For other uses, see Essay (disambiguation).
For a description of essays as used by Wikipedia editors, see Wikipedia:Essays.
"Essai" redirects here. For other uses, see Essai (disambiguation).
An essay is, generally, a piece of writing that gives the author's own argument — but the definition is vague, overlapping with those of a paper, an article, a pamphlet, and a short story. Essays have traditionally been sub-classified as formal and informal. Formal essays are characterized by "serious purpose, dignity, logical organization, length," whereas the informal essay is characterized by "the personal element (self-revelation, individual tastes and experiences, confidential manner), humor, graceful style, rambling structure, unconventionality or novelty of theme," etc.
Essays are commonly used as literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author. Almost all modern essays are written in prose, but works in verse have been dubbed essays (e.g., Alexander Pope's An Essay on Criticism and An Essay on Man). While brevity usually defines an essay, voluminous works like John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Thomas Malthus's An Essay on the Principle of Population are counterexamples. In some countries (e.g., the United States and Canada), essays have become a major part of formal education. Secondary students are taught structured essay formats to improve their writing skills; admission essays are often used by universities in selecting applicants, and in the humanities and social sciences essays are often used as a way of assessing the performance of students during final exams.
The concept of an "essay" has been extended to other mediums beyond writing. A film essay is a movie that often incorporates documentary filmmaking styles and focuses more on the evolution of a theme or idea. A photographic essay covers a topic with a linked series of photographs that may have accompanying text or captions.
An essay has been defined in a variety of ways. One definition is a "prose composition with a focused subject of discussion" or a "long, systematic discourse". It is difficult to define the genre into which essays fall. Aldous Huxley, a leading essayist, gives guidance on the subject. He notes that "the essay is a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything", and adds that "by tradition, almost by definition, the essay is a short piece". Furthermore, Huxley argues that "essays belong to a literary species whose extreme variability can be studied most effectively within a three-poled frame of reference". These three poles (or worlds in which the essay may exist) are:
- The personal and the autobiographical: The essayists that feel most comfortable in this pole "write fragments of reflective autobiography and look at the world through the keyhole of anecdote and description".
- The objective, the factual, and the concrete particular: The essayists that write from this pole "do not speak directly of themselves, but turn their attention outward to some literary or scientific or political theme. Their art consists of setting forth, passing judgment upon, and drawing general conclusions from the relevant data".
- The abstract-universal: In this pole "we find those essayists who do their work in the world of high abstractions", who are never personal and who seldom mention the particular facts of experience.
Huxley adds that the most satisfying essays "...make the best not of one, not of two, but of all the three worlds in which it is possible for the essay to exist."
The word essay derives from the French infinitive essayer, "to try" or "to attempt". In English essay first meant "a trial" or "an attempt", and this is still an alternative meaning. The Frenchman Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) was the first author to describe his work as essays; he used the term to characterize these as "attempts" to put his thoughts into writing, and his essays grew out of his commonplacing. Inspired in particular by the works of Plutarch, a translation of whose Œuvres Morales (Moral works) into French had just been published by Jacques Amyot, Montaigne began to compose his essays in 1572; the first edition, entitled Essais, was published in two volumes in 1580. For the rest of his life, he continued revising previously published essays and composing new ones. Francis Bacon's essays, published in book form in 1597, 1612, and 1625, were the first works in English that described themselves as essays. Ben Jonson first used the word essayist in English in 1609, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
English essayists included Robert Burton (1577–1641) and Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682). In France, Michel de Montaigne's three volume Essais in the mid 1500s contain over 100 examples widely regarded as the predecessor of the modern essay. In Italy, Baldassare Castiglione wrote about courtly manners in his essay Il Cortigiano. In the 17th century, the JesuitBaltasar Gracián wrote about the theme of wisdom. During the Age of Enlightenment, essays were a favored tool of polemicists who aimed at convincing readers of their position; they also featured heavily in the rise of periodical literature, as seen in the works of Joseph Addison, Richard Steele and Samuel Johnson. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Edmund Burke and Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote essays for the general public. The early 19th century, in particular, saw a proliferation of great essayists in English – William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, Leigh Hunt and Thomas de Quincey all penned numerous essays on diverse subjects. In the 20th century, a number of essayists tried to explain the new movements in art and culture by using essays (e.g., T.S. Eliot). Whereas some essayists used essays for strident political themes, Robert Louis Stevenson and Willa Cather wrote lighter essays. Virginia Woolf, Edmund Wilson, and Charles du Bos wrote literary criticism essays.
