Verbs, nouns, grammar

Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch Constance Hale I wanted really to understand the relationship between nouns and verbs. Another question that I had: Why do linguists look so scathingly at grammarians? And why do grammarians look so scathingly at the history of English? Why is there a divide? And why is there such passion on each … Continue reading

V. Bush

Vannevar Bush This has not been a scientist’s war; it has been a war in which all have had a part. The scientists, burying their old professional competition in the demand of a common cause, have shared greatly and learned much. It has been exhilarating to work in effective partnership. Now, for many, this appears … Continue reading

The Killing of the Liberal Arts

JOSEPH EPSTEIN In a loose definition, the “liberal arts” denote college study anchored in preponderantly Western literature, philosophy, and history, with science, mathematics, and foreign languages playing a substantial, though less central, role; in more recent times, the social science subjects—psychology, sociology, political science—have also sometimes been included. The liberal arts have always been distinguished … Continue reading

Tyrants and Art

Culture thrives on conflict and antagonism, not social harmony – a point made rather memorably by a certain Harry Lime, says philosopher John Gray. "In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, … Continue reading

Barthes in China

Adrian Versteegh “It will be necessary to start off with the major fact,” writes Roland Barthes in Travels in China, “the absolute uniformity of clothes.” That this should count as a “major fact”—partway through a journal that opens with a gripe about freshly stained trousers—ought to provide some sense of what the French semiotician is … Continue reading

Tokyo’s Katsumi

Japan’s most volatile politician is making a splash in the South China Sea — and the Chinese are beating the drums of war. MARK MACKINNON "I do what I do because I want to," Shintaro Ishihara wrote in his 1956 novel The Punishment Room. "Do what you please, and sooner or later you’ll find out … Continue reading

Women’s Migraines

Carol Cruzan Morton Migraines are a battle of the sexes that women might prefer not winning. Each year, roughly three times more women than men—up to 18% of all women—suffer from the debilitating headaches, as tallied by epidemiological surveys in Europe and the United States. A new brain imaging study may explain the divide: The … Continue reading

Once Upon a Time

The lure of the fairy tale. Joan Acocella Once upon a time there was a stubborn child who never did what his mother told him to do. The dear Lord, therefore, did not look kindly upon him, and let him become sick. No doctor could cure him and in a short time he lay on … Continue reading

Violence as a way of life

Humanity has hardly produced a more destructive version of itself than the new breed of terrorists, who are convinced that they have been chosen to show mankind the way to utopia. Helene Lööw The scenes and testimonies of the disaster in Norway make it difficult to justify. Pictures of children and adolescents who swam away … Continue reading

You’ll never be Chinese

Mark Kitto Death and taxes. You know how the saying goes. I’d like to add a third certainty: you’ll never become Chinese, no matter how hard you try, or want to, or think you ought to. I wanted to be Chinese, once. I don’t mean I wanted to wear a silk jacket and cotton slippers, … Continue reading

Psychiatry’s Crisis

Andrew Scull ABOUT 40 YEARS AGO, American psychiatry faced an escalating crisis of legitimacy. All sorts of evidence suggested that, when confronted with a particular patient, psychiatrists could not reliably agree as to what, if anything, was wrong. To be sure, the diagnostic process in all areas of medicine is far more murky and prone … Continue reading

Make Love

Sara Wheeler This stimulating book examines the ways in which legal systems have attempted to regulate sexual activity over millennia, from the ‘slow impalement of unfaithful wives’ in Mesopotamia to the ‘sterilisation of masturbators’ in the United States. ‘I have mapped out the story of Western civilisation’, Eric Berkowitz boldly claims in his introduction, ‘from … Continue reading

Modern economics is … sick

Geoffrey M. Hodgson Economics has increasingly become an intellectual game played for its own sake and not for its practical consequences for understanding the economic world. Economists have converted the subject into a sort of social mathematics in which analytical rigour is everything and practical relevance is nothing. … Read More>>


Rebecca Saxe The advantage of neuroscience is being able to look under the hood and see the mechanisms that actually create the thoughts and the behaviors that create and perpetuate conflict. Seems like it ought to be useful. That’s the question that I’m asking myself right now, can science in general, or neuroscience in particular, … Continue reading

Progress: A Linear Development?

