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Of the Maidens

Virgin Sacrifice in the Parthenon

Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

Was the Parthenon used as a site for virgin sacrifice? A new book contends that we may not really understand this iconic monument.

Don DeLillo’s novel The Names opens with the narrator wandering in modern Athens, trying to avoid the city’s imposing past. “For a long time I stayed away from the Acropolis. It daunted me, that somber rock… The weight and moment of those worked stones promised to make the business of seeing them a complicated one.” His reticence suggests something sacred lingering in the stones, but it also reveals the difficulty of seeing the full complexity of ancient monuments.

How I Write: Julianna Baggott

Julianna Baggott Official Fan Page/Facebook

The author of the popular ‘Pure’ and ‘Fuse’ has completed the trilogy with the new book, ‘Burn.’ She talks about breaking into an Irish accent, her first book, and Michael Moore.

Where did you grow up?A yellow, ivy-covered house on a dead-end street in Newark, Delaware.Where and what did you study?In college, I majored in Creative Writing and French, which my father referred to as Starvation and Poverty.Where do you live and why?I’m moving from sunny Florida to the bitter cold of the progressive northeast – to be closer to family and for my kids.What’s your morning routine like, particularly with your four kids?I stay up late working (or worrying).

Marriage the French Way

Pool Photo/Nicholas Kamm/Reuters

When Francois Hollande dines without a First Lady tonight, he’ll have turned a complicated French affair into an American problem. Philip Short on how far the French have come since the days of Mitterand and his not-so secret family.

Twenty years ago the French, like most other Europeans, including even the British, supposedly the most puritanical among them, were flummoxed by Bill Clinton. Why on earth, instead of declaring through gritted teeth and a smokescreen of semantic subterfuges, ‘I did not have sex with that woman’, didn’t he tell Kenneth Starr (as any French politician would have done): ‘It’s none of your business. This is a matter for myself and my wife. Cease your voyeuristic poking around in places which have nothing to do with the public domain!’It seems that similar incomprehension exists in the Unites States regarding the frasques — ‘indiscretions’ as Americans would call them—of the current French President, François Hollande.


A Real Housewife On Sex and Dating

Stuart Conway/Camera Press/Redux

Carole Radziwill, one time princess, two-time Real Housewives star, debuts her first novel and talks about sex and dating.

The period after a break-up, divorce, or separation where individuals struggle to start again and re-enter the dating world is always a challenge. There is the timing, the comparisons to exes and an overwhelming feeling that nothing feels the way it should. But, finding your place after the death of your partner is a completely different story.In the new comedic novel, A Widow’s Guide to Sex and Dating, Claire Byrnes’ life is left in a bit of a mess after the unexpected death of her husband, a sexologist and well known author with a penchant for extramarital affairs.

La Vie

Edmund White: Sex & Survival

Louis Monier/Gamma, via Getty

One of America’s best-known writers, Edmund White’s latest book revisits his years living and loving in Paris. He tells Tim Teeman about sex, relationships, surviving strokes, marriage, and the importance of pleasure.

Edmund White opened the door, took one look at my blood-covered face and hands, and called softly for his husband Michael Carroll. “Oh my goodness, what happened?” White asked. Moments before, I had opened the door to White’s Manhattan apartment block’s inner stairwell (healthy me, taking the stairs), slipped and bashed my head square against the concrete wall (not so healthy me, I’ll take the elevator next time). A deep gash immediately started seeping blood.

Live and Let Die

Book Bag: How to Survive

Phil Ashley

Claire Cameron, the author of the new novel ‘The Bear,’ picks her favorite stories about unlikely survivors.

Why do some people survive traumatic events when others don’t? As we read tales about survivors traversing scorched landscapes, floating in the open sea or arriving alone in foreign lands, we often ask ourselves: Would I survive? Laurence Gonzalez in his book Deep Survival speculates that while 90 percent of people freeze or panic in threatening situations, there are a special 10 percent who are able to keep calm and take action. They are the ones who make the right decisions to stay alive and thrive.

Fun and Thrills

This Week’s Hot Reads

The Daily Beast

Three novels that make for clever and fun reading: from a ‘Lost’-like fantasy to a satire of the Irish boom.

