Cambridge

What's missing from Zadie Smith's new novel, "NW"? The recognition that fiction cannot be written according to a program.

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ABOUT FIFTY YEARS AGO, in 1961, Jean-Paul Sartre complained about the state of Europe. “Europe is springing leaks everywhere,” he wrote. He went on to remark that “it simply is that in the past we made history and now history is being made of us.” Sartre was undoubtedly too pessimistic.

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Mitt Romney is still pounding away at President Obama’s quote, “If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that." Romney says it proves Obama is hostile to entrepreneurs and, to illustrate the argument, Romney has recently introduced the country to a pair of small business owners who apparently took similar umbrage at Obama's remarks. But the stories of the business owners are turning out to be a lot more complicated than Romney or even the businessmen themselves have let on.

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Since Lanhee Chen joined the Romney campaign in March last year, his public pronouncements have been liberally seasoned with snark. Tweeting about Newt Gingrich during the first Florida debate, he wrote, “Thanks for explaining why you were forced to resign in disgrace, Mr. Speaker.” In April, he tweeted: “[David Axelrod] says Obama to be judged on his record.

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Back in October, I went up to Cambridge, Massachusetts to watch the eighth Republican primary debate of the season with Mark McKinnon, the Republican media strategist who had served as debate coach for George W. Bush, John McCain, and Sarah Palin. I was interested in McKinnon’s professional assessment of a Republican field whose succession of frontrunners, from Tim Pawlenty to Herman Cain, had nearly all been made or unmade by debate performances. At the time, Rick Perry was hurtling toward the abyss, Cain was bafflingly ascendant, and Mitt Romney was performing as advertised.

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The subject was dirt, or perhaps I should say “Dirt.” It was spring 1996, and I was a newly minted comp-lit Ph.D. candidate thrilled to be taking part in my first academic conference. Okay, it was a conference of grad students organized by my friends in the Harvard English department, but somehow that just made it feel more authentic, like college football compared to professional. I still have the flyer, which reproduces an artsy photo of a dump truck about to discharge its load into a giant quarry.

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Page Eight gives every sign of being a momentous television event. It is a debut outing for “Masterpiece Contemporary” on PBS. Some of the color photography, by Martin Ruhe, is exquisite but sinister—there’s a bruised sky against college masonry in Cambridge that escapes the usual proviso that television cannot be “beautiful” without seeming picturesque. The subject matter turns on such large issues as security, intelligence, Intelligence, honor, and love. The cast is so daunting it makes you keep an open mind about which characters are not to be trusted.

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Harvard’s “Remembering 9/11” did no such thing. The events on the tenth anniversary of September 11 in Cambridge did little remembering of 9/11 and a whole lot of rehashing of the events in the post-9/11 world. Those people who did talk about 9/11 universalized it ad absurdum.

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We live in a world in which the contagion of anti-Semitism is spreading once again. Indeed, the profusion of hostility to Israel is the proof that hatred of Jews is now quite alright, thank you. But, whatever individual and isolated wrongs Israel commits, there are comparisons to be drawn. And the comparisons are to the Arab states and to Palestinian Arab society, in which oppression has flourished since the early years of the last century.

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Obama’s Law

On March 29, 1989, at a time when many of his fellow first-year law students were beginning to prepare for the spring semester’s looming examinations, Barack Obama paid a visit to the office of eminent constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe. Obama had not dropped by to brush up for a test. In fact, he had yet even to enroll in an introductory constitutional law course, a gratification Harvard Law School denies its students until the second year of study. Obama’s call was purely extracurricular: He wanted to discuss Tribe’s academic writings.

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