Rolf-Dieter Heuer With the discovery of the Higgs boson, the last gap in the "Standard Model" of physics has been filled. Martin Eiermann talked with the head of the CERN laboraties, Rolf-Dieter Heuer, about the future of physics, the value of diversity, and the difference between knowledge and belief. … Read More>>

The intelligent textbook

Want to know more about your subject? Type in your own question and artificially intelligent software will construct a new page to answer your query Michael Reilly The aim of Inquire is to provide students with the world’s first intelligent textbook, says its creator David Gunning of Seattle-based Vulcan. At first glance, the system just … Continue reading

Ten Most Difficult Books

Emily Colette Wilkinson & Garth Risk Hallberg Back in 2009, The Millions started its "Difficult Books" series–devoted to identifying the hardest and most frustrating books ever written, as well as what made them so hard and frustrating. The two curators, Emily Colette Wilkinson and Garth Risk Hallberg, have selected the most difficult of the most … Continue reading

Korea: Number One!

Clyde Prestowitz The South Koreans have long been confident that anything the Japanese can do, they can do better, but now they’re proving it. In the 1970s-80s, the likes of Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, Toshiba, Hitache, NEC, and Fujitsu killed off RCA, Motorola, and the rest of the American consumer electronics industry and came close to … Continue reading

Israel’s Pork Problem

What a change to one of the most controversial laws in Israeli history could mean for the country’s Christian Arabs. Jeffrey Yoskowitz On the eve of Israel’s independence in 1948, as the new nation faced the challenge of building a country in the midst of war, early leaders debated many hot-button issues: what to do … Continue reading

Something Special About Islands

Carrie Arnold Islands seem to have it all: ample sunshine, white sand beaches, and species you can’t find anywhere else on Earth. Since Charles Darwin first traveled to the Galapagos Islands and British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace to the Malay Archipelago in the mid-19th century, ecologists have believed there is something special about islands. A … Continue reading

Caffeine of Ancient America

Elizabeth Norton In the 1600s, Europeans exploring the American southeast wrote of a purification ritual practiced by the native people, involving dancing, vomiting, and large amounts of what the travelers called black drink. Served from shell cups, the highly caffeinated tea was brewed from the shrub Ilex vomitoria, a species of holly. In a new … Continue reading

Does poverty breed terrorism?

Joshua Keating One counterrorism strategy that both George W. Bush and Barack Obama agree on — not to mention Desmond Tutu, Colin Powell, Kofi Annan and many more — is that there’s a link between extreme poverty and support for violent extremism. But some new data from Pakistan complicates this picture somewhat. … Read More>>

The New Great Game

Alexander Cooley In the last decade, the world has started taking more notice of Central Asia. For the United States and its allies, the region is a valuable supply hub for the Afghanistan war effort. For Russia, it is an arena in which to exert political influence. For China, it is a source of energy … Continue reading

Sinhalese Buddhism

William McGowan In Sri Lanka last September, a Sinhalese mob led by some 100 Buddhist monks demolished a Muslim shrine in the ancient city of Anuradhapura. As the crowd waved Buddhist colors, gold and red, a monk set a green Muslim flag on fire. The monks claimed that the shrine was on land that had … Continue reading

The Fundamental Nature of Consciousness

Neuroscientist Giulio Tononi’s PHI: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul takes the reader on an imaginative tour in which Galileo tries to discover an explanation for our conscious selves. … Read More>>

