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

Deconstructing Clarence Thomas

August 5, 2019  | 

The first thing to know about Clarence Thomas is that everybody at the Supreme Court loves him. Surprisingly, given his uncompromising public persona and his near-total silence during oral arguments, Thomas cultivates a jovial presence in the building’s austere marble hallways. Unlike most of his colleagues, he learns everyone’s name, from the janitors to each justice’s …

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No One Said It Would Be Easy

May 17, 2019  | 

As talk of impeachment fills the air, an exceptionally topical new book explores the failed effort to remove President Andrew Johnson from office in 1868. Johnson ascended to the presidency after Lincoln’s assassination and embarked on a perverse campaign to roll back the Union’s achievements during the Civil War. Racist mobs marauded unchecked through the …

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Slow Down, Holbrooke!

May 6, 2019  | 

The late American diplomat Richard Holbrooke (1941–2010) had a knack, that is to say a weakness, for self-promotion. He lobbied for the Nobel Peace Prize. He hinted broadly that he could serve as secretary of state. When one of his old friends died, Holbrooke petitioned the man’s widow to be included among the eulogists. During …

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The Ballad of Jean McConville

February 26, 2019  | 

Are the Troubles in Northern Ireland finally over? Almost 21 years have passed since the Good Friday Agreement formally ended the conflict. Self-rule has replaced supervision from afar, and a return to the terrifying days of car bombs and masked gunmen is unthinkable. Yet the border separating the Republic of Ireland from the North has …

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The Chief Justice’s Secret

February 1, 2019  | 

Two years ago, Chief Justice John Roberts gave the commencement address at the Cardigan Mountain School, in New Hampshire. The ninth-grade graduates of the all-boys school included his son, Jack. Parting with custom, Roberts declined to wish the boys luck. Instead he said that, from time to time, “I hope you will be treated unfairly, …

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The New Colossus

November 10, 2018  | 

Look into her face and you might be surprised: Lady Liberty is cold and hard. She has a strong jaw and a long, geometric nose, broad at the top and straight all the way down. Her lips above a square chin are full but unsmiling—frowning, almost scowling, and bearing perhaps a hint of menace. A certain …

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