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The Brain Man

Arian Camilleri

Just what is novelist E. L. Doctorow up to in his latest fiction inside the brain of a man who may or may not be delusional. Tom LeClair on a confusing mix of neuroscience, George W. Bush, and unreliability.

If an octogenarian novelist can surprise in January, it could be a happy new year for fiction. Unlike Doctorow’s best-known novels, Andrew’s Brain is not historical. Andrew is an eccentric like the mid-century packrats of Homer and Langley, Doctorow’s last novel, but as a cognitive scientist Andrew is cutting-edge contemporary. Instead of Doctorow’s usual big-screen approach to story, we have 200 pages of personal conversation between Andrew and a psychiatrist.


Jesus’s Third Way

Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

Writing a book on Jesus showed me how polarized the opinions of him are. But for me, Jesus represents a third way—a symbolic example with the power to change lives.

Try writing a book on Jesus and see responses you’ll get. My short book, Jesus: The Human Face of God, appeared about a month ago, and I’ve been deluged with emails and letters, in quantity and passion of a kind that never followed from my earlier books on, say, Tolstoy or Walter Benjamin or Robert Frost. Let’s just say that readers often have their own very personal take on Jesus, and they’re looking for books that reinforce their idea of what it means to follow him.

Ordeal by Water

Polar Explorer vs. Reality TV Crew


In ‘Chasing Shackleton’, Tim Jarvis re-enacts a hundred-year-old Antarctic journey using replica gear and clothing. Despite the raging tempests, subzero temperatures, and treacherous crevasse fields, what really tests him are the intrusions of a reality TV crew. This would seem to be a problem unique to modern explorers. But might Shackleton have sympathized?

The so-called “heroic age” of polar exploration lasted from the tail end of the Victorian era until the outbreak of World War I. When we consider this period’s doughty adventurers, none speaks more directly to our modern souls than Sir Ernest Shackleton. The exhibitions, movies, books, and other paeans to Shackleton in the last decade or so (from the 2002 film starring Kenneth Branagh to the assiduous reverse-engineering, in 2011, of his favored whisky) appear to have perma-frosted him, as it were, atop the pile.


The Week’s Best Reads

From the internet’s hostility to women to a politician’s lonely quest for the facts on GMOs, The Daily Beast picks the best journalism from around the web this week.

Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet Amanda Hess, Pacific Standard “Ignore the barrage of violent threats and harassing messages that confront you online every day.” That’s what women are told. But these relentless messages are an assault on women’s careers, their psychological bandwidth, and their freedom to live online. We have been thinking about Internet harassment all wrong.Citizen Ailes Gabriel Sherman, New York When the head of Fox News moved to Garrison, New York, he bought a little newspaper and tried to instill his own brand of American values.

Next Stop

Serial Killer in Nazi Berlin

Joy Fera/Shutterstock; Author’s Collection

Berlin, 1940. Late one a night a railway worker boards her train home and chats with a man. Then everything goes wrong. An excerpt from Scott Andrew Selby’s ‘A Serial Killer in Nazi Berlin’.

On the evening of November 4, 1940, thirty-year-old Elizabeth Bendorf had just finished her shift as a train ticket salesperson at the S-Bahn station Friedrichshagen and was waiting for a train to arrive in the station to take her home. The S-Bahn was part of Berlin’s rapid transit system.It was common in 1940 for German women like Bendorf to work outside the home. As a result, women often rode the S-Bahn alone at night when their shifts ended.

Cramer on Mrs. Jerry Lee Lewis

In his classic 1984 essay, Richard Ben Cramer wonders if Jerry Lee Lewis got away with his wife's murder.

Richard Ben Cramer died one year ago this week and he is still sorely missed. His career began at the Baltimore Sun during the Watergate Era, blossomed at the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he won a Pulitzer for his reportage in the Middle East, and broadened in the 1980s when he conquered the long magazine profile with his enduring Esquire piece on Ted Williams. Cramer then dove headfirst into publishing with an exhaustive account of the 1988 presidential election in What It Takes, and followed that with a bestselling biography of Joe DiMaggio.

Northern Star

Sjón’s Literary Reykjavik

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Welcome to the most literary country in the world: Iceland. Its current international star Sjón shares his favourite haunts, why he doesn’t believe in realism, and getting into politics.