The Wisdom of Psychopaths

Kevin Dutton In this engrossing journey into the lives of psychopaths and their infamously crafty behaviors, the renowned psychologist Kevin Dutton reveals that there is a scale of “madness” along which we all sit. Incorporating the latest advances in brain scanning and neuroscience, Dutton demonstrates that the brilliant neurosurgeon who lacks empathy has more in … Continue reading

The economics of Olympic success

  Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier evaluate the economics of olympic success and how to boost a country’s medal count Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier “The Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries.” — International Olympic Committee “USA, USA, USA” — American sports fans We are again … Continue reading


In 1872 two men began work on a lexicon of words of Asian origin used by the British in India. Since its publication the 1,000-page dictionary has never been out of print and a new edition is due out next year. What accounts for its enduring appeal? Mukti Jain Campion Flora: “While having tiffin on … Continue reading

The spectre of plagiarism

A spectre is haunting Europe, and this time it is the spectre of plagiarism and scientific misconduct. Some high-profile politicians have had to resign in the last 18 months – but the revelations are also shaking respected European universities. Debora Weber-Wulff Many European countries, especially Germany, have long considered it unnecessary to give plagiarism more … Continue reading


when Baudelaire embarked on his literary career he wanted to make his mark not in poetry but in prose. In 1847 he informed his mother that he was going to commit himself to achieving commercial success in the newly dominant literary form of the novel:

From the beginning of next year, I’m turning to a new trade — by which I mean the creation of works of pure imagination — the Novel. I do not need to demonstrate to you here how grave, beautiful, and infinite this particular art is. As we are discussing material matters, all you need to know is that good or bad, everything can be sold: it’s just a question of assiduity.



Excessive Endurance Training Can Be Deadly

Micah True, legendary ultra-marathoner, died suddenly while on a routine 12-mile training run March 27, 2012. The mythic Caballo Blanco in the best-selling book, Born to Run, True would run as far as 100 miles in a day. On autopsy his heart was enlarged and scarred; he died of a lethal arrhythmia (irregularity of the … Continue reading

Exercise and the Brain

The effects of exercise are different on memory as well as on the brain, depending on whether the exerciser is an adolescent or an adult. A gene has been identified which seems to mediate the degree to which exercise has a beneficial effect. This has implications for the potential use of exercise as an intervention … Continue reading


Simon Baron – Cohen This is a hormone that has fascinated me. It’s a small molecule that seems to be doing remarkable things. The variation we see in this hormone comes from a number of different sources. One of those sources is genes; many different genes can influence how much testosterone each of us produces, … Continue reading

Origins of the Arts

Sociobiologist E.O. Wilson on the evolution of culture Edward O. Wilson RICH AND SEEMINGLY BOUNDLESS as the creative arts seem to be, each is filtered through the narrow biological channels of human cognition. Our sensory world, what we can learn unaided about reality external to our bodies, is pitifully small. Our vision is limited to … Continue reading

Middle Age

Evolution has given humans a huge advantage over most other animals David Bainbridge As a 42-year-old man born in England, I can expect to live for about another 38 years. In other words, I can no longer claim to be young. I am, without doubt, middle-aged. To some people that is a depressing realization. We … Continue reading

The Richest, Fattest Nation

HALEY SWEETLAND EDWARDS According to recent studies, roughly half of adults and a third of children in Qatar are obese, and almost 17 percent of the native population suffers from diabetes. By comparison, about a third of Americans are obese, and eight percent are diabetic. Qatar also has very high rates of birth defects and … Continue reading

Grass’s Poem

Jeffrey Goldberg “What Must Be Said” is interesting for what it says about the mind of Guenter Grass, but it is more interesting for what it says about the manner in which some intellectuals think about Israel and Iran. By extracting the self-pity, self-aggrandizement and guilt-expiation from “What Must Be Said” and leaving only the … Continue reading

