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    Reviews and Essays

    The Would-Be Savior of Patagonia

    August 5, 2021  | 

    Patagonia as many of us imagine it was born in 1968. That year, the vast region of South America became an exotic destination for outdoor adventure. Of course, residents of Chile and Argentina did not need their backyard discovered any more than Native Americans needed Christopher Columbus. But to a group of young men in …

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    The Ultimate Road Trip

    July 2, 2021  | 

    You’ve landed on the moon. Now what? Take a walk, plant a flag, gather rocks and fly home. When in 1969 Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins splashed down at the end of the Apollo 11 mission, they fulfilled President Kennedy’s audacious dare. The animating goal of the space program had been met, and …

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    Band of Sisters

    April 15, 2021  | 

    Abraham Lincoln had his team of rivals, but they were all white men with high opinions of themselves. Female alliances also worked to end slavery and perfect the union in 19th-century America. In “The Agitators” Dorothy Wickenden of the New Yorker profiles three neighbours who sought women’s rights and freedom for African-Americans. They banded together …

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    The Hazards of American Justice

    April 14, 2021  | 

    A combination of scholarly insight and firsthand pain lends force to “Halfway Home,” a book about the inescapability of prison. Reuben Miller, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, interviewed hundreds of people to learn how former inmates navigate life after serving time. He himself grew up in poverty while his father was in …

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    Dial Him for Murder

    April 8, 2021  | 

    The profile is unmistakable. A few lines establish nose, lip, regal forehead, modest hairline and the great round jowl. From behind this caricature Alfred Hitchcock emerged to introduce a weekly television show filled with the bizarre and the macabre. Yet if many people recognise the sketch, most won’t know that he drew it himself. The …

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    Into the Void

    December 26, 2020  | 

    The cold, hoary legacy of polar exploration depends on outsize characters—and good books. Some chronicle legendary survivors. Ernest Shackleton found fame in 1917 by bringing his crew safely back from Antarctica, yielding one of the best adventure stories ever written: Alfred Lansing’s “Endurance.” Other explorers made their way into print by dying. John Franklin, who …

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    Too Beautiful

    November 26, 2020  | 

    The moment he saw an organ, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart knew what to do with it. Aged six, already a prodigy on the clavier, he encountered pedals and stops for the first time in an Austrian church. Within minutes he was accompanying mass and improvising freely. In the following year, 1763, an official in Heidelberg was …

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    The Amateur’s Ascent

    November 14, 2020  | 

    How’s this for an adventure: Buy a small airplane and learn to fly it. Point it east, toward the highest mountain range on Earth. Travel halfway around the world, solo, from England to Nepal, stopping to refuel in the great cities of Rome, Cairo, Baghdad and Delhi. Use subterfuge and luck to evade the police …

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    Northern Symphony

    October 2, 2020  | 

    John Luther Adams spent much of his adult life in Alaska, not for the mountains or the stargazing but for the quiet. It allowed the composer to think, and, more important, to listen. He carried a music notebook on walks and took dictation directly from the birds. He practiced his tympani parts for the Fairbanks …

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    All the Presidents’ Man

    September 25, 2020  | 

    During the confusion that followed the attempt on Ronald Reagan’s life in 1981, Alexander Haig, the secretary of state, proclaimed at the White House podium: “I am in control.” Breathless and sweating, Haig reassured no one. While he floundered, someone else took command. James Baker, the chief of staff, monitored Reagan’s condition, kept the government …

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    A Hateful Beauty

    September 17, 2020  | 

    Hitler casts as long a shadow over Richard Wagner as Wagner casts over art. So argues Alex Ross, the music critic of the New Yorker, in his gigantic new book, “Wagnerism.” Fifty years after the German composer’s death in 1883, his operas became “the chief cultural ornament of the most destructive political regime in history.” …

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    My Captain Jacks

    June 19, 2020  | 

    I don’t know anyone but me who’s got a work of art that was tailor-made for him. Not tailor-made in the sense that the author or artist made a personal gift of it: I’m not referring to dedicatees. Nor do I mean favorites. Everyone has favorites. I mean stumbling across a film or novel that …

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