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

How the Thug Became a Dove

June 10, 2017  | 

While serving as attorney general, Robert Kennedy wore his hair close-cropped in the style of the early 1960s. After a trip to the barber it could almost resemble a crew cut. But after President Kennedy’s assassination, he began growing it out. By the time he became a candidate for president in 1968, he had an …

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Where the Water Goes

May 5, 2017  | 

Some miles south of the Mexican city of Los Algodones, near the Baja Peninsula, the Colorado River ends. It used to flow to the sea, emptying into the Gulf of California. As recently as midcentury, its delta was a wetland ecosystem, with lagoons, fish, and jaguars. Now the drainage basin is an arid wasteland. Motorists …

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Six Encounters with Lincoln

May 1, 2017  | 

How do we gauge the success of a presidency? The media has recently found itself asking this question. There are standard measures like passing durable legislation and responding well to crisis. Equally important, at least for the current president, are keeping campaign pledges and maintaining popularity through statements and speeches. President Obama’s goal seemed to …

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Action Figures

April 27, 2017  | 

MARGARET THATCHER A Life and Legacy By David Cannadine 162 pp. Oxford University, $14.95. So much has been said about Margaret Thatcher that the only thing left to do is to say less. Cannadine’s life of the strident and indomitable prime minister is quick as a sprint and a joy to read. Initially prepared as …

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Why We Eat Octopus But Not Cat

April 8, 2017  | 

The debate over eating animals has become as toxic as our politics, with even more fake blood. The positions of both sides are best understood in the context of reaction. Carnivores ­unsurprisingly dislike vegetarian ­finger-wagging and want to enjoy their suppers in peace. Animal-­welfare advocates, for their part, see such an acute ethical crisis that they …

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The Worst Job in the World

March 20, 2017  | 

In 1981, the Atlantic Monthly published a devastating critique of supply-side economics called “The Education of David Stockman.” The article was a major embarrassment for the Reagan administration: Stockman was the president’s budget director, and had publicly undermined the theory and numbers behind Reagan’s entire economic program. The cover of the magazine even featured a …

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