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Reviews and Essays

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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Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Long Fight for Equality

November 1, 2018  | 

After earning admission to Harvard Law School but before starting classes, Ruth Bader got married and became Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In light of her new status, the law school asked to see the financial statements of her husband’s father, as if in some pantomime of a dowry negotiation. He was wealthy. Harvard decided not to …

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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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In Search of Lost Dublin

February 23, 2018  | 

The other morning, my wife and I arrived early to breakfast. The restaurant had not yet opened so we took a walk, even though the day was cold. Chicago’s West Loop is a supremely fashionable neighborhood but rough at the edges, a remnant of its recent industrial past. Each intersection therefore entailed some question as …

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The Sound of the Future

December 11, 2017  | 

Beethoven was the first great Romantic composer, and if you listen closely you can hear the moment he launched a new era in music. It occurs about a minute into the third movement of his Symphony No. 3, Eroica. After ninety-two bars of indeterminate pianissimo throat clearing, the orchestra suddenly scales upward and erupts in …

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