Literarily speaking, Iceland is prolific. According to recent reports, there are more books read per capita in Iceland—a country with a 99% literacy rate—than anywhere else in the world. But perhaps most astonishingly of all, one in every ten of its 300,000 inhabitants will publish a book in their life. There are, however, only a few Icelandic writers that are read beyond their coastline.Sjón is one of them. The 51-year-old author, whose a pen name means ‘sight’ but is also an abbreviation of the less book-cover friendly, Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson, has written seven novels, numerous poetry collections, song lyrics, plays, picture books for children and, in 2011, a libretto.


Are You Smarter Than a Mouse?


Forget fifth graders. In this excerpt from 'Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power,' Dan Hurley compares our intelligence to the mind of the mouse.

Remember the Fox television show Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?In November 2011, results of the ultimate extreme version of that kind of contest were reported in Seattle at the annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society. Gene Brewer, a psychologist at Arizona State University, was the first author of a paper entitled “Working Memory in Rats and Humans.”i Working memory is the ability to juggle multiple items of information in your head, to not simply remember the numbers 13 and 4 but to multiply them in your mind.


How to Hide a Famine

Stephen Shaver/AFP/Getty

At the height of the Great Famine, China hosted the World Championships of ping pong and managed to hide the deaths of nearly 44 million even with the eyes of the world on them.

The preparations had been thorough. In 1961, they had to be. In the last throes of the greatest famine on record, China was about to host its first ever World Championships. There would be journalists arriving alongside the athletes and officials. Somehow, China had to make sure the fact that up to 44 million people had died in the last three years remained an internal secret. And the sport chosen to cover such devastation was ping pong.One man had ensured that the Chinese were hosting the Championships at their time of need, even helping arrange the journalists’ visas.

Hoover's Legacy

They’ve Always Been Watching You

Jewel Samad/AFP

How ‘The Burglary,’ a new history of the FBI and government snooping, undermines President Obama’s legitimacy in the war on terror.

“History repeats itself,” Marx famously wrote, “first as tragedy, second as farce.”Such a formulation gives history way too much credit. Sure, the past is constantly generating its own sequels and spinoffs, but the progression is less often from Napoleon Bonaparte to Napoleon III or even from Danton to Caussidière (as Marx would have it). No, it’s more like going from M*A*S*H to After-MASH  or Josie and the Pussycats to Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space.


How Michael Connelly Writes

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He blacks out his office and drinks gallons of tea—how the creator, Michael Connelly, of Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller writes a book a year.

I understand that you’re a big Raymond Chandler fan. Which book is your favorite and why?It’s The Little Sister. What has inspired me for going on 40 years is chapter 13. In that chapter Philip Marlowe, frustrated by the events of the day and the case he’s on, takes a ride around Los Angeles. He ruminates a bit on what is going on in his case, but the chapter has little to do with plot, and everything to do with the interplay of character and place.


Hot Reads

This week, from the 1964 World’s Fair to people on the edge to saving the world.

Tomorrow-Landedited by Joseph TirellaA little more than a week before the 1964-65 World’s Fair was set to open its gates in Queens, The New York Journal-American ran a front page story charging that the mural Andy Warhol had created for the fair—a mural commissioned by architect Phillip Johnson—depicted, quite literally, the city’s worst face—or rather, faces. Warhol’s painting featured 22 images of the city’s 13 Most Wanted Criminals, “resplendent in all their scars, cauliflower ears, and other appurtenances of their trade.

Speed Read

Juiciest Bits From Bob Gates

Pool photo by Haraz N. Ghanbari

In his eagerly anticipated memoir ‘Duty,’ former Defense Secretary Robert Gates pulls no punches about President Obama, a threat from David Petraeus, and Nancy Pelosi’s bad side.

Famous for the decisions he made in two wars as well as for serving two presidents of opposing parties, Robert Gates’s memoir Duty leaves little room for misunderstanding how he saw people or events during his time as secretary of defense. Here are some of the juiciest bits from the memoir.He Wasn’t Awed by ObamaWhether it was his age (his nickname in the Obama administration became Yoda) or that he was a remnant of the Bush administration, Gates writes that he initially felt somewhat out of place.


