Elizabeth Powers Articles


Westward, Ho

The billowing waves get the bilious treatment.
Feb 01, 2016

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 .  .  . the

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Poor Relations

The rise and fall of our Neanderthal cousins.
Jun 01, 2015

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.

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The Children’s Hour

Everything old—even the ‘morbidness’—is new again
Dec 22, 2014

Admit to being puzzled as to how to place this novel. Not how to evaluate its merits, for there are many.

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Laugh, Clown, Laugh

The very long life of cinema’s first superstar
Oct 27, 2014

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. 

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Moral Fiction

Three novelists and the challenge of engagement with the modern world.
Nov 18, 2013

have this thing about schlock books, those that cater to our enduring fascination with public portrayals of manners and morals, especially failures in that regard. 

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Sincerely, George Orwell

The correspondence of a ‘wintry conscience.’
Sep 30, 2013

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).

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Wife in Shadow

Oscar Wilde's marriage did not end happily.
Feb 18, 2013

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.

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Women in Love

The high cost of mixing success and attachment.
Jan 16, 2012

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.

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How the West Won: Freedom and ‘killer apps’

Nov 28, 2011

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.

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The Prophet Conrad

How ‘The Secret Agent’ anticipates the perils of today.
Mar 28, 2011

Liberals deny that they are unconcerned about Islamic terrorism.

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