Adam Kirsch

The paradox of writing about Jesus is that we can only form an idea of him from the scriptures, yet we can only evaluate the scriptures if we have an idea of what he must have been like.

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Against Cynicism

A philosopher's brilliant reasons for living

Peter Sloterdijk, one of Germany’s best-known philosophers for 30 years, has just emerged in English. He makes philosophical problems come alive as well as any thinker at work today. 

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During the George Zimmerman trial, I happened to be reading James Agee's Depression classic, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The book describes the lives of three families of tenant farmers in Alabama, all of them white; poverty, not racism, is Agee's subject. But before he begins writing about the Woods, Gudger, and Ricketts clans, Agee takes care to include an episode that dramatizes the state of race relations in the American South.

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Smoking and the Intellectual

'Susan Sontag: Reborn' turns intellectual evolution into drama

The first thing you see as the lights go down at Sontag: Reborn, the clever and affecting one-woman show now playing at New York Theatre Workshop, is a billow of cigarette smoke. I happened to see the play not long after watching the new movie Hannah Arendt, in which Arendt's smoking is a leitmotif, practically an obsession, and it was suggestive to see how Sontag, too, is defined by her cigarettes. Early on, we hear Moe Angelos—who adapted Sontag's published journals, and plays her—tell the cherished Sontag anecdote about her pilgrimage, as an awed and precocious 15-year-old, to Thomas Mann, then living in Los Angeles. Mann thinks nothing of offering the teenager a smoke, and Sontag, desperate for a souvenir of her brush with greatness, makes off with the butt. In this way, the light of culture is passed on, one glowing tip to another.

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The Greatest English Poet You Haven't Heard of

The wisdom of a poet in nature and in war

Edward Thomas began to write poetry when he was 36. Three years later he was dead, killed in battle in the First World War. Yet in that short span of time he produced the hundred-odd poems that make him one of the most beloved poets of the twentieth century.

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The Other Anne Frank

An important, new Auschwitz survivor's diary

A worthy addition to the library of eyewitness testimonies.

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The New Essayists, or the Decline of a Form?

David Sedaris and a literary version of reality TV

“The essay, as a literary form, is pretty well extinct,” Philip Larkin wrote gloomily in 1984. Extinct was the right word, capturing the sense of an organism that could no longer survive in a changed environment.

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IN THE SPRING of 1958, the West German novelist Wolfgang Koeppen came to see America. His sightseeing tour took him from New York to Los Angeles and back, with stops along the way in New Orleans, Salt Like City, Chicago, Boston, and other cities and towns. And like so many European writers before him—from Tocqueville on down—he sought to turn his hastily gathered impressions into a book that would do nothing less than explain the essence of America, that envied, admired, feared, and hated civilization, to the Old World.

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The strength of Attenberg’s modest but effective novel is that she convinces us that the way the Middlesteins live is, indeed, the way we live now.

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Few people manage to view themselves with the candor and subtlety that Roth summons in The Scientists.

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