Recharging your Immune system

Some people seem to catch everything that is doing the rounds, from coughs and colds to stomach bugs. Other people never seem to get ill. What’s their secret? A lot is down to dumb luck. There are some things affecting the performance of your immune system that you cannot change: your age, your gender, your … Continue reading

Wealth & Compassion

As riches grow, empathy for others seems to decline Daisy Grewal Who is more likely to lie, cheat, and steal—the poor person or the rich one? It’s temping to think that the wealthier you are, the more likely you are to act fairly. After all, if you already have enough for yourself, it’s easier to … Continue reading

Mapping Intelligence in the Brain

A new study found that specific structures, primarily on the left side of the brain, are vital to general intelligence and executive function (the ability to regulate and control behavior). Brain regions that are associated with general intelligence and executive function are shown in color, with red indicating common areas, orange indicating regions specific to … Continue reading

Dodos Solitaires

This classic Marginalia on the dodo’s disappearance was first published in 1954 G. Evelyn Hutchinson The progress of Man in civilization, no less than his numerical increase, continually extends the geographical domain of Art by trenching on the territories of Nature, and hence the Zoologist or Botanist of future ages will have a much narrower … Continue reading

What’s the big idea?

Dostoevsky tackled free will, Tolstoy the meaning of life – but is it still possible to write philosophical novels? Jennie Erdal At St Andrews University in the early 1970s, philosophy was still a required subject for entry into an honours course. To leave the way clear for reading modern languages, I decided that the requirement … Continue reading

Rise of the Fictional Lecherous Prof.

Stephanie Bernhard He’s crusty, grumpy, aging, and set in his outdated ways. He’s a he. Mortality is on his mind, and his will to bed women a fraction of his age increases in direct proportion to his fear of aging and death. He is, of course, the Humanities Professor archetype, and he is everywhere these … Continue reading

Life Without Sex

Now that he’s raised awareness of his lifestyle, David Jay, founder of AVEN, is working to change mainstream beliefs about sex drives RACHEL HILLS But what all asexual people have in common — and what defines asexuality as an orientation — is that, while they may have a desire to connect with other people, asexuals … Continue reading

Writers Replying to Reviewers?

Arthur Krystal Many writers, especially younger ones, regard other people’s books as an opportunity to enhance their own reputations. What better way to show off one’s own wit, erudition, and verbal artistry than to debunk someone else’s? And if you can look good at some poor writer’s expense—well, why not? Edmund Wilson, himself a formidable … Continue reading

Karl Marx

Capitalism has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities. Capitalism has agglomerated population, centralised means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands. Capitalism has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment’. Capitalism has been the first … Continue reading

Some Years Before 1963

Norma Clarke A woman born in 1600 grew up being told she was the most lustful of God’s creatures. Come 1800 and the message was reversed: she was ‘naturally’ delicate and pure. No longer having lusts of her own to manage, her role was to control the ‘natural’ lust of men and thus preserve civilisation. … Continue reading

Pink Slime, Deconstructed

See Arr Oh Well, if you come from the meat producers’ camp, you instead refer to “slime” as lean, finely-textured beef, or LFTB. Connective tissue, trimmings, and scraps from industrial butcher plants are mixed in a large steel reactor, where technicians heat the mixture to 100 oF, initiating tissue lysis – fats and oils begin … Continue reading

Brain drain

Neuroscience wants to be the answer to everything. It isn’t ROGER SCRUTON There are many reasons for believing the brain is the seat of consciousness. Damage to the brain disrupts our mental processes; specific parts of the brain seem connected to specific mental capacities; and the nervous system, to which we owe movement, perception, sensation … Continue reading

Originality of the species

A frenzied desire to be first inspired Darwin and Einstein to bursts of creativity. Like writers and artists, scientists strive to have their names attached to a work of brilliance, but any breakthrough depends on the efforts of countless predecessors. Ian McEwan reflects on originality and collaboration Ian McEwan Wallace’s 20 pages, so it seemed … Continue reading