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Out of the Ruins

Out of the Ruins

Welcome to the world in 1945—death, destruction, hunger, revenge, rape. So how did we get from there to here? Ian Buruma talks about his new history of the year World War Two ended.

For a young man growing up in the Netherlands in the 1950s the War—that is the Second World War—hung like smoke. It was everywhere: “We grew up with the notion that you couldn’t go shopping in certain shop butcher shop because he had been a collaborator or buy candy at a certain tobacconist because she’d had a German boyfriend during the War. My primary school teachers all had fantastic tales of derring-do—invariably all fake.”Out of this experience comes Year Zero, Ian Buruma’s global tour of what the world looked like in 1945 as peace descended.

History Lessons

The President’s Pen


No historian has ever been as close to power as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. was to President Kennedy as a new collection of his letters marvelously shows. Ted Widmer on the whirl of celebrity and policy that dance across the pages.

The 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s presidency winds down this fall, and it is refreshing to have these two books, each a celebration of genuine life and thought, as we enter an echo chamber that is unlikely to promote either in the weeks leading up to November 22.Schlesinger’s letters complete a download that has been coming steadily since his death in 2007. Indeed, after going to his reward, he has been publishing at a prodigious pace.


Disaster-Zone Junkie


In her new book 'Chasing Chaos,' Jessica Alexander offers a poignant, clear-eyed look at the world of international disaster relief and her own addiction to aid work.

A decade in and out of the world’s most dangerous and heart-wrenching humanitarian crises does a number on the human psyche. In Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid, veteran aid worker Jessica Alexander offers a behind-the-scenes window into the catastrophes that incense us on TV, the ones we cry over when we read about them in magazines, and the ones we’re woefully unaware of, which rarely make it onto our radars. She lives in countries and works with people decimated by war, natural disaster, disease, and governmental negligence.

“I hear Gore’s voice and I want so much to be with him”

Courtesy Everett Collection

In an entry from a newly published edition of her diaries, Anaïs Nin confides her feelings for gay novelist Gore Vidal

In this 1946 diary entry from Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anais Nin, 1939-1947, Nin discusses her complex relationship with—and unrequited love for—then 21-year-old novelist Gore Vidal.February 25, 1946Last night Gore came. After writing under the stimulus of benzedrine, he was depressed. I talked about analysis, had to confess I had been to [Dr. Clement] Staff because “I wanted to die.” Although Staff said if Gore were analyzed I would lose him, I want him free and strong.


The Week’s Best Reads

From Obama’s stumbling path on a Syria intervention to a Texas philanthropist’s search for a Ugandan killer, The Daily Beast picks the best journalism from around the web this week.

Obama’s Uncertain Path on Syria Mark Mazzetti, Robert F. Worth, and Michael R. Gordon, The New York Times A riveting play-by-play of the administration’s stumbling, halting move toward—and then away from—an intervention in Syria.Dignity’s Due Samuel Moyn, The Nation Why are philosophers invoking the notion of human dignity to revitalize theories of political ethics?The Cost of Living Stephen S. Hall, New York As cancer drugs have become more expensive—in a few cases, staggeringly so—their effectiveness has often failed to rise in tandem.

Man in Black

‘Hello, I’m Johnny Cash’

ABC Photo Archives/Getty

Robert Hilburn’s vivid new biography, ‘Johnny Cash: The Life,’ provides a piercing look at a man besieged by the demons of addiction but steadied by Christian faith and an abiding love of music. Read excerpts from two crucial moments in Cash’s saga.

Robert Hilburn’s vivid new biography,  Johnny Cash: The Life, thoroughly examines all aspects of the performer’s life, from his start in the Arkansas cotton fields to his late-life renaissance working with producer Rick Rubin. But Hilburn is particularly canny when it comes to Cash’s genius for slipping in and out of musical categories. He was not exactly a country singer, but not really in the rock ‘n’ roll camp either. Nor was he a straightforward folk or gospel singer, although he excelled in those genres.

Anaïs Nin’s Intimate Diaries

Courtesy Everett Collection

Nearly fifty years after her diary was first made public, readers can now read previously unpublished details about Anaïs Nin’s complicated love life.

Anaïs Nin, the celebrated diarist and writer of erotica, has always appealed to a particular reader: the insecure but precocious teenage girl, the obsessive governed by a desperate longing for intimacy (“I need love more than food,” Nin confided to her journal in 1946). That allure lives in her exhaustively detailed diaries, published in seven volumes and covering five decades. It is here that readers can explore Nin’s every heartrending expression of love, intimacy, and sexual passion, peering in on a lifelong quest for “the one who would complete” her.


