Brighton Rock

A new adaptation of Graham Greene’s masterpiece. Dana Stevens Sam Riley in Brighton RockThe old saw that great novels never make great movies has some pretty robust evidence on its side. But Brighton Rock, Graham Greene’s compact masterpiece of a gangland thriller, at least gives rise to consistently decent ones. The 1947 John Boulting version … Continue reading

How to Say Challapeño

Macy Halford Pozole con Matzoh Balls. Schnitzel Torta. Totopos de Gribenes con Guacamole. Schmaltz Tamales. What are these mysterious concoctions? They are the offspring of the unlikely marriage of two culinary traditions—Mexican and Jewish—that turn out to go together “like a chuppa and a mariachi band.” Or so writes Susan Schmidt, the author, with her … Continue reading

Are There Hidden Messages in Pronouns?

James Pennebaker says computers reveal secret patterns. Juliet Lapidos James Pennebaker Some 110 years after the publication of the Psychopathology of Everyday Life, in which Sigmund Freud analyzed seemingly trivial slips of the tongue, it’s become common knowledge that we disclose more about ourselves in conversation—about our true feelings, or our unconscious feelings—than we strictly … Continue reading

Is Anal Sex Fair to Women?

A Rigorous Appendix to Toni Bentley’s The Surrender Emily Votruba Toni Bentley has written a memoir about her three-year experience of sexual awakening via anal intercourse with a man. Like most sexual memoirists, Bentley claims our attention with the more or less tacit premise that she has transgressed custom, morality, or received opinion—in her case, … Continue reading

Honey Money

The Power of Erotic Capital by Catherine Hakim A blueprint for a sexual free market Will Self ‘No money, no honey’ … prostitutes on a street in Jakarta. Photograph: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images In a typically razor-sharp exchange of dialogue which establishes – yet again – that The Simpsons provides the most coruscating illumination of contemporary … Continue reading


John Sutherland Academics like me are skilled users of Never heard of it? Ask the nearest undergraduate and watch their cheek blanch. Turnitin is the trade’s leading ‘plagiarism detector’. You upload the student’s essay or dissertation and it’s checked against trillions of words and phrases in seconds. Irritatingly, however, Turnitin turns in a lot … Continue reading


Jonathan Tel Nicholson Baker’s new novel is a bizarre riff on pornographic themes. The problem is it’s just not creepy enough… House of Holes By Nicholson Baker (Simon & Schuster, £14.99) “She went to a quarry with her Geology 101 class…It was vast and they dug granite there, mostly for tombstones…She turned away from the … Continue reading

Spoilers don’t spoil …

Jonah Lehrer I’ve got a weak spot for pulp fiction, especially when it involves a mysterious twist. I like unironic thrillers and mediocre Agatha Christie imitations. Basically, I like any kind of fiction that lets me forget for vast stretches of time that I’m sitting in an airport terminal. I read these books in an … Continue reading

What China Wants

Bargaining With Beijing By Andrew J. Nathan Henry Kissinger’s new book argues that the United States should yield gracefully to China’s rise; Aaron Friedberg’s gives the opposite advice. By focusing on intentions instead of capabilities, both books overstate China’s actual power. As a connoisseur of fine diplomacy, Henry Kissinger finds a lot of it to … Continue reading

Deceptive Picture

How Oscar Wilde painted over “Dorian Gray.” Alex Ross Even before Wilde sent the manuscript of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” to the typist, he was hesitating over its homoerotic content. Oscar Wilde was not a man who lived in fear, but early reviews of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” must have given him pause. … Continue reading

This is Not the End of the Book

Andrea Comas/Reuters Italian writer, thinker and critic Umberto Eco has no fear the written word, including the book, is going to disappear: “The Internet has returned us to the alphabet … From now on, everyone has to read. In order to read, you need a medium. This medium cannot simply be a computer screen.” Philip … Continue reading

Is reading fiction good for you?