What We Might Become

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We’re not quite there yet, but imagine an America even more unequal where the rich and the rest live walled off from each other. Stefan Beck on Chang-rae Lee’s vision of where American could be going.

A significant majority of Americans—67 percent, per Bloomberg—believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction. It is a little surprising, given the NSA surveillance scandal, the fiasco, and persistent long-term unemployment that anyone is still optimistic or naive enough to argue otherwise. But then, there are wrong directions and there are wrong directions. When one’s anxieties threaten to get out of hand, nothing lends a welcome bit of perspective and peace of mind like a well-crafted and frightening dystopia.

Unremarried Widow

In War, What Remains

Artis Henderson

Before he died, he wrote me a letter that I would find among the boot blousers and carabiners and thumbed-through magazines that the military shipped home.

My husband was killed in Iraq in the fall of 2006 at a time when the war made less and less sense. He died quickly but brutally in a helicopter crash outside Balad.In the week after his death, a casualty assistance officer sat at my kitchen table and asked if I would like to be notified if the military found partial remains, the pieces of my husband's body that might be recovered from the crash site after his funeral. Outside a late-autumn storm was building and the air in the room was damp.

Don't Shave

How to Be Cameron Diaz

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Cameron Diaz loves your body—especially your butt. In her first attempt at a published work, titled The Body Book, she explains why you 'ladies' should too.

In Cameron Diaz’s first attempt at a published work, The Body Book, the 41-year-old abandons her Charlie’s Angel-face to play the all-knowing, flawlessly-fit stepmom we never knew we wanted. Full of girl-power shout-outs like “Hello, Lady! and “Hey, GIRL!”, the book reads like a 400-page endorphin-induced love letter, but it’s more than that with a panel of experts who explain “the law of hunger, the science of strength, and other ways to love your amazing body.


Imagining the Internet in 1929

The Daily Beast

How José Ortega y Gasset's ‘The Revolt of the Masses’ helps us understand everything from YouTube to ‘Duck Dynasty.’

I first read José Ortega y Gasset’s The Revolt of the Masses more than thirty years ago. I still remember how disappointed I was by this cantankerous book. I’d read other works by Ortega (1883-1955), and been impressed by the Spanish philosopher’s intelligence and insight. But this 1929 study of the modern world, his most famous book, struck me as hopelessly nostalgic and elitist.Yet I recently read The Revolt of the Masses again, and with a completely different response.


Fail Fast, Fail Often

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There’s something to notice about successful people: they act quickly, even if they may fail.

[Ed’s note: This piece is excerpted from Fail Fast, Fail Often: How Losing Can Help You Win by Ryan Babineaux, PhD., and John Krumboltz, PhD., with the permission of Tarcher/Penguin. Copyright 2013 Ryan Babineaux, PhD., and John Krumboltz, PhD]In the book Art and Fear, the artists Ted Orland and David Waylon share a story about a ceramics teacher who tried an experiment with his class.The teacher divided the students into two groups. Those sitting on the left side of the studio were to be graded solely on the quantity of their work, while those on the right, solely on the quality.

Read This, Skip That

Can Great Lit Change Your Life?


Stop beating yourself over not reading the “right” books. Fiction is about two things: curiosity and pleasure.

I am a bad reader. I don’t mean that I don’t know how to read or that I don’t understand what I have read. And I’m about average when it comes to speed (no, I’ve never taken an Evelyn Woods course, but I once took their test and that’s what it said: I was smack in the middle of the pack).No, by bad reader, I mean someone who doesn’t finish books he doesn’t like, rereads old favorites at the expense of discovering something new, doesn’t worry about being broadminded, and prefers detective stories to Hemingway or Mary McCarthy.

New Rules

How to Stick to Resolutions

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It’s simple: decide not to decide. Here is how behavioral economics can help shape your habits and how you can make your New Year’s Resolution stick for good.

Many of us don’t need to come up with original New Year’s resolutions—we can simply use our list from last year. Most lists include a resolution to be “healthier”—exercise more, eat less, spend fewer hours on the couch—a commitment most individuals tend to follow religiously during the first couple of weeks of January, less so toward the end of the month, and eventually not at all when it comes time for that  “what the heck” dinner.Understanding WHY we fail can help us construct a plan that will actually increase our chances of sticking with these resolutions.

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