Cormac Beats the Curse

Twentieth Century Fox, Getty

Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Huxley—none of the great novelists ever had an original screenplay produced. Cormac McCarthy has. But is his new movie, ‘The Counselor,’ any good? By Andrew Romano.

Hollywood has never been kind to great fiction writers. But The Counselor—the new Ridley Scott film starring Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, and Penelope Cruz—is different. Somehow novelist-turned-screenwriter Cormac McCarthy has avoided the curse of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Aldous Huxley, and Vladimir Nabokov and managed to convince a lot of very powerful people to make exactly the movie he wanted to make.The question is whether that’s a good thing.

Lincoln’s Twitter Mole


Like the White House twitter mole fired this week, President Lincoln had his own official leaking secrets and mocking him, Count Adam Gurowski. Kevin Peraino on the amusing parallels and what they reveal about secrecy and diplomacy.

When the news broke this week that National Security Staff official Jofi Joseph had been fired for his acerbic, anonymous tweets as @natsecwonk, it was heralded as a new low in the annals of diplomatic privacy. It was just the latest confirmation, the thinking went, that the secretive world of international statecraft has been forever turned upside down—a small-but-telling postscript in the Age of Snowden.It is worth remembering, however, that diplomats in all eras have struggled with the question of privacy.


Justin Long vs. Jonathan Franzen


Justin Long, who played the ‘Mac Guy’ in a series of ads, responds to Jonathan Franzen’s calling him “smug.” His movies, 'A Case of You,' and 'Best Man Down,' are in theaters soon.

I’m a huge fan of Franzen’s work, so in a weird way, just to be mentioned by him—no matter how pejoratively—was flattering. I’ve got to say, I thought a lot about The Kraus Project after I read it, and I thought it was an interesting essay—and one that I don’t necessarily disagree with. I love what he had to say about Karl Kraus, and the German point of view versus the romantic Italian and French way of looking at art, and finding aesthetic beauty in just walking down the street.

The Future Is Here

Whither Life?


Welcome to the future of life: synthetic life, that is. Craig Venter talks about his new book, where he argues that our genetic code is becoming interchangeable with digital codes. The implications will revolutionize our world.

What’s your big idea? The worlds of the genetic code, the chemicals A, C, G and T, are becoming interchangeable with the digital world, the ones and zeroes of computers, and we did this first with learning how to read the genetic code and converting the A, C, Gs and Ts into the computer code, and now we’ve been going the other direction, starting with ones and zeroes, re-writing the chemical code and then using that to create new life. So it’s a concept of the rapid interchangeability of DNA and digital information, the applications of that are we can now send life at the speed of light; send electromagnetic waves through the internet for example and recapitulate it at the other end, so in the future you’ll actually be able to download living things from your computer.

The Obligation to be Interesting


In an age of inane Twitter commentary, “likes,” and instant publication, one of the few critics standing athwart our culture and writing serious criticism is James Wolcott. A salute to his new collection of essays by William Giraldi.

In a 1932 letter to a friend, George Orwell complained that the book sections of newspapers “seem deliberately to seek out the dullest people they can get to review the dullest books.” Amis the Younger, writing about John Updike in 1976, had this to say about literary comment: “The crucial defect is really no different from that of any other kind of writing: it is dullness. The literary pages throng with people about whom one has no real feelings either way—except that one can’t be bothered to read them.

Legal Files

Still Killing Time

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times, via Redux

America’s favorite legal thriller writer is back with a sequel, “Sycamore Row,” to the book that made his name—which is making its Broadway debut. John Grisham talks courthouse morals with Thane Rosenbaum.

The bestseller lists in hardcover fiction are about to recalibrate like slot machines with the publication this week of John Grisham’s new novel, Sycamore Row, the highly-anticipated sequel to Grisham’s first and most literary novel, A Time to Kill. Readers have had to wait a long time to see Grisham’s first protagonist and presumptive alter ego, Jake Brigance, pacing around a courtroom again—A Time to Kill was published twenty-five years ago.

True Stories

You Killed My Son


For 10 years now StoryCorps has captured real Americans talking about love and loss, pain and triumph. In honor of their anniversary, we publish this moving conversation between a woman and the man who killed her only son.

MARY JOHNSON, 58, talks with OSHEA ISRAEL, 34In 1993, Oshea Israel, 16, got into an argument with Laramiun Byrd, 20, at a party, and he shot and killed him. Laramiun was Mary Johnson’s only son.Mary Johnson: You took my son Laramiun’s life, and I needed to know why. The first time I asked you to meet with me, you said absolutely not. So I waited nine months and asked you again—and you said yes. You and I finally met in March 2005 at Stillwater Prison.