Michael Bond Reading fiction can shape our personalities (Image: Gavin Rodgers/Rex Features) IF YOU’VE ever been in a book club or enjoy discussing books with friends, you will know that people often interpret stories in different ways, reflecting their own experiences, inclinations and views of the world. Take Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. While some … Continue reading

A bookshelf the size of the world

Inside the vision for the largest library in history (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff) Robert Darnton, director of the Harvard University Library, and others are working to create a worldwide digital public library. Richard Beck As the digitization of human culture accelerates, publishers and academics have had to begin addressing a basic question: Who will control knowledge … Continue reading

Can food be art?

Helen Lewis-Hasteley Nathan Myhrvold was Stephen Hawking’s researcher and Bill Gates’s right-hand man at Microsoft. Now, he’s written a £395 cookbook A cutaway image of a pot roast from Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine. Photo: The Cooking Lab, LLC How’s this for a CV? Nathan Myhrvold graduated from high school at 14, finished a physics PhD … Continue reading

Full Circle

German-Jewish Literary Culture Returns from Exile Helen Whittle   Goethe-Institut The Goethe Institute in Israel has started a unique book project. German Jews who fled Nazi persecution to what is now Israel took as many books as they could carry. But their descendants, many of whom don’t speak German, are left with cratefuls of heirlooms … Continue reading

Google Unveils New E-Reader

The Story HD to go head-to-head with Amazon’s Kindle. Peter Fulham Google is jumping into the e-reader game with two feet. The online giant announced on Monday that it has teamed up with consumer electronics company iriver, and the two will soon begin offering an e-reader that is fully integrated with Google’s eBooks store. The … Continue reading

Blaming Women for the Infantilization of Men

Myriam Miedzian IN 1987 traditionally all-male Columbia College started to admit women. Some years later, I happened to be on campus and decided to drop in on one of my former professors—I had gotten my PhD in philosophy at Columbia University years earlier—who had become a friend. Soon into the visit, in a concerned voice, … Continue reading

Kaplan reviews Kissinger’s China book

Robert Kaplan Best Defense officemate Henry Kissinger’s On China really gets rolling on page 90, when we get to the Communist period in Chinese history. Then, for the next 440 pages, the reader is riveted. Kissinger, it is often forgotten, has always been adroit at drawing historical portraits, whether of Metternich and Castlereagh in his … Continue reading

Feminism in the 21st century

Caitlin Moran writes about her body, Rachel Cusk dissects the aftermath of her divorce and Sylvia Walby addresses ‘raunch culture’. What do their books reveal about feminism today? Zoe Williams Feminism is back … Caitlin Moran and Germaine Greer have both attacked the elemental shame ­attached to being a woman, but where Greer was furious, … Continue reading

Amazing Dogs

JAN BONDESON Reviewed by Adam Kirsch All dog owners tend to think their dogs are amazing, just as all parents think their children are above average. But after you’ve read Amazing Dogs: A Cabinet of Canine Curiosities, by Jan Bondeson, Rover’s skill at fetching might look a little less impressive. Can your dog carry on … Continue reading

How to survive the age of distraction

Read a book with your laptop thrumming. It can feel like trying to read in the middle of a party where everyone is shouting Johann Hari In the 20th century, all the nightmare-novels of the future imagined that books would be burnt. In the 21st century, our dystopias imagine a world where books are forgotten. … Continue reading

‘The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting’

James Camp ‘The Steal’ by Rachel Shteir Shoplifters may be the only criminals for whom the nightmare of getting caught ends with a blush. The anxiety isn’t that shoplifting is illegal, exactly. It’s that it is not illegal enough. The fleur de mal looks embarrassingly like a daisy. “Stealing household trinkets remains too shameful for … Continue reading


Steven Shapin Alexis St Martin was one of the 19th century’s most important scientific guinea pigs. In 1822, the illiterate young French-Canadian was working as a ‘voyageur’ for John Jacob Astor’s fur-trading company in northern Michigan. He was hanging out with a bunch of rowdies in the company store when a shotgun accidentally went off … Continue reading

Are you a Psychopath?