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer This novel features main characters we know only as the Biologist, the Psychologist, the Anthropologist, and the Surveyor, although this is not General Science 101 at your local community college. Nor is this some Theater of the Absurd knockoff. Instead, they comprise the 12th expedition to visit a place called “Area X.” The first expedition thought the place was a natural paradise, but the second expedition committed mass suicide.


What Nazis Taught the CIA

Everett Collection

At a secret black site in the years after the end of WWII, CIA and US intelligence operatives tested LSD and other interrogation techniques on captured Soviet spies—all with the help of former Nazi doctors. An excerpt from Annie Jacobsen’s ‘Operation Paperclip’, published this week.

It was 1946 and World War II had ended less than one year before. In Top Secret memos being circulated in the elite ‘E’ ring of the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were preparing for ‘total war’ with the Soviets—to include atomic, chemical, and biological warfare. They even set an estimated start date of 1952. The Joint Chiefs believed that the U.S. could win this future war, but not for reasons that the general public knew about. Since war’s end, across the ruins of the Third Reich, U.


Of Love and Horror


Novelist Susan Minot’s new book takes on a daunting subject: Joseph Kony and child soldiers. She talks to Lea Carpenter about why fiction can tell this story so powerfully.

“Africa was a big place, and would offer its own suggestions.” Paul Bowles put it that way in Let It Come Down, a title taken from a Shakespearean assassin just before he strikes. Bowles called the title “succinct and brutal,” a fine description that happened also to capture and map an idea of a place: then, Africa. Susan Minot’s mapped many places in her career, many of them interior, but her new novel, Thirty Girls, is also set in Africa, and describes an American journalist’s affair while there alongside the story of girls conscripted into a warlord’s army.

Alien Invasion

‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’—Twice


Having David Bowie play your space alien would make any sci fi movie a classic, but ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ works even without him—just check out the great novel that inspired the film.

“The novel on the cutting room floor”They are literature’s cold cases, the Missing and Presumed Dead. They are the unlucky novels and stories that inspired movies so successful that they eclipsed the originals almost completely.  Some books weather a subsequent movie’s success. Gone With the Wind survives as a classic film and a classic novel. But how many people know that before it was a movie, The Birds was a very good novella by Daphne Du Maurier, or that Forrest Gump is based on the novel Forrest Gump?Good fiction deserves a better fate.

Promised Land

Rewriting Israel’s History

Sharon Bareket

Ari Shavit’s new book was praised for balancing the story of Zionism’s accomplishments with criticism of its founding sins–but his work distorts history and hurts the chances for peace.

Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land may well be the most commercially successful, yet also critically acclaimed book by an Israeli writer explaining his country’s complicated history to American readers. It made the New York Times best seller list for several weeks and was praised profusely in most major book review outlets, including a rave by the New Republic’s literary editor Leon Wieseltier on the cover of the Times’ Sunday book review. The review’s editors then selected Shavit’s book as one of the 100 best books of the year.

A History of American Fun

Michael Ochs Archives

In his new book American Fun, John Beckman charts our pursuit of happiness from the Boston Tea Party to hippies and Yippies. But are we having fun anymore?

Several years ago, driving down the Atlantic coast to Georgia, I looked out my window to find that I was being paced by a woman on a quad. I must have done a double-take, like the Navy pilot who sees a UFO outside his cockpit. Not because a quad along a Southern highway is an uncommon sight but because this woman also had a baby in her lap. And a tallboy. Protective headgear was conspicuous by its absence. I wouldn’t like to embellish, but she was probably smoking a cigarette—hell, why not make it a joint? Whenever I tell this story to my fellow Northeasterners, they assume I was aghast at the primitive childrearing customs of Herda Hadda Holler, but what really went through my mind is: That’s a mom who knows how to have fun.

Mersey Mersey

It Was 50 Years Ago Today…

CBS /Landov

On February 9, 1964, The Beatles walked onto the stage of the Ed Sullivan Show and changed rock history. Nik Cohn was around to watch their ascendancy, and he didn’t miss much.

“If the Beatles meant a lot in England, they meant very much more in America,” wrote Nik Cohn in his brisk, entertaining history of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Awopbopaloopbop Alopbamboom: Pop from the Beginning. “They changed everything. They happened at a time when American pop was bossed by trash, by dance crazes and slop ballads, and they let all of that bad air out. They were foreign, they talked strange. They played harsh, unsickly, and they weren’t phoney.


