May 24, 2023 | Chicago Tribune
The pandemic is officially over. By federal declaration, the public health emergency expired on May 11, capping a general sense that has been in the air for months. Yet Covid-19’s devastating
April 13, 2023 | The Economist
A largely forgotten chapter of a little-remembered war between England and Spain provides the setting for this gripping study of human nature in extremis. Wager, a British frigate, crashed onto rocks off the coast of Patagonia while pursuing the enemy into the Pacific in 1741. The seas in that remote part of the world are infamous. “Below forty degrees latitude, there is no law,” went a sailors’ adage. “Below fifty degrees, there is no God.”
February 10, 2023 | The Wall Street Journal
One of the best adventure books ever written begins with a failure. “The order to abandon ship was given at 5 p.m.” So opens Alfred Lansing’s “Endurance” (1959), the definitive account of Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 attempt to sail to Antarctica and cross it on foot. The eponymous ship was trapped in ice for nine months and eventually sank after being crushed by the pack. Shackleton and his crew of 27 had to paddle, march, hunt and shiver their way to safety, braving huge seas in smaller boats with the use of crude navigational instruments. Somehow, they all survived.
November 18, 2022 | The Wall Street Journal
A century ago, as the excitement of the Wright Brothers faded and the smoke from World War I cleared, a question arose: What was the future of the airplane? Few Americans had ever seen one; those who had knew it as little more than a barnstorming novelty. Planes had proven their utility in war, but not yet in peace. After the armistice, the Army’s Air Service thinned out its ranks from 20,000 officers down to 1,300. The Boeing Co. pivoted to making furniture and speedboats. One of the first aeronautical engineering specialists at MIT advised an eager student to seek another field. “This airplane business will never amount to very much,” he predicted.
October 15, 2022 | The Wall Street Journal
Three natural gifts defined Paul Newman’s career as a movie star. Act one: the eyes. Act two: the laugh. Act three: the voice. Newman’s eyes brought the young actor his smoldering fame: cerulean, intense, and steady, they dared you to look away
August 25, 2022 | The Economist
A shocking photo from 1981 opens this account of nationalist violence in south-east Texas. It shows a boat patrolling Galveston Bay, near Houston; the occupants include robed, hooded and armed members of the Ku Klux Klan. Their aim was to menace Vietnamese fishermen who had recently arrived in the Gulf of Mexico. Hanging by the neck from one of the boat’s outriggers is an effigy of an immigrant.
June 23, 2022 | The Economist
In July 1814 an unsigned magazine article bemoaned the state of patriotic music and poetry in America. “Our national songs are full of ridiculous exaggeration, and frothy rant, and commonplace bloated up into fustian,” complained the writer, thought to be Washington Irving. When would someone produce an anthem worthy of the new republic?
June 9, 2022 | The Economist
In modern parlance, she was a “triple threat.” Josephine Baker could act, dance and sing—and did all three at Chez Josephine, her nightclub in Paris, and in several films. After escaping the Jim Crow South, she found fame in Europe in the period between the wars and made France her adopted home. Dancing in risqué costumes, she helped Parisians remember how to enjoy themselves. Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, a French author, likened Baker to a “most beautiful panther.” Ernest Hemingway reckoned the performer was “the most sensational woman anybody ever saw. Or ever will.”
May 26, 2022 | The Wall Street Journal
Mount Everest has become such an overcrowded playground that the best way to experience the mountain itself may be to go back in time. Covered in refuse, empty oxygen bottles, even human remains, the peak now sees hundreds of summit attempts each spring, paid by fees of some $50,000 per client. With crowding comes tragedy, such as an avalanche in 2014 that killed 16 Sherpas and an earthquake in 2015 that claimed as many as two dozen climbers. As Jon Krakauer wrote in “Into Thin Air,” his account of a 1996 Everest catastrophe in which eight people died, such losses have become “simply business as usual.”
April 21, 2022 | The Economist
As he paddled the great rivers of America, Dick Conant counted. Numbers lent structure to the endless strokes and days, and staved off boredom. He made a game of reaching key figures—palindromes and years with historical significance (abundant in his encyclopedic memory). Conant also marked dates from his own life. In 1972 he slept on …
February 4, 2022 | The Wall Street Journal
Edward Gibbon sits proudly upon my bookshelf. A set of volumes that I own, neatly stacked, comprises his “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” What do you make of me because it is there? The set might indicate that I am a classicist, a scholar. It could signal my ambition—or my …
January 13, 2022 | The Economist
The road from the Third Reich to modern Germany began in a field of rubble. The second world war had left behind enough of it to form a mountain 4,000 metres high, if it were piled up on the Nazi party rally grounds in Nuremberg. When the war ended, citizens began clearing it all up. …