Henry Adams

Five cartoons from the most recent issues of The New Republic

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Bob Forehead

It seems an historical accident that The Washington Post op-ed page—home to George F. Will, where Henry Kissinger comes to muse—gave birth to one of the great underground comics. But the legendary curator of that page, Meg Greenfield, had a rare (for an editorialist) streak of adventure that occasionally pointed her in the opposite direction of bow-tied bloviating.

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I had forgotten, until I picked up my copy of Steven Biel's Down With The Old Canoe: A Cultural History Of The Titanic, that Henry Adams booked passage on the Titanic's return trip. "My ship, the Titanic, is on her way," he wrote in a letter on April 12, 1912, "and unless she drops me somewhere else, I should get to Cherbourg in a fortnight." (Adams, then 74--he would die six years later--mentioned in the same letter that the as-yet-unpublished Education, which he'd forwarded to his correspondent, was "hardly ... fit for any public.

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Strategist and Scourge

George F. Kennan: An American Life By John Lewis Gaddis (Penguin, 784 pp., $39.95) I. George F. Keenan, who was born in 1904 and died in 2005, and served under presidents from Calvin Coolidge to John F. Kennedy, left as deep an imprint on American geopolitics as any intellectual of the twentieth century. But the exact nature of his achievement continues to elude full or even coherent description. One reason is that most of his very long life was spent in comparative obscurity.

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The Mirage

I. The American dream of politics without conflict, and of politics without political parties, has a history as old as American politics. Anyone carried along on the political currents since 2008, however, might be forgiven for thinking that the dream is something new—and that a transformative era was finally at hand, in which the old politics of intense partisan conflict, based on misunderstanding, miscommunication, and misanthropy, could be curbed if not ended. After the presidency of George W.

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Colonel Roosevelt By Edmund Morris (Random House, 766 pp., $35)  I. The reputation of Theodore Roosevelt has become as bloated as the man himself. No one of course can deny his fundamental significance in American history, as a central player in the transitions from republic to empire, laissez-faire to regulated capitalism, congressional government to imperial presidency. It should come as no surprise that professional historians still pay close attention to his career. What is surprising is the cult-like status that Roosevelt enjoys outside the academy, especially in Washington.

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Lasting Man

Saul Bellow: Letters Edited by Benjamin Taylor (Viking, 571 pp., $35) How easy it is, and plausible, to regard a collection of letters spanning youth and old age as an approximation of autobiography: the procession of denizens who inhabit a life, the bit players with their entrances and exits, the faithful chronology of incidents—all turn up reliably in either form, whether dated and posted or backward-looking. Yet autobiography, even when ostensibly steeped in candor, tends toward reconsideration—if not revisionary paperings-over, then late perspectives, afterwords, and second thoughts.

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Terry Glavin, the cofounder of the Canadian-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee and a firm supporter of Western intervention in Afghanistan, tells a joke that has made the rounds in Kabul. The United Nations, sick of the corruption that is rife in the Afghan government, demands that Karzai clean things up. “Of course, of course,” Karzai replies.

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David Souter is one of the most private Supreme Court Justices, but this 1993 TNR article by Jeffrey Rosen did a fascinating job of illuminating Souter's inner life: "Have you read Proust?" Justice Souter asked near the beginning of my interview for a clerkship last March. We were talking about Henry Adams, the subject of my college thesis, and so the question was unexpected. I hadn't gotten very far, I confessed; but Justice Souter was sympathetic. "I failed, too, when I tried the first time.

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Has Max Lerner discovered a suitable definition of the American character?

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