Main article: Zuihitsu
As with the novel, essays existed in Japan several centuries before they developed in Europe with a genre of essays known as zuihitsu — loosely connected essays and fragmented ideas. Zuihitsu have existed since almost the beginnings of Japanese literature. Many of the most noted early works of Japanese literature are in this genre. Notable examples include The Pillow Book (c. 1000), by court lady Sei Shōnagon, and Tsurezuregusa (1330), by particularly renowned Japanese Buddhist monk Yoshida Kenkō. Kenkō described his short writings similarly to Montaigne, referring to them as "nonsensical thoughts" written in "idle hours". Another noteworthy difference from Europe is that women have traditionally written in Japan, though the more formal, Chinese-influenced writings of male writers were more prized at the time.
Forms and styles
This section describes the different forms and styles of essay writing. These forms and styles are used by an array of authors, including university students and professional essayists.
Cause and effect
The defining features of a "cause and effect" essay are causal chains that connect from a cause to an effect, careful language, and chronological or emphatic order. A writer using this rhetorical method must consider the subject, determine the purpose, consider the audience, think critically about different causes or consequences, consider a thesis statement, arrange the parts, consider the language, and decide on a conclusion.
Classification and division
Classification is the categorization of objects into a larger whole while division is the breaking of a larger whole into smaller parts.
Compare and contrast
Compare and contrast essays are characterized by a basis for comparison, points of comparison, and analogies. It is grouped by the object (chunking) or by point (sequential). The comparison highlights the similarities between two or more similar objects while contrasting highlights the differences between two or more objects. When writing a compare/contrast essay, writers need to determine their purpose, consider their audience, consider the basis and points of comparison, consider their thesis statement, arrange and develop the comparison, and reach a conclusion. Compare and contrast is arranged emphatically.
Descriptive writing is characterized by sensory details, which appeal to the physical senses, and details that appeal to a reader's emotional, physical, or intellectual sensibilities. Determining the purpose, considering the audience, creating a dominant impression, using descriptive language, and organizing the description are the rhetorical choices to consider when using a description. A description is usually arranged spatially but can also be chronological or emphatic. The focus of a description is the scene. Description uses tools such as denotative language, connotative language, figurative language, metaphor, and simile to arrive at a dominant impression. One university essay guide states that "descriptive writing says what happened or what another author has discussed; it provides an account of the topic".Lyric essays are an important form of descriptive essays.
In the dialectic form of the essay, which is commonly used in philosophy, the writer makes a thesis and argument, then objects to their own argument (with a counterargument), but then counters the counterargument with a final and novel argument. This form benefits from presenting a broader perspective while countering a possible flaw that some may present. This type is sometimes called an ethics paper.
An exemplification essay is characterized by a generalization and relevant, representative, and believable examples including anecdotes. Writers need to consider their subject, determine their purpose, consider their audience, decide on specific examples, and arrange all the parts together when writing an exemplification essay.
An essayist writes a familiar essay if speaking to a single reader, writing about both themselves, and about particular subjects. Anne Fadiman notes that "the genre's heyday was the early nineteenth century," and that its greatest exponent was Charles Lamb. She also suggests that while critical essays have more brain than the heart, and personal essays have more heart than brain, familiar essays have equal measures of both.
A history essay sometimes referred to as a thesis essay describes an argument or claim about one or more historical events and supports that claim with evidence, arguments, and references. The text makes it clear to the reader why the argument or claim is as such.
A narrative uses tools such as flashbacks, flash-forwards, and transitions that often build to a climax. The focus of a narrative is the plot. When creating a narrative, authors must determine their purpose, consider their audience, establish their point of view, use dialogue, and organize the narrative. A narrative is usually arranged chronologically.
An argumentative essay is a critical piece of writing, aimed at presenting objective analysis of the subject matter, narrowed down to a single topic. The main idea of all the criticism is to provide an opinion either of positive or negative implication. As such, a critical essay requires research and analysis, strong internal logic and sharp structure. Its structure normally builds around introduction with a topic's relevance and a thesis statement, body paragraphs with arguments linking back to the main thesis, and conclusion. In addition, an argumentative essay may include a refutation section where conflicting ideas are acknowledged, described, and criticized. Each argument of argumentative essay should be supported with sufficient evidence, relevant to the point.
An economic essay can start with a thesis, or it can start with a theme. It can take a narrative course and a descriptive course. It can even become an argumentative essay if the author feels the need. After the introduction, the author has to do his/her best to expose the economic matter at hand, to analyze it, evaluate it, and draw a conclusion. If the essay takes more of a narrative form then the author has to expose each aspect of the economic puzzle in a way that makes it clear and understandable for the reader
A reflective essay is an analytical piece of writing in which the writer describes a real or imaginary scene, event, interaction, passing thought, memory, or form — adding a personal reflection on the meaning of the topic in the author's life. Thus, the focus is not merely descriptive. The writer doesn’t just describe the situation, but revisits the scene with more detail and emotion to examine what went well, or reveal a need for additional learning — and may relate what transpired to the rest of the author's life.
