Humanism As Revolution
September 28, 2011

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern By Stephen Greenblatt (W.W. Norton, 356 pp., $26.95) Midway through the greatest literary work of the Italian Renaissance, the paladin Orlando, the hero of Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando Furioso, which appeared in 1516, goes crazy with unrequited love and jealousy. His poet creator is in no better shape: he is writing, he winkingly tells us, in a “lucid interval” of his own lovesickness.

Note This
August 24, 2011

Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information Before the Modern Age By Ann M. Blair (Yale University Press, 397 pp., $45) In 1945, in an article called “As We May Think,” Vannevar Bush evoked a specter for the modern age beyond the bomb: information overload.

B.C.'s Carbon-Tax Experiment Seems To Be Working
July 27, 2010

Many economists will tell you that the simplest way to address climate change is just to put a levy on carbon emissions at the source (i.e., coal at the mine, gas at the wellhead, etc.) and use the money to cut taxes elsewhere. The price signal will nudge people away from dirtier energy and toward conservation and cleaner types of power. And now there's even a real-life model to examine. Back in 2008, the Canadian province of British Columbia passed a carbon tax that rises by $5/ton per year.

Stoicism and Us
March 17, 2010

Marcus Aurelius: A Life By Frank McLynn (Da Capo Press, 684 pp., $30) A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy By William B. Irvine (Oxford University Press, 314 pp., $19.95)   Barbara Ehrenreich’s latest book, Bright-Sided, offers a damning indictment of the ideology of positive thinking, which she sees as the fundamental flaw in American life.

The End of Hunger?
January 02, 2010

Famine: A Short History By Cormac Ó Gráda (Princeton University Press, 327 pp., $27.95) The earliest recorded famines, according to Cormac Ó Gráda in his brief but masterful book, are mentioned on Egyptian stelae from the third millennium B.C.E. In that time--and to an extent, even today, above the Aswan dam in Sudan--farmers along the Nile were dependent on the river flooding to irrigate their fields. But one flood out of five, Ó Gráda tells us, was either too high or too low. The result was often starvation.

The Farmer as Hero
March 20, 2006

THE GEORGICS OF VIRGIL  Translated by David Ferry(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 202 pp., $30) VIRGIL’S GEORGICS Translated by Janet Lembke(Yale University Press, 114 pp., $25)   IN VIRGIL’S AENEID, THE EPIC story of the founding of Rome, the Trojan foreigner Aeneas carries into battle a shield elaborately wrought by the divine craftsman Vulcan, a stand-in for the poet. On it the god has prophetically sculpted scenes of future Roman history.

Beautiful People
March 21, 2005

THE INVENTION OF RACISM IN CLASSICAL ANTIQUITY By Benjamin Isaac(Princeton University Press, 592 pp., $45)  FREEDOM, DEMOCRACY, PHILOSOPHY; art, education, law. Many of the ideas and ideals that define our culture and what we most value in it trace back across millennia to the civilizations of Greece and Rome. These two ancient societies constituted a fundamental stage in the historical development of the West.

Afterlife After Death
November 05, 2001

Legacies of Dachau: The Uses and Abuses Of a Concentration Camp, 1933-2001 by Harold Marcuse (Cambridge University Press, 590 pp., $34.95) Few areas of historical study are more popular today than the discussion of memory and commemoration. The historians who adopt this approach debate how people remember important events, what use consecutive generations make of the memory of these events, and why monuments tell us more about those who created them than about those whom the monument purports to commemorate. They are historians of subjectivity and culture. When their work concentrates on World

No Time for Comedy
October 08, 2001

I was hoping to do a review this week of the late-summer London theater season, but like everyone else in America I had to change my plans. Writing drama criticism seems very trivial labor after watching the herculean efforts of police officers, fire fighters, and city workers to retrieve the remains of victims buried under the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. How does one continue to evaluate plays in the face of all that grief and all that rubble? It is being said that among the many things destroyed forever by the terrorists was our innocence. They may also have killed--I hope temporari

The Historian as Hero
October 08, 2001

The Light of the Eyes By Azariah de’Rossi Translated and annotated by Joanna Weinberg (Yale University Press, 802 pp., $125)  For at least a few years toward the end of his life, Azariah de' Rossi believed that February 26, 747 B.C.E.