By PAUL BLOOM Do psychopaths enjoy reading books about psychopaths? In his engagingly irreverent new best seller, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry (Riverhead, $25.95), the journalist Jon Ronson notes that only about one in 100 people are psychopaths (there is a higher proportion in prisons and corporate boardrooms), but he wonders … Continue reading

The Story of the Story of O

by Carmela Ciuraru The Story of O shocked readers worldwide with its sadomasochistic love affair written in a style “too direct, too cool, to be that of a woman.” Carmela Ciuraru examines the life of O‘s author. Photograph via Flickr by Vectorportal Not many authors can boast of having written a best-selling pornographic novel, much … Continue reading

A field guide to bullshit

Alison George How do people defend their beliefs in bizarre conspiracy theories or the power of crystals? Philosopher Stephen Law has tips for spotting their strategies You describe your new book, Believing Bullshit, as a guide to avoid getting sucked into "intellectual black holes". What are they? Intellectual black holes are belief systems that draw … Continue reading

Third Reich Body Worship

Science fiction, jokes and forbidden love: The book market in Nazi Germany was surprisingly varied. But perhaps the most bizarre bestseller to make it past the censors was an unabashed collection of nudist photography. It was a celebration of the Aryan body. Aus: "Mensch und Sonne" von Hans Surén What did Germans read during the … Continue reading

An Interview with Cordelia Fine

Anna Lena Phillips Psychologist and writer Cordelia Fine studies how our brains work and writes about the subject in clear and entertaining prose. Her first book, A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives (W. W. Norton and Co., 2006) was one of 12 books long-listed for the 2007 Royal Society Prize … Continue reading

Neuroscience of Bullying

Victoria Stern Three new books reveal how we deal with suffering and trauma. A child who is bullied by her playmates may kick her kitten in retaliation. Passing pain to others is not just a human trait—payback can also be seen in many animals. In Payback: Why We Retaliate, Redirect Aggression, and Take Revenge (Oxford … Continue reading

The Uses of Tedium

Rachel Shteir TWO MILLIGRAMS OF The Big B, the doctor will say not so long from now after you have come in for relief from the Theme Park Adventure that is your life. It will cure what ails your restless iPodded, iPadded, and Kindled existence. Boredom, which begins, as Walter Benjamin put it, when “we … Continue reading

Readin’ Machines!

James Floyd Kelly I read a lot of books. A lot. I think my wife probably wishes sometimes that I’d take up cigarettes or drinking… it’d probably be a cheaper vice. My split is fairly even between fiction and non-fiction, but I also separately classify computer/technology books in their own category. I do this because … Continue reading

What Does a Soldier Need to Read?

Elizabeth D. Samet I fell in love with the BBC Radio 4 program “Desert Island Discs” years ago while living in Scotland, a place that felt a little like a desert island to me, on my own in an unfamiliar place really for the first time. The premise of the show, which first aired in … Continue reading

In the shadow of the twin towers

American fiction writers are still struggling to put words to the horror of September 11th—and only a few have succeeded Adam Kirsch After the death of Osama bin Laden, and approaching the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, it is tempting to declare the end of the 9/11 era. Looking at US culture and … Continue reading

Poor economics

A pioneering contribution to the poverty debate fails to see the bigger picture Oliver Kamm A loan from a microfinance company enabled this tailor in Hyderabad to set up his own shop Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, (PublicAffairs, £15.99) Abhijit Banerjee and … Continue reading

Novel Academic Novels

Brian Taylor By Ms. Mentor Question: I want to do what my American idol, Walt Whitman, recommended for the summer: "loafe and invite my soul." Can Ms. Mentor suggest academic novels with which I, an academic fledgling, may most profitably loafe? Answer: Ms. Mentor is charmed by your request. Obviously you also know your Horace, … Continue reading

A Portrait of India

Isaac Chotiner VISITING NEW DELHI and Calcutta not long after the smashing international success of Slumdog Millionaire, I was surprised by the number of Indians who wanted to hear my opinion of Danny Boyle’s film. This was a nice inversion of the clichéd traveler’s narrative, wherein the visitor solemnly asks the locals about the most … Continue reading

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

HENRY PETROSKI In Goethe’s 1797 poem "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice"—and in countless later versions of the story, including the famous sequence in Disney’s "Fantasia" in 1940—disaster results when a young man, taking advantage of his wizardly master’s absence, uses sorcery to lighten his chores. The poem ends with the admonition that magic should be used solely … Continue reading