Other logical structures
The logical progression and organizational structure of an essay can take many forms. Understanding how the movement of thought is managed through an essay has a profound impact on its overall cogency and ability to impress. A number of alternative logical structures for essays have been visualized as diagrams, making them easy to implement or adapt in the construction of an argument.
Main article: Free response
In countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, essays have become a major part of a formal education in the form of free response questions. Secondary students in these countries are taught structured essay formats to improve their writing skills, and essays are often used by universities in these countries in selecting applicants (seeadmissions essay). In both secondary and tertiary education, essays are used to judge the mastery and comprehension of the material. Students are asked to explain, comment on, or assess a topic of study in the form of an essay. In some courses, university students must complete one or more essays over several weeks or months. In addition, in fields such as the humanities and social sciences, mid-term and end of term examinations often require students to write a short essay in two or three hours.
In these countries, so-called academic essays also called papers, are usually more formal than literary ones. They may still allow the presentation of the writer's own views, but this is done in a logical and factual manner, with the use of the first person often discouraged. Longer academic essays (often with a word limit of between 2,000 and 5,000 words) are often more discursive. They sometimes begin with a short summary analysis of what has previously been written on a topic, which is often called a literature review.
Longer essays may also contain an introductory page that defines words and phrases of the essay's topic. Most academic institutions require that all substantial facts, quotations, and other supporting material in an essay be referenced in a bibliography or works cited page at the end of the text. This scholarly convention helps others (whether teachers or fellow scholars) to understand the basis of facts and quotations the author uses to support the essay's argument and helps readers evaluate to what extent the argument is supported by evidence, and to evaluate the quality of that evidence. The academic essay tests the student's ability to present their thoughts in an organized way and is designed to test their intellectual capabilities.
One of the challenges facing universities is that in some cases, students may submit essays purchased from an essay mill (or "paper mill") as their own work. An "essay mill" is a ghostwriting service that sells pre-written essays to university and college students. Since plagiarism is a form of academic dishonesty or academic fraud, universities and colleges may investigate papers they suspect are from an essay mill by using plagiarism detection software, which compares essays against a database of known mill essays and by orally testing students on the contents of their papers.
Magazine or newspaper
Main article: Long-form journalism
Essays often appear in magazines, especially magazines with an intellectual bent, such as The Atlantic and Harpers. Magazine and newspaper essays use many of the essay types described in the section on forms and styles (e.g., descriptive essays, narrative essays, etc.). Some newspapers also print essays in the op-ed section.
Employment essays detailing experience in a certain occupational field are required when applying for some jobs, especially government jobs in the United States. Essays known as Knowledge Skills and Executive Core Qualifications are required when applying to certain US federal government positions.
A KSA, or "Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities," is a series of narrative statements that are required when applying to Federal government job openings in the United States. KSAs are used along with resumes to determine who the best applicants are when several candidates qualify for a job. The knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for the successful performance of a position are contained on each job vacancy announcement. KSAs are brief and focused essays about one's career and educational background that presumably qualify one to perform the duties of the position being applied for.
An Executive Core Qualification, or ECQ, is a narrative statement that is required when applying to Senior Executive Service positions within the US Federal government. Like the KSAs, ECQs are used along with resumes to determine who the best applicants are when several candidates qualify for a job. The Office of Personnel Management has established five executive core qualifications that all applicants seeking to enter the Senior Executive Service must demonstrate.
A film essay (or "cinematic essay") consists of the evolution of a theme or an idea rather than a plot per se, or the film literally being a cinematic accompaniment to a narrator reading an essay. From another perspective, an essay film could be defined as a documentary film visual basis combined with a form of commentary that contains elements of self-portrait (rather than autobiography), where the signature (rather than the life story) of the filmmaker is apparent. The cinematic essay often blends documentary, fiction, and experimental film making using tones and editing styles.
The genre is not well-defined but might include propaganda works of early Soviet parliamentarians like Dziga Vertov, present-day filmmakers including Chris Marker,Michael Moore (Roger & Me (1989), Bowling for Columbine (2002) and Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)), Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line (1988)), Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me: A Film of Epic Portions) and Agnès Varda. Jean-Luc Godard describes his recent work as "film-essays". Two filmmakers whose work was the antecedent to the cinematic essay include Georges Méliès and Bertolt Brecht. Méliès made a short film (The Coronation of Edward VII (1902)) about the 1902 coronation of King Edward VII, which mixes actual footage with shots of a recreation of the event. Brecht was a playwright who experimented with film and incorporated film