The World According to Star Wars


In all of human history, there’s never been a phenomenon like Star Wars. Fueled by social media, the whole series has a cultlike following, except that the cult is so large that it transcends the term. It’s humanity, just about. A recent Google search of “Star Wars” produced 728 million results. By contrast, “Beatles” produced 107 million, “Shakespeare” 119 million, “Abraham Lincoln” 69 million, “Steve Jobs” 323 million, and “Taylor Swift” 232 million. As evidence of its adaptability, consider the first entry turned up by a Twitter search: “Destroy hunger with Star Wars Death Star peanut butter cup.”

-Cass R. Sunstein, The World According to Star Wars

War Against War & More

A diverse group of leaders worked throughout this period to counter the advocates of [American entry into World War I]. Dissent co-editor index

Michael Kazin builds his narrative around the activities of four of these, prominent at the time but little-known today: feminist crusader Crystal Eastman, socialist New York politician Morris Hillquit, segregationist House majority leader Claude Kitchin, and progressive senator Robert La Follette. Other prominent peace activists also make cameo appearances, as well, including Henry Ford, who sponsored the 1915 ‘Peace Ship’ mission to Europe, four-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, and the indefatigable Jane Addams.” Here’s a review of War Against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914-1918.

“A vivid depiction of the powerful religious forces that Rumi transcended to reveal ‘the sound of one soul speaking.’” Here’s a review of Brad Gooch’s Rumi’s Secret: The Life of the Sufi Poet of Love.

Says Heather Ann Thompson (Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy): “Guards see horrible things, and the overcrowding and the abuses and the fact that they are understaffed makes them terrified, which in turn makes them dangerous. People who are scared are very self-protective, and they often will be proactively violent to somehow protect themselves. So it is really important we understand prisons not just as places of caging and confinement, but as abusive workplaces as well.”

He has considered putting language in his will to assure his books are never, never, never made into films — even after his death. This insistence makes Ruiz Zafón (Shadow of the Wind) an outlier in the world of blockbuster authors, and it might explain, in part, why he is the literary sensation so many people have never heard of, or at least might struggle to name.”


The Boiling River


“Andres, you’re a bright kid,” he says now. “Your mapping research is interesting, and using existing infrastructure is a good idea, very innovative. So why this random fascination with an old legend? I don’t know of any Amazonian boiling rivers. Peru has all sorts of geothermal features but a boiling river in the jungle is hard to believe. You should know that–you’re the one getting the Ph.D.”

-Andres Ruzo, The Boiling River: Adventure and Discovery in the Amazon (A TED Original)

Out of the Wreck I Rise


The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.

-Ernest Hemingway (A Farewell to Arms) in Out of the Wreck I Rise: A Literary Companion to Recovery edited by Neil Steinberg and Sara Bader

Not So Much Said the Cat


The bullet scars were still visible on the pillars of the General Post Office in Dublin, almost two centuries after the 1916 uprising. That moved me more than I expected. But what moved me even more was standing at the exact same spot, not two blocks away, where my great-great grandfather saw Gerry Adams strolling down O’Connell Street on Easter morning of ’96, the eightieth anniversary of that event, returning from a political rally with a single bodyguard to one side of him and a local politico to the other. It gave me a direct and simple connection to the tangled history of that tragic land.

-Michael Swanwick, “For I Have Lain Me Down on the Stone of Loneliness and I’ll Not Be Back Again,” in Not So Much Said the Cat

Children of the New World


Publicly, we sold memories under Quimbly, Barrett & Woods, but when it was just the three of us, working late into the night, we thought of ourselves as mapmakers.

-Alexander Weinstein, “The Cartographers,” in Children of the New World: Stories

The Gatekeeper & More


“Kathryn Smith’s fine biography, The Gatekeeper, is as much about Roosevelt as about Missy LeHand: She seems to have spent at least as much time with FDR as his wife, Eleanor, and is represented by Ms. Smith, no doubt accurately, as more empathetic toward him….To the end, she was loyal, unfailingly discreet and invaluable to her boss. Her major historical contribution was to facilitate FDR’s greatness.”

“Populism, writes John B. Judis (The Populist Explosion), portrays ‘ordinary people as a noble assemblage not bounded narrowly by class; views their elite opponents as self-serving and undemocratic’; and works to rally the working and middle classes against the elite.”

“[Peter] Ackroyd reminds us what an outsider [Alfred] Hitchcock was. Raised Roman Catholic in Protestant England, he was perennially unhappy with his appearance, especially his spherical figure, and beset by multiple fears: of heights, policemen, imprisonment and, simply, other people.” Here’s a review of Alfred Hitchcock.

Through these woods I have walked thousands of times,” writes poet Mary Oliver in Upstream: Selected Essays. “For many years I felt more at home here than anywhere else, including our own house. Stepping out into the world, into the grass, onto the path, was always a kind of relief. I was not escaping anything. I was returning to the arena of delight.”




Dear Mr. M


Dear Mr. M,

I’d like to start by telling you that I’m doing better now. I do so because you probably have no idea that I was ever doing worse. Much worse, in fact, but I’ll get to that later on.

-Herman Koch, Dear Mr. M: A Novel

Grand Hotel Abyss


From its inception in 1923, the Marxist research institute that became known as the Frankfurt School was aloof from party politics and sceptical about political struggle. Its leading members–Theodor Arno, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, Friedrich Pollock, Franz Neumann and Jurgen Habermas–were virtuosic at critiquing the viciousness of fascism and capitalism’s socially eviscerating, spiritually crushing impact on western societies, but not so good at changing what they critiqued.

-Stuart Jeffries, Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School

My Lost Poets & More


“Former American Poet Laureate and winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, Levine (News of the World, 2009, etc.)…describes in loving detail discovering a group of fellow aspiring poets at Detroit’s Wayne University, where he read and wrote poetry with a small group of enthusiastic, like-minded undergraduates.” Here’s My Lost Poets.

Says Chloe Caldwell (I’ll Tell You In Person): “Some people are so embarrassed by the personal essay that they won’t publish them, where I’m not that embarrassed, and that makes the difference between what they do and what I do — I put mine out there. It takes all kinds. Sorry for being corny. I just like, don’t care anymore. About genre snobbiness and people’s thoughts on personal essays. It seems beat. I don’t care if people find me ‘literary’ or not. I enjoy writing and that’s more than I can say for a lot of writers.”

In Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man Who Wrote ‘Dracula’, David J. Skal “finds credible influences for Stoker’s classic novel in several key figures in his life: his strong-willed mother, who entertained her sickly young son with terrifying accounts of a cholera epidemic she lived through in the 1830s; Oscar Wilde, whose mother’s salons he frequented and whose onetime love interest, Florence Balcombe, he eventually married; and Henry Irving, the renowned actor whom he served as business manager.”

On Assassin of Youth: “In the 1920s, Harry Anslinger (1892-1975) came out of the railyards and worked his way into the position of the nation’s first drug czar, the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. In that role, he hounded the Italians, the blacks, the Reds, the Hispanics, and just about everyone who could be implicated in a war on drugs that, Alexandra Chasin remonstrates, has been a costly failure ever since.”