Ann Marlowe Articles

Playing to Our Strengths

A visit to an Ohio-class submarine redesigned for counterterrorism
Dec 21, 2015

Key West

It's one thing to read debates about Navy budget decisions and the aging of our submarine fleet, and quite another to visit one of our 71 submarines and see what the fuss is about. This November, I spent 24 hours on the USS Georgia—one of four Ohio-class subs redesigned in 2004 for counterterrorism, with Tomahawk cruise missiles replacing nuclear warheads and some missile silos retrofitted as lockout chambers to allow Navy SEALs to exit in combat zones. I came away with a profound respect for the submarine culture.

Many of my expectations were wrong. Happily, I didn't feel claustrophobic for a minute.

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Why Read Trollope?

Fearsome productivity and equally fearsome artistry.
Oct 26, 2015

Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) may be the best-kept literary secret in English—a secret hiding in plain sight. His collected works take up a long bookshelf: 47 novels and 18 works of nonfiction. Once, most educated English and American households owned some of those volumes; today, there are still plenty of Trollope boxed sets in bookstores—probably because his works are in the public domain so publishers needn’t pay royalties—yet he is culturally almost invisible.

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An Afghan Tale

Reality and unreality at a Combat Outpost.
Jul 06, 2015

The Valley is marketed as a police procedural set in a remote American military outpost in Afghanistan, and it is a page-turner, all 448 of them. It’s also so cunningly constructed that I had to read it twice to be sure I understood everything that was going on—and there are still a few loose ends. But it’s also an ambitious, if reticent, novel about good and evil, friendship and leadership, courage and shame that mainly succeeds. 

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King John’s Verdict

The good, the bad, and Magna Carta.
May 18, 2015

In Ivanhoe, Prince John is thoroughly repugnant, displaying “a dissolute audacity, mingled with extreme haughtiness and indifference to the feelings of others,” as well as a “libertine disposition.” According to Stephen Church, Walter Scott’s character is “almost wholly a later concoction”—except, presumably, for the love of fine clothes and jewelry that Scott depicts and Church’s archival evidence proves. The reality revealed here is even rougher.  

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Libyans Plead for American Help

Midwifing democracy is not an Obama priority.
May 11, 2015

‘Why does the United States fight terror in Syria, Iraq, and Africa but not in Libya?” Idris al Magreibi, 40, a tall, lightly bearded member of Libya’s House of Representatives in Tobruk, was pacing the floor in the offices of the Libyan Mission to the United Nations as he raised the question. He spoke in Arabic, and a member of the mission served as interpreter.

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A Baghdad Quartet

Translating the Iraq war into fiction
Feb 09, 2015

When I finished The Kills, it was not with the sense of the world made right, or understood rightly, that the traditional novel aspires to, nor with the contemporary recognition that the author and I—ironists both!—share a cynical disillusionment. It was with a profound sense of loss, even anger, at Richard House, as though he’d invited me to watch him cook an elaborate dinner and then thrown it in the trash unconsumed.

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Brain Drain

A tale of old minds in new bodies, and the meaning of consciousness.
Jun 02, 2014

I'm poor in everything but ironies, and to be truthful, I’ve forgotten what’s so good about irony in the first place. It’s just the resting state of the universe. .  .  . Irony is not order, but it gives a shape to things.

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House of Hope

The quest to save the vulnerable of Florence.
Nov 11, 2013

It’s become nearly dogmatic in academic history that the writer ought to focus as much as he can on the disenfranchised, the “marginalized,” to avoid “privileging” the viewpoints of the upper classes, of men, and of white people. And so anxious are the historians not to perpetuate injustice that there is little or no room for constructing a book that is also a work of art. Often the only pleasure for the reader is in cheering on the revelation of some forgotten unfairness, or the voices of some “oppressed” group—if that’s what rocks your boat.

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Parisian Lap Dance

Municipal swimming in the Gallic mode.
Aug 05, 2013

It wasn’t until I experienced swimming at a Parisian public pool that I understood certain aspects of the French mind. I’ve been visiting France occasionally for 30 years, have dated French men, and I read French well. But a few hours in the water has done more for my amateur anthropology than anything else. 

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Future Imperfect

Science fiction as guide to the stages of life.
Jan 21, 2013

Writing at age 35, on the cusp between youth and the rest of life, I wanted to know what to do about being a rock critic when I was no longer young. (Easy—quit.) Now, 20 years later, and on the verge of leaving middle age, I look to science fiction to help me master the imaginable sting of death: not knowing what is going to happen in the world once we are gone. Though not all science fiction is set in the future, it’s the only genre that can be used to extend the emotional resonance of memory to the future.

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Zwara, One Year Later

3:44 PM, Sep 07, 2012

Zwara, Libya
I first visited Zwara on August 23 of last year, just as the local revolutionaries were liberating their city from the now deposed regime of Col. Muammar Qaddafi.

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Sexual Overload

Sometimes promiscuity is just promiscuity.
May 28, 2012

Sex addiction may not exactly be an existential threat to the United States, but as this book makes clear, the cultural trend which created this farcical “illness” has much graver consequences. The medicalizing of what was hitherto seen as a moral issue and the promotion of a ridiculously broad notion of addiction aren’t just silly: In last year’s Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal, the term “sex addict” was tossed around as though it explained something—homely maid walks into hotel room, and boom! Sex addict is ready to go.