Sorley’s bio of General Westmoreland

How did Westy go so far in the Army? Thomas E. Ricks I’ve just finished reading an advance copy of Lewis Sorley’s biography of General William Westmoreland, which will be published later this year. It is terrific, and surprisingly interesting. I found it a lively, brisk read, despite Westy having been in many ways a … Continue reading

11 Secret Meanings Behind Punctuation in Text Messages

Technology keeps people connected in fantastic new ways but also introduces troublesome gray areas when it comes to communication. In his first book, 11 Points Guide to Hooking Up, comedy writer Sam Greenspan offers tips for handling dating sites, Facebook Walls and other potentially dating pitfalls of the modern world. To get a taste of … Continue reading

Notes from a Literary Apprenticeship

Jhumpa Lahiri The author, at around the age of three, with her parents, Amar and Tapati, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, circa 1970. Books, and the stories they contained, were the only things I felt I was able to possess as a child. Even then, the possession was not literal; my father is a librarian, and perhaps … Continue reading

5 Reasons Why E-Books Aren’t There Yet

John C Abell There are no two ways about it: E-books are here to stay. Unless something as remarkable as Japan’s reversion to the sword occurs, digital books are the 21st century successor to print. And yet the e-book is fundamentally flawed. There are some aspects to print book culture that e-books can’t replicate (at … Continue reading


An anthology on the concept of philo-Semitism shows that ‘Jew lovers’ have often been just a shade better than anti-Semites—and sometimes no better at all By Adam Kirsch Original photo Peter Asquith/Flickr Books about anti-Semitism are depressingly numerous. New studies of the subject appear in a constant stream, focusing on anti-Semitism in this or that … Continue reading

The places in between

By Paul Theroux Paul Theroux in Papagayo, Costa Rica, in 2007 … In 1972, in a blasé magazine piece of postmodernism, entitled “Project for a Trip to China”, the American writer Susan Sontag sat in her New York apartment ruminating on China. Sontag was that singular pedant, a theorist of travel rather than a traveller. … Continue reading

Kissinger’s China

Why is Kissinger so reverential and nostalgic about China? James Mann Henry Kissinger in China We are now fast approaching the 40th anniversary of Kissinger’s groundbreaking trip to Beijing, which began on July 9, 1971. He was the first U.S. official to set foot in China in more than two decades, and his trip marked … Continue reading

The Man Within

Why Montaigne is worth knowing. LIAM JULIAN When I Am Playing with My Cat, How Do I Know That She Is Not Playing with Me? Montaigne and Being in Touch with Life by Saul Frampton Pantheon, 320 pp., $26 Katherine Eastland Saul Frampton opens his delightful book on the life of Michel de Montaigne with … Continue reading

All Hail the King

Elissa Lerner History’s favorite edition of the Bible is celebrating its four-hundredth birthday this year to much fanfare. Writers and scholars have been lauding the poetry, idioms, and history of the King James Bible since January. The Globe Theater in London even used twenty actors to read all sixty-six books during the week leading up … Continue reading

Bit Lit

With digitized text from five million books, one is never at a loss for words Brian Hayes Books are being blown to bits. New ones are “born digital”; millions of old ones are being assimilated into the mind of the machine. Some people question the wisdom of this transition to digital reading matter. Paper and … Continue reading

‘LE GUN 1,2,3’

Cult Design and Illustrations Finally Available The LE GUN art collective’s beautiful magazines have been hard to find—until now. A preview of a compilation of the first three volumes. Maria Popova In 2004, a small group of graduates from London’s Royal College of Art founded art collective LE GUN and quietly started publishing one of … Continue reading

‘The Woman Who Could Not Forget’

Ianthe Brautigan, Special to The Chronicle Robert Spencer / The Chronicle 2003 Her punishing work habits took a toll on Iris Chang. Like many people in the Bay Area, when the news reached me in 2004 that Iris Chang had committed suicide, at age 36, I felt terribly saddened, especially when I learned that she … Continue reading

A Diet Manifesto: Drop the Apple and Walk Away

By ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D. How is a person best advised to lose extra weight and retreat from diabetes and heart disease? Count calories, cut fat and fill up on fruits and vegetables? Or turn instead to a high-protein, high-fat regimen like the one popularized by Dr. Robert C. Atkins? The experts point vehemently in all … Continue reading