Michael O'Donnell | Reader, Writer

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Thanks for stopping by. Here you’ll find a collection of my magazine and newspaper writing from the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The Nation, and other publications. One of the advantages of writing about books—besides all the free books—is the chance to read something new and fascinating. I hope you’ll find the same on this website. Whether your interest is politics, law, people, or music, perhaps you’ll find a few moments of diversion here. Take a spin around and drop me a line.

A note on navigating the site: “Featured Articles” is a best-of page, containing twenty or so greatest hits. “Reviews and Essays” contains every article I’ve written dating back to 2002. This Home page contains my most recent work.

Recent Articles

Midwestern Battleground

September 15, 2018  | 

Fourteen years ago the pundit Thomas Frank asked what was the matter with Kansas. Today the question is, who sank Wisconsin? In “The Fall of Wisconsin,” the journalist Dan Kaufman laments the state’s recent trajectory and chronicles “the conservative war” on its political legacy. That legacy in a word is progressivism: seeded by socialist immigrants …

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A Dreamer at the Piano

September 14, 2018  | 

Picture a man swooning and raging with all the passions of youth. Every problem is a crisis, each feeling an ocean. His commitment to political and artistic freedom yields only to the irrepressible truths of love and beauty. Put that exhausting spirit to music and you have the tragic Romantic composer Robert Schumann. His diaries …

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Postscript to the Preludes

August 16, 2018  | 

High on a mountainside, in an abandoned monastery on the Spanish island of Majorca, Frédéric Chopin worked at a small upright piano. His room resembled, in his words, “a tall coffin, the enormous vaulting covered with dust, the window small.” Outside, the winter landscape featured a crusader’s church and a ruined mosque, cypresses and olive …

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Ready to Blow

July 17, 2018  | 

How times change. One of the most alarming features of daily life in the United States just a generation ago has seemingly disappeared. Between 1945 and 1991, as Americans went to work, took their children to school, watched ball games, and napped on the beach, the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union hummed …

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Commander v. Chief

April 1, 2018  | 

At a white house stag dinner in February 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower shocked the new chief justice of the United States. Earl Warren was Eisenhower’s first appointment to the Supreme Court and had been sworn in just four months earlier. Only two months into his tenure, Warren had presided over oral arguments in the blockbuster …

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Northwest to the Sea

March 22, 2018  | 

In the late eighteenth century, the fur trade in North America entailed a huge and costly detour. Beaver pelts, harvested in Canada and the United States and destined for China, had first to be shipped east to London. From there they traveled southwest, around Cape Horn, and then west halfway around the world to the …

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