An Economy of Regard
The story behind Hendrik Hartog’s important new book sounds almost like the setup to a joke: What does a Princeton legal historian do when he visits his 91-year-old mother for a month? Spend alternating days shuttling between Mom, who lives in a retirement community in San Mateo, California, and the New Jersey Miscellany, an “obscure and unofficial series of New Jersey case volumes” unearthed in the law library at the University of California, Berkeley.
Hartog discovered a cluster of New Jersey cases spanning the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries, chronicling disputes that arose when older people used promises of inheritance to cajole younger ones, usually their adult children, into caring for them. The resulting book, Someday All This Will Be Yours, explores arrangements that preceded the multibillion-dollar enterprise we now call family caregiving.
A Wealth of Insight
Marilynne Robinson is one of America’s most important novelists. What often gets lost in the swooning over her fiction is that she is also one of the country’s most accomplished essayists.
The stories we’ve been told about the role of competition in our evolution have been unnaturally selective. Sound-bite pop science, of the “red in tooth and claw” and “selfish gene” variety, has left out much that is essential to human nature. Anthropologist Christopher Boehm aims to resurrect some of those missing elements in Moral Origins. In his view, cooperation, along with the traits and rules needed to make it work, was as essential to our survival as large brains.
Leader of the Pack
Millions of American women have worn a Girl Scout uniform, including Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, Lucille Ball, Mariah Carey, and Sandra Day O’Connor. Aside from those ubiquitous boxes of thin mint cookies, the organization, which today claims more than three million members, is synonymous with the best values of American culture, including devotion to public service and chipper self-sufficiency. It owes its existence to the vision of a vibrant if eccentric promoter of opportunities for girls, as historian Stacy A. Cordery recounts in Juliette Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts.
Low, known all her life as Daisy, was born in Savannah in 1860, on the brink of the Civil War, to a Confederate captain and his Yankee wife. As a young woman, she grew smitten with William Mackay Low, a rich squire with a likewise geographically divided pedigree: His mother was a local belle and his father was British. After months of Southern romance, “Willy” left for Oxford, where he was too busy carousing with other women to answer Daisy’s letters, though he spent every summer with her. Once he decided to settle down, however, the two became engaged—Daisy evidenced the fine breeding he required in a bride, and she was attracted to his wild streak.
Already having lost most hearing in one ear because of an improperly treated infection, Daisy suffered a freak accident at their wedding in 1886 when a grain of rice thrown by a
In Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a portrait of a slum in Mumbai, India, Katherine Boo sketches characters with Dickensian vividness against the black machinations of communal enmities, caste and ethnic politics, class prejudice, sexism, and corruption. Boo, whose long-form journalism on the American poor has earned her a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur Fellowship, and other awards, set herself a difficult task with this, her first book: to dramatize the effects of poverty and corruption on everything they touch. The poverty in Mumbai—indeed, in all the developing world’s megacities—can reinforce ties among neighbors; more often, it breeds suspicion, gangs, and lethal jealousies.
The Urban Future
Human Circuit Board
Who are you? Once, that question was answered by philosophers. Today, it’s often the province of geneticists who parse our DNA for clues to our identity. In Connectome, Sebastian Seung, a neuroscientist at MIT, proposes a different source. The essence of personhood, he says, lies not so much in our genetic code as in the way the 100 billion neurons in each of our brains are wired to one another.
One Nation Under God
The modern era has defined itself against religion. At worst, religion is reviled; at best, it is regarded as a subject not to be mentioned in the corridors of power. It wasn’t always so. In the premodern world, religion was pervasive, respected, and powerful. The turning point came with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which ended the Thirty Years’ War, a horrendous, religiously motivated scouring of much of Europe. From then on, the states of the international system were expected to keep their holy scriptures off the diplomatic negotiating table.
Robert Pastor is an extraordinary thinker who happens to have extraordinarily bad timing. His previous book on North America, Toward a North American Community, brought together all the best arguments for a post-NAFTA deepening of regional cooperation among the United States, Canada, and Mexico. But it was published just before 9/11, after which no one in Washington wanted to hear about “streamlining” America’s borders, especially if the proposal was framed as lessons drawn from European integration.
Since then, most of those who had jumped on the North American bandwagon have jumped off again, but Pastor, the founding director of the Center for North American Studies at American University, has stuck tenaciously to his call for a trilateral community. His new book, The North American Idea, was not written with the aim of influencing bureaucrats and business leaders, but rather of convincing the broader “attentive public” and rising political leaders to set aside old conceptions of sovereignty and move toward a regional future. Even as he was writing the book, however, Mexico was overwhelmed by a wave of violent crime and the United States was staggered by a financial crisis that turned into a deep recession that was also felt in Canada and Mexico. And again the political confidence and creativity Pastor was counting on seem to have evaporated.
The core of the book is Pastor’s argument for a rejuvenation of... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
No Man’s Land
Perhaps no single word evokes images of the divisive legacy of the war on terror more vividly than “Guantánamo”: orange jumpsuits, chainlink fences, “enhanced” interrogations. No wonder we forget that Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, is a beautiful place, and not solely the site of one of the world’s most notorious prisons. In Guantánamo, Jonathan Hansen, a professor of intellectual history at Harvard, captures both the natural splendor and the troubled past of the United States’ oldest naval outpost overseas, placing it front and center in the annals of American empire.
Occupying 45 square miles along Cuba’s southeastern coast, U.S. Naval Station Guantánamo Bay sits astride the bay’s picturesque southern channel. According to the terms of a lease agreement between the United States and Cuba, signed in 1903 in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War and renegotiated in 1934, the base can only revert to Cuban jurisdiction with U.S. consent. Thus, although formal diplomatic relations between the two countries ended in 1961, every year the U.S. Treasury Department issues a perfunctory $4,085 rent check to the government of Cuba, which authorities in Havana steadfastly refuse to cash.
Foreign interest in Guantánamo predates the Founding Fathers. Hansen masterfully reconstructs the little-known British occupation of the bay in 1741 during a war with Spain for control of... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
Until the 19th century, doctors mostly ignored the mysterious adrenal glands.
CIA director William Egan Colby came clean to Congress about scandals in the agency.
Can the Internet save us from ourselves?
Small acts of insubordination can add up to a lot.
Intimate friendships and relationships are the key to a happy--and healthy--life.
America’s top soothsayer gets philosophical about the perils of prediction.