And Justice For All

Scott Turow: How I Write

Taylor Hill/Getty

The ‘Presumed Innocent’ author, whose new legal thriller is ‘Identical,’ talks about law school, being member of a band made up of superstar authors, and being able to practice law while he writes novels.

NC: Where did you grow up? ST: I grew up on the north side of Chicago, in West Rogers Park, an overwhelmingly Jewish neighborhood. When I was 13, my parents moved to Winnetka, Illinois, an upper class, WASPy suburb where Jews—as well as Blacks and Catholics—were unwelcome on many blocks. I suffered the spiritual equivalent of whiplash. NC: Where’s the best steak in Chicago?ST: At my house, cooked on my Big Green Egg over lump charcoal and mesquite.


The Murdoch Omerta


Even after years of bad headlines about phone hacking and police payoffs, just try writing about the Murdochs and you’ll see what happens. But NPR’s media man David Folkenflik has gone inside the empire to reveal their secrets.

It is entirely possible that if you regularly read The New York Times, live on the coasts, are younger than 55, don’t own a gun or a truck, or are, in other respects, a Blue State liberal, you have read more books and articles about Fox News, or its News Corp mothership, than you have spent, say, watching Fox News or reading The New York Post.The shelf of Murdochania groans. In the past year alone there has been The Rise and Fall of the Murdoch Empire by a former reporter for the now-shuttered News Corp property News of the World; Murdoch’s Politics: How One Man’s Thirst For Wealth and Power Shapes our World by an professor of journalism from Rupert Murdoch’s native Australia; Murdoch’s Pirates, about a private security force that operated within one part of the empire; The Fall of the House of Murdoch, by British writer Peter Jukes; Dial M for Murdoch, co-written by a member of Parliament and a journalist for the Independent; leaving aside for the moment the 2010 biography by Michael Wolff; the 2004 documentary Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism; two new volumes on Fox News chief Roger Ailes.

Pulitzer Winner

Time Bandit

Bas Czerwinski/AFP/Getty

Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning literary thriller, “Goldfinch,” is set in a clamorous present, but mellowed by the timbre of an antique voice.

Reading Donna Tartt’s ravishing time warp of a novel, The Goldfinch, which is just out today (though several enraptured critics slipped their shackles and reviewed it weeks ahead of release, eager to gild this deserving bird with their own praise), I recalled the unmooring sensation I felt this summer when I read for the first time George Gissing’s 1891 novel New Grub Street. The eerily destabilizing effect of that book came down to this: it seemed to have been written by a keen-eyed visitor from a later century, with the voice and mindset of a more modern age.

Softer Image?

Dick Is Back

CBS, via Youtube

The wan figure is gone, and it’s a pink-cheeked former VP out meeting the press this week to promote his new ‘Heart’ book. But his reappearance may be the last thing his party needs now, says Michelle Cottle.

Sweet Jesus, did anyone see either of Dick Cheney’s TV interviews this week? The man looks amazing. And I don’t mean amazing for a septuagenarian with a tortured health history. I’m talking there’s-an-oil-portrait-hidden-in-his-attic-growing-more-grotesque-by-the-day amazing. Gone is the wan, wasted figure of 2010, replaced by pink cheeks, a solid physique, and—dare I say it?—a twinkle in those pale blue eyes. Whoever’s donated heart now beats in the former VP’s chest must have been in crackerjack cardiac condition, because Dick has never looked better.

Public Intellectual

America’s Most Popular Poet

Jill Toyoshiba/Chicago Tribune, via Newscom

He’s read by many—you can even find his poems in New York City subway cars—but what makes Billy Collins so loved? Austen Rosenfeld reads the latest collection to see what’s special about a Billy Collins poem.

On Aug. 31, a black and white photograph of Seamus Heaney filled the space above the fold of The New York Times. A close up of the late Irishman’s face, with his hard eyes that seem to be staring somewhere much farther than the day’s news, was a startling image to see while opening the paper on a Saturday morning. It’s a rare occurrence that a poet graces the front page of The New York Times. In fact, there are only a handful of instances. The death of Adrienne Rich was one example.

Portrait of The Artist

Lucian Freud’s Private World

David Montgomery/Getty

A new memoir exposes intimate details of the artist’s private life—from his burning temper, and excessive gambling to nude sittings with his 14-year-old daughter. By Erin Cunningham.

Lucian Freud led a guarded life. The late, great British modernist painter—and grandson of Sigmund Freud—valued his privacy. He maintained close circles of friends (whom he ensured would rarely interact with each other), and entrusted only a certain few with his personal information. From 1940 until the early 2000s, Freud participated in no press interviews; he was known to physically attack photographers who attempted to take his picture, and he cancelled the publication of two authorized biographies about himself during his lifetime.

How I Write