Mix together John McPhee, Paul Theroux, and V. S. Naipaul—geology, travel, and history and politics—and distill the mixture, and one has a good idea of Simon Winchester's particular gift. Like these three writers, Winchester wields intelligence, observation, and masterful narrative skills to portray the modern world in which we live, a world in which the center no longer holds, the sea of faith has retreated, and the ground below our feet is literally in motion. Empires rise, empires fall. Such a transition is now in progress, according to Winchester's account in Pacific: "The future . . . is what the Pacific Ocean is now coming to symbolize . . . theRead more
Pity the poor Neanderthals, our prehistoric cousins. The first Neanderthal fossils were discovered in a place of that name in Germany in 1856. Archaeologists have since turned up fossils ranging from Protoneanderthals and Transition Neanderthals to Classic Neanderthals at about 75 sites from Western Europe to Central Asia. In examining the recovered fossils, tools, and other remains, archaeologists have attempted to reconstruct the lives, habitats, and habits of these archaic humans.Read more
Charlie Chaplin was born in London on April 15, 1889, although no birth certificate has ever been located. We are certain of the date because his proud mother placed an announcement in a music hall newspaper.Read more
Literary reputation is an unstable thing. Not so long ago, the luminaries were Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Mailer, but one hardly hears about them these days, unless one of their novels is adapted for the screen. Certainly Arthur Koestler, a much more profound thinker than his contemporary George Orwell, told the same story and in prose that is even better (and in a language not his own).Read more
Because of the prosecution of homosexual acts and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde in 1895, which ended a glittering trajectory through late Victorian English society, most people are unaware that Wilde was actually a family man, indeed initially and enthusiastically so.
In 1942 George Stevens made a romantic comedy for MGM called Woman of the Year. Based on the journalist Dorothy Thompson, one of the subjects here, it concerned the obstacles to marital bliss faced by an emancipated woman and her former colleague turned husband. With Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy as the combative partners, everything turned out well.Read more
Niall Ferguson’s newest book is chock-a-block with striking comparisons. For instance, if the Soviet Union was able to manufacture warheads, it could surely have produced blue jeans. But satisfying the desires of its citizens was not part of its agenda. Nor, adds Ferguson, of the other competitor for world supremacy in the 20th century, German national socialism. Thus, one arrives very quickly at why “the West,” basically liberal capitalist democracy, beat out these two formidable agents of destruction. It offers freedom to citizens, not only in the choice of goods but also in the possibility of crafting their own destiny.Read more
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