in 1971 and defined the field of political philosophy for generations. It set out standards for a just society in the form of two principles. First, a just society would protect […]

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The Making of a White Supremacist Myth

On April 19, 2019, a man—who, in his profile picture, wears a hat emblazoned with the Confederate battle flag—posted in a Facebook group called “Black Confederates and Other Minorities in the War of Northern Aggression,” which has more than 2,000 members. “Heads up y’all there’s gonna be a book coming out in sept saying black […]

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The Transformation of Condé Nast

Condé Nast was actually a person—a fact that might come as a surprise to readers who know the name only from the magazine publishing corporation, a company so monumental that it’s practically synonymous with twentieth-century periodicals. The man who established the high-end glossy as we know it today, who personally presided over the rise of Vogue, Vanity […]

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The Art of the Unspeakable

In 1971, the artist Suzanne Lacy was taking classes with Judy Chicago at the California Institute of the Arts, and she had an idea: What if they created a performance that involved an audience listening to recordings of women telling their stories of rape? It sounds simple now but it wasn’t then, because those kinds […]

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Olga Tokarczuk’s Gripping Eco-Mystery

Murder mysteries, however else they might differ, rely on one major, shared belief: that murder matters, and is worth looking into. Whoever did the killing, whoever was killed, the investigation moves forward because the people inside the story and those outside of it, following along as the clues unfold, agree that the murder has moral […]

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The Shrinking Legacy of a Supreme Court Justice

Once upon a time, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was the great modern American jurist. The “Yankee from Olympus,” as Catherine Drinker Bowen’s 1944 biography called Holmes, was the first celebrity justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, as popular then as the Notorious RBG is now. Nearly a century ago, the Columbia Broadcasting System delivered a […]

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The Failed Political Promise of Silicon Valley

July 1945, the engineer Vannevar Bush—one of the founders of the Raytheon electronics corporation, and director of the federal Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II—published a meditative essay in The Atlantic. The scientific community had mobilized during the war to develop the atomic bomb. Now, he urged, it should turn itself […]

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The MAGA Plot

Ben Lerner writes novels about Ben Lerner. This sentence might have once sounded like a criticism. But since writing that collapses the distance between fiction and author—so-called autofiction—is au courant, it is nearer an endorsement. The hero of Lerner’s debut novel, 2011’s Leaving the Atocha Station, is a poet named Adam Gordon. He’s anxiety-ridden, callow, and […]

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Paolo Sorrentino’s Loro Will Make You Feel Complicit

How a political film should aim to make you feel is a tricky question. There’s the Ken Loach approach, worthy and moving but, in this overcrowded landscape, arguably not fashioned to persuade (or even attract) those viewers not already on-side, and there’s the fast-paced Armando Iannucci satire, in which hypocrisies are gleefully punctured and the […]

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The Fall of the Meritocracy

In 1958, sociologist Michael Young wrote a dark satire called The Rise of the Meritocracy. The term “meritocracy” was Young’s own coining, and he chose it to denote a new aristocracy based on expertise and test-taking instead of breeding and titles. In Young’s book, set in 2034, Britain is forced to evolve by international economic […]

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The Fog of Intervention

Let’s say it’s January 2021, and President Bernie Sanders has just assumed office. On his second day as commander-in-chief of the most powerful military in world history, Bernie and his foreign policy team are ushered into the White House Situation Room. After being seated at a long wooden table, a group of diplomats and military […]

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Vasily Grossman’s Lost Epic

In the Soviet Union, every literary work was a political statement, whether the writer liked it or not. Soviet censorship allowed some room for negotiation, but outside the USSR, official and dissident literature were perceived as polar opposites. This stark distinction imbued Soviet-era literature with a gratifyingly Manichaean quality, and Western readers became enamored of […]

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