David A. Bell

The Conductor
April 05, 2012

In this new biography, Peter McPhee is quite right to point out that Robespierre was in no sense a pathological freak. He was perfectly capable of ord

What We’ve Lost With the Demise of Print Encyclopedias
March 19, 2012

As the paperless future approaches, certain sorts of publications have inevitably moved into the all-digital realm faster than others. Most of us still prefer paper when it comes to beach novels, for instance, or the cherished volumes of our personal libraries. At the other extreme, scientific journals effectively went all-digital years ago, and thanks to GPS, maps and road atlases are quickly following.

Where Do We Come From?
February 08, 2012

Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights, 1750-1790 By Jonathan I. Israel (Oxford University Press, 1,066 pp., $45) I. There’s something about the Enlightenment. Today, few educated men and women spend much time debating whether Western civilization took a disastrously wrong turn in the High Middle Ages. They do not blame all manner of political ills on Romanticism, or insist that non-Western immigrants adopt Renaissance values. But the Enlightenment is different. It has been held responsible for everything from the American Constitution to the Holocaust.

Conspiracy Porn
November 09, 2011

The Prague Cemetery By Umberto Eco (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 445 pp., $27) Barack Obama is a Kenyan-born communist jihadist. The Mossad staged the attacks of September 11. Vince Foster was murdered on the orders of his lover, the notorious lesbian Hillary Clinton. The United States government is concealing the wreckage of an alien spacecraft that crashed in New Mexico in 1947. A secret society named the Priory of Sion protects the living descendants of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. It is tempting to think that we are living in a golden age of conspiracy theories.

The Case Against Referendums: From Greece to California, They Always End Up Undermining Democracy
November 03, 2011

In calling for a referendum on Greece’s bailout plan, Prime Minister George Papandreou has, it could be said, embraced one of his country’s oldest political traditions: direct democracy. The idea that the citizens of a state should all cast votes to decide matters of common interest was arguably born within an easy walk of his Athens office, some two and a half millennia ago. Of course, referendums have remained a part of democratic politics into the modern era, with a formal place in the constitutions of many countries and regions, from France to Australia.

La Même Chose
July 03, 2011

Ever since the eighteenth century, the French have held a contradictory place in the American imagination. David McCullough's new book, The Greater Jo

The New Normal
February 10, 2011

And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris By Alan Riding (Alfred A. Knopf, 399 pp., $28.95) By the ghastly standards of World War II, the history of France from 1939 to 1944 was a sideshow. Poland, with a smaller pre-war population, suffered at least ten times as many wartime deaths. The Soviet Union, four times larger in 1939, had fully forty times more losses. French cities, in comparison with Polish or Soviet or German cities, survived the war relatively unscathed.

Political Columnists Think America Is In Decline. Big Surprise.
October 07, 2010

Yet again this Sunday, Thomas L. Friedman used his column in The New York Times to issue an ominous warning about America’s decline.

Does This Man Deserve Tenure?
September 06, 2010

Marc C. Taylor, the chair of the Department of Religion at Columbia, has enveloped his argument in an overblown, cliché-ridden theoretical framework a

What Can France Teach Us About Botched Immigration Policies?
September 03, 2010

On both sides of the Atlantic, it has been an uncomfortable summer for immigrant groups. Here in the United States there have been the quarrels over the "Ground Zero Mosque," “anchor babies,” and Arizona’s new illegal immigrant bill (not to mention yet more calls for the deportation of our “Muslim” president to his “native” Kenya by the surprisingly large proportion of the Republican Party that seems to have taken up permanent residence on Planet Zorg).

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