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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.

Office Humor

The Temp's Literary Debut

Jennifer Rocholl

‘One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories’ is an absurdist, scathingly funny literary collection from Ryan from ‘The Office.’ B.J. Novak on his surprisingly personal fictional debut.

Plenty of actors have written books lately, but none as original, smart or literary as B.J. Novak’s collection, One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories. It’s a sign of his freshness that reviews, most with extravagant praise, have strained for comparisons. Woody Allen’s sketches? Sort of, in their comic philosophical questioning, but Novak can be far more narrative. David Sedaris? Novak is less autobiographical; his characters include “The Man Who Invented the Calendar.

Treasure Hunt

The Real Monuments Men

Claudette Barius/Columbia Pictures

In this excerpt of the bestselling book ‘The Monuments Men,’ on which the film of the same name, directed by George Clooney and released Friday, is based, the platoon comes across four coffins containing the remains of Germany’s greatest leaders—and discover what they were intended for.

George Stout arrived at Bernterode on May 1, 1945. Just as fellow Monuments Man Walker Hancock had hinted in his phone call, the mine was in a rural area, with nothing to see but forests. Even the tiny village nearby had been evacuated by Nazi officials so that no one would know about the frantic activity at the mine. The only sight of civilization, if that’s what it could be called, was an internment camp for displaced persons, mostly French, Italian, and Soviet slave laborers who had worked in the mine.

Hail Mary

Seduced by Il Duce

Culture Club/Getty

A new book makes a compelling case that the Catholic Church should pay greater penance for its support of Mussolini and the rise of fascism—and what they got in return.

In 1995, Pope John Paul II issued a message on the 50th anniversary of World War II, stating that “the Christians of Europe need to ask forgiveness, even while recognizing that there were varying degrees of responsibility in the events that led to the war.”Over the next several years, against the advice of certain cardinals, John Paul made a startling call for the church to engage in “the purification of historical memory.”For a church that considers popes to be infallible—perfect in truth on matters of dogma—the idea of acknowledging its failures in the mud of history was a dramatic shift.

Monuments Man

Bob Balaban: How I Write

Victoria Will/AP

The prolific actor, who stars as Private Preston Savitz in this week’s ‘Monuments Men,’ is also a successful children’s book author.

Where did you grow up?Well, I was born in Chicago. My family moved there in about 1898 or so, escaped from some pogrom in Russia, got there, and eventually set up a chain of movie theaters. I got hooked on movies as a little kid and never really got over it. I love Chicago and I go back whenever I can.Is there a film that you remember seeing, an earliest one that you really loved and made you want to be in the film industry?One of my earliest memories is going to see, when I was 7 or 8, Guys and Dolls, which was playing at one of my dad’s theaters.


No Jokes Please, We’re Russian


As journalists descend on the Winter Olympics the most chilling effect may be Russian pride when it comes to the truth about Sochi.

Everyone is aware of the Asian cultural preoccupation with saving face. Less well known is the pervasive Russian spin on this social dynamic, which is not so much saving face as resenting those who make one lose face—and punishing such tactless types with cold-shouldering, scolding or sterner measures, depending on the level of embarrassment they cause. It is called “being offended,” and it is an age-old Russian national pastime, both on an individual level and more broadly.


Revolutionary Cross-Dresser


In the American Revolution a woman named Deborah Samson donned men’s clothes and fought the British. Now transgender novelist Alex Myers has told her story and explores sexual identity in the 18th century.

Alex Myers’s debut novel, Revolutionary, reimagines the true story of Deborah Samson, a little remembered Revolutionary War soldier who disguised herself as a man to fight the British. Samson has fascinated Myers, 35, since childhood, not only because Samson is a distant relative, but also because Myers is a female-to-male transgender person. In the edited interview below, Myers discusses how his sexual identity informed the novel, the limits historical fact placed on him, and his own gender transformation.


This Week’s Hot Reads

From a look at the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the life of the American poet E.E. Cummings.

Karate Chop by Dorthe NorsWhen describing many works of Danish art, adjectives like unnerving and disturbing often come to mind, but these are far from criticisms. It is precisely because of how unsettling Dorthe Nors’s stories in Karate Chop are that leave her words festering in the mind long after reading their four or five pages. Aside from “The Heron” (recently published in The New Yorker and included here), Nors’s work has gone largely unnoticed in America.

How I Write