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Debating Democracy Under Fire in New Libya

9:40 PM, Apr 17, 2012

Zwara, Libya

As shells fell around the Amazigh city of Zwara on the evening of April 3, the city’s five tanks thundered back at its Arab neighbors in Rig Dalin. Men, ranging in age from their teens to their sixties, fought and supported the fighters—and updated the Zwara Media Center’s very active Facebook page. Also, they talked incessantly about the meaning of democracy, minority rights, gun control, and other topics usually left to less urgent settings.

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Surprisingly Normal

Amid an economic boom, Sabratha comes into its own.
4:20 PM, Apr 03, 2012

Sabratha, Libya
The future here was hard to discern when I was last here in November. Would it gradually descend into conflict between militias, or would it enjoy some level of security? Would the town’s Salafi contingent rule, or would Sabratha come under the sway of a more moderate Islam?

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City Confidential

A debut novel probes the soul of New York.
Mar 05, 2012

And under the influence of the cradlelike rocking of the train, your carefully crafted persona begins to slip away. The superego dissolves as your mind begins to wander aimlessly over your cares and your dreams; or better yet, it drifts into an ambient hypnosis, where even cares and dreams recede and the peaceful silence of the cosmos pervades. It happens to all of us. It’s just a question of how many stops it takes.

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Hello, Libya

Does the fall of Qaddafi mean the rise of tourism?
Jan 30, 2012


Thirty years ago, few Americans were aware that Turkey has nearly as many classical Greek ruins as Greece. Today, Libya’s Greek and Roman remains are similarly unknown to Americans.

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Pop Goes Libya

A little musical rebellion among the Amazigh.
Nov 28, 2011

Zuwarah, Libya

This is my city and I came back again

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Life in Libya

So far: less poor, less nasty, and less brutish than under Qaddafi.
Nov 14, 2011


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Libya’s Amazigh Debate Their Future

3:50 PM, Nov 11, 2011

Obari, Libya 
"Why are the people in the north getting petroleum when you are living over it and getting nothing?" said Hisham Hamadi.

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After Jihad

In Sabratha, a former prisoner reflects.
11:30 AM, Sep 19, 2011

Sabratha, Libya—“Girls were going to school under the Taliban! I know, because I was living in Kabul in 1999.”

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The War for Libya’s West Coast

8:35 AM, Sep 02, 2011

Libya—Here, west of Tripoli, the revolutionaries are fighting largely without direction from Benghazi's Transitional National Council. I’m traveling with three Sabratha fighters—Rowad, his brother Ahmed, and their cousin Mansur. The goal is to get to the frontline at Adjilat, where they plan to join a large force campaigning against one of the remaining groups of Qaddafi loyalists.

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Democracy in Libya

The unintended benefits of a protracted conflict
Aug 29, 2011

Benghazi, Libya

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How Qaddafi's Forces Left Sabratha

8:08 AM, Aug 26, 2011

Sabratha, Libya—I went to the Roman ruins here on Sunday, and they seem to be fine. But it’s true that Qaddafi’s forces were based here when they attempted to defend Sabratha on the 14th of August. And they left behind mattresses, parts of their uniforms, and lots of trash.

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The Fight for Zwara—and Liberty

6:44 PM, Aug 25, 2011

Zwara, Libya—We’ve arrived in Zwara, which is about 70 miles from Tripoli and 35 miles from the Tunisian border. It’s impossible to get out in any direction, though one could get out to sea, if one fancied a long boat trip.

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Qaddafi Loyalists Take Stand in Zwara

11:07 AM, Aug 24, 2011

Zwara, Libya—The coastal city of Zwara, near the Libya-Tunisia border, is under siege by pro-Qaddafi forces who continue to shell the city and appear to be the last of Qaddafi’s forces still fighting in Libya.

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10 Rebels Killed in Libya by Errant NATO Missile

11:16 AM, Aug 18, 2011

Jadu, Libya—Yesterday, around 4 p.m., 10 Jadu fighters, who were attempting to cut off the retreat of a column of Qaddafi militiamen, were killed by an errant NATO missile strike near Badr, Libya. Two other fighters are missing. The loss of ten, who included two commanders, is an unimaginable catastrophe in this closeknit town of 10,000 Amazigh or Berber citizens, which until yesterday had lost just 4 men in the revolutionary war.

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The Fight for Sabratha

1:26 PM, Aug 16, 2011

Western Libya—Only about thirty volunteers of the three hundred strong Martyr Wasam Qaliyah Brigade are gathered around former Libyan army general Senussi Mohamed as he outlines the plan for the liberation of the coastal city of Sabratha, about 90 kilometers north from Qaddafi’s forces. Crouched in a pleasant pine grove in Jafara Valley, just north of Zintan, they listen intently. This morning, they struck their camp in Jadu, in the western mountains, to join the Sabratha Brigade and volunteers from other cities in what’s planned as a big operation for this Lilliputian war, where groups of 100 or 200 barely trained volunteers skirmish in the streets of rundown cities.

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With the Sabratha Brigade in Libya

Paper targets, Lacoste shirts, and homemade explosives.
Aug 08, 2011

Qasr el-Haj, Jafara Valley, Libya

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A Night at the Gravel Pit (Updated)

2:38 PM, Aug 04, 2011

Djerba, LibyaAs Saturday night wears on, the young men talk more and more confidently about an offensive they anticipate the next day, the big move 100 km north that will allow them to liberate their city of Sabratha. The mood is exultant, with some speculation that we will move forward at dawn.

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What I Saw at the Revolution

With a Libyan conservative in free Benghazi
May 23, 2011


"How are they going to get all these guns off the street?”

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