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The Comparable Max

July 27, 2015 – He was a writer of Proustian gifts, but his dedication to the cult of modesty prevented him from writing a masterpiece.


Sweet Home Alabama

July 15, 2015 – Harper Lee’s novel is a poetic work of Southern Pastoral. But it falls apart as art in its didactic treatment of race.


June, Moon, Tune

July 6, 2015 – What are the life lessons in all those songs and sonnets?


Trollope Trending

May 4, 2015 – No novelist gets politics and gossip better.


In The Memory Ward

March 16, 2015 – The Warburg Institute was created by a half-mad visionary. Is it too strange to survive?


The Driver's Seat

February 2, 2015 – Adam reached middle age and still didn't know how to drive. How hard could it be? 


Bakeoff

October 27, 2014 – Adam examines our age of mutated pastry and asks what can account of the phenomenon of the Cronut and its crowds.


As Big As The Ritz

September 15, 2014 – The Fitzgeralds are not a poignant Jazz Age footnote but an enduring legend of the West. Adam examines "The Crack-Up," the modern confessional, and the lives of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.


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Heaven's Gaits

 September 1, 2014 – Why people walk is a hard question that looks easy. Over time the things we do for a purpose become things we do for pleasure, particularly when we no longer have to do them. As we do them for pleasure, they get attached either to a philosophy or to the pursuit of some profit. Two new accounts of this process have recently appeared, and although they occasionally make you want to throw things, they both illuminate what it means to be a pedestrian in the modern world.


Stones and Bones

July 7, 2014 – The 9/11 Memorial Museum is what future architectural historians will recognize as a specific late-twentieth-century building type: the Holocaust museum. In truth, the simplest memorials of the first days after the disaster, those xeroxed handbills with “Missing” emblazoned on them, still move us more than any other remembrance.


Word Magic

May 26, 2014 – Although speaking feels as natural as breathing, the truth is that the words we use are strange, abstract symbols, at least as remote from their objects as Egyptian hieroglyphs are from theirs, and as quietly treacherous as Egyptian tombs.


The Poet’s Hand

April 28, 2014 – What drives people to search for bits and pieces of Shakespeareana four hundred and fifty years after his birth? The easy answer is the disproportion between the mountainous heights of his reputation and the fragmentary shards of his biography.


Go Giants

July 29, 2013 – One lesson of Lawrence Buell’s new survey of our literature, “The Dream of the Great American Novel” (Harvard), is that the “American” in that famous phrase was one of the first instances of the kind. Buell’s new idea is that the dream of the Great American Novel has resolved itself, invisibly, into four distinct and recurring “scripts.” Buell is a passionately horizontal reader, looking across time from book to book, more than a vertical one, looking deep into a page.


The People Who Pass

January 13, 2013 – The police presence at the Gare du Nord is the consequence of something new: an epidemic of petty crime in Paris that has traumatized the city in ways that seem disproportionate to the real damage it has done. The thieves, and their invisible directors, are perceived by the French public as exclusively “Roma” (what English speakers often call Gypsies), the nomadic people long idealized as romantic and, for just as long, pursued as petty criminals. On the subject of petty crime, the scholars of Romanipen all say more or less the same thing: recognizing that a social pathology persists within a minority group is not the same thing as imagining that the social pathology is natural to the minority group.


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Bigger Than Phil

February 17, 2013 – A history of modern atheism would be nice to have. Peter Watson’s “The Age of Atheists” could have been that book, but it isn’t.


Two Bands

December 23, 2013 – Terry Teachout’s searching new biography, “Duke: The Life of Duke Ellington” (Gotham), touches on the mystique of the great bandleader’s music as much as on its notes and measures. How did Ellington become the dominant figure of modern music and, for many people, an exemplar of artfulness? To explain it, we seem to need new categories of value, and another kind of meditation on what originality is.


Bread and Women

November 4, 2013 – Until quite recently, I had never baked a loaf of bread. For years, I told myself that I didn’t bake bread for the same reason I didn’t drive a car: it’s a useful skill unnecessary in New York. In New York, you don’t drive because you can take the subway practically anywhere, and you don’t have to bake bread because there are so many good bakeries. “If you’re so interested in bread-making, you should apprentice with someone big,” said Martha, my wife.


Closer Than That

November 4, 2013 – The nation really did get turned inside out when Kennedy was killed, as nations do at the death of kings. But what altered? An imbalance between the flood of information and the uncertainty of our understanding does seem to have begun then: the postmodern suspicion that the more we see, the less we know.


Mindless

September 9, 2013 – A series of new books all present watch-and-ward arguments designed to show that brain science promises much and delivers little. Neuroscience, it’s said, can often answer the obvious questions but rarely the interesting ones.


The Right Man

July 29, 2013 – Edmund Burke’s doctrines are foggy even to his admirers; he is more a badge to be worn than a book to be read. A Burke brought back to life today, one feels sure, would have accepted gay marriage, as he would women’s equality. Yet one also suspects that Burke would, half a century earlier, have been against desegregation as something imposed on local communities from without. No one would have been louder about the horrors of Abu Ghraib or more skeptical of the virtues of the Arab Spring. This double legacy, escaping conventional party categories, is what happens when one takes Burke seriously as a mind rather than as a sublime symbol.


In the Back Cabana

June 10, 2013 – In Florida crime fiction, as Dave Barry, a late-arriving practitioner, puts it, a bunch of “South Florida wackos” blunder through petty crime, discover themselves engaged in actual murder, and then move in unconscious unison toward the black comedy of a violent climax.


Yellow Fever

April 22, 2013 – What’s really startling about National Geographic, as one passes from year to year, is not a hidden salaciousness but the repetition of characteristic juxtapositions. The magazine perfected the coupling of the very old seen from on high with the very near seen from up close. In the early part of the past century, Machu Picchu and much of ancient Egypt were uncovered and explored, and, on adjacent pages, bugs were placed under microscopes and rodents spied on at night. Fifty years later, the same counterpoint is played out.


Faces, Places, Spaces

October 29, 2012 – We haven entered a renaissance in geographic history. Modern history is mostly the history of spaces: the history of terrains and territories, a history where the plains and rivers and harbors shape the social place that sits above them or around them.


The Dragon's Egg

December 5, 2011 – High fantasy for young adults; The Eragon books offer the enchantment of an alternative world fully entered.


What Did Jesus Do?

May 24, 2010 – Adam interrogates different depictions of Christ in a number of new books on Jesus and the Gospels.


Sparkings

February 17, 2003 – This year is the centenary of Cornell’s birth, and his shadow boxes continue to hold their own in the American imagination. Since his death, in 1972, it is not so much that Cornell’s fame has grown, which is what happens when critics water a reputation, as that his work has become part of the living body of art, which is what happens when artists eat it. 


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Bumping Into Mr. Ravioli

September 30, 2002 – Adam's daughter, is growing up in Manhattan, and so Charlie Ravioli, her imaginary playmate, has a lot of local traits: he lives in an apartment "on Madison and Lexington," he dines on grilled chicken, fruit, and water, and, having reached the age of seven and a half, he feels, or is thought, old. But the most peculiar local thing about Olivia's imaginary playmate is this: he is always too busy to play with her.


Man Goes to See a Doctor

August 24, 1998 – You spend six years with New York's last Freudian – random associations, uncomfortable confessions, unleashed reminisces– and that's just the shrink.


The Last of the Metrozoids

May 10, 2004 – A personal history about art historian Kirk Varnedoe coaching a boys' flag fotball team while dying of cancer.