The Battle for Lincoln’s Legacy


Who would determine how the world saw America’s greatest president, his old friend or his secretaries? A new book tells the story of the men who were by his side during the presidency—and how they started shaping his image.

The boys of Lincoln’s Boys are John Nicolay and John Hay, Lincoln’s youthful private secretaries when he was president and in middle age authors of the most substantial nineteenth-century biography of Lincoln. Their biographer Joshua Zeitz, a former contributing editor at American Heritage, says in his prologue that “Nicolay and Hay believed that writing history required telling a good story.” Zeitz tells several. The longest story traces the friendship of a German immigrant and American prodigy who met in primary school and remained close until their deaths.


Don’t Forget Stalin

Alexander Demianchuk/Reuters

Even while Hitler and Mao still captivate the popular imagination, one of the great monsters of the 20th century recedes. Celebrated historian Paul Johnson on why he decided to write a new biography of the Soviet Union’s monstrous dictator.

I have undertaken to write a new short life of Joseph Stalin because I have discovered that, among the young, he is insufficiently known. Whereas Hitler figures frequently in the mass media, and Mao Tse-tung’s memory is kept alive by the continuing rise in power of the communist state he created, Stalin has receded into the shadows. I shall bring him forth and shine on him the pitiless light of history.Stalin was a monster, one of the outstanding monsters civilization has yet produced.


The Week’s Best Reads

The Daily Beast

From Vladimir Putin’s loneliness at the top to a creepy, secretive supermarket chain, The Daily Beast picks the best journalism from around the web this week.

The Loneliness of Vladimir Putin Julia Ioffe, The New Republic He crushed his opposition but has nothing to show for it but a country that’s falling apart.A Valuable Reputation Rachel Aviv, The New Yorker After Tyrone Hayes said a chemical was harmful, its maker pursued him.This Land Was Your Land Christopher Ketcham, The American Prospect In Utah and other western state, the country’s most pristine wilderness faces new threats from Big Energy and its powerful allies.


These Cartoonists Are Killing It

The saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" is particularly appropriate when looking at the unmistakable style and inspiration of the best illustrators working today.

Fever Dreams

Hitler’s Fantasy Museum


Before World War II’s start, Hitler was driven to create his dream museum containing all his favorite Aryan-approved art. Noah Charney on how the Monuments Men had to unravel the thousands of objects plundered by the Fuhrer’s minions—and what they learned from Napoleon.

When Monuments Men Robert Posey and Lincoln Kirstein walked into the white-washed cottage in the German forest that housed Hermann Bunjes, the Harvard-educated one-time SS officer and art advisor to Herman Goring, they learned of an elaborate plan involving the wholesale looting of Europe’s art treasures. Bunjes, hiding in fear of reprisals against SS officers by angry German citizens, told these fellow art historians about the ERR—the Nazi art theft unit—and about Hitler’s plan to create a city-wide museum in his boyhood town of Linz, Austria: a “super museum” that would contain every important artwork in the world, including a wing of “degenerate art,” a sort of chamber of horrors to demonstrate from what monstrosities the Nazis had saved the world.


Cairo’s Revolutionary Lit Scene

Ugurhan Betin/Getty

With Cairo still in turmoil and bombs exploding, writer Ahdaf Souief shares her worries over the stifling of cultural life, her love for Naguib Mahfouz, and the power of the Nile.

Ahdaf Soueif is a pillar of Cairo. Coming from a family of activists (she has a nephew in jail for allegedly encouraging a demonstration, a sister whom, after her son was faced with a court marshal, went on hunger strike, and a niece in full-time human rights activism) she is held in high regard in the city in which she was born. Soueif pens a weekly column for a national paper, has written two novels and three story collections, and then, during the Egyptian revolution, produced Cairo, an often very personal account of the inception of the Arab Spring.


Between Boredom and Terror

Damon Winter/The New York Times

From the frontlines of America’s war in Afghanistan a Yale graduate turned Army warrior reflected on his experience in letters home. Now he’s put those letters together and they reveal a man comforted by the trivial and questioning why he is there.

If war is the true oldest profession, then perhaps the soldier’s letter is the origin of the form. The particular constructs and constraints of a military campaign—necessary separation from loved ones, daily news and hardships, hours of tedium that must be filled, not to mention the prospect of death—combine to create perfect letter-writing conditions, and average soldiers have been communicating existential insights large and small since the moment they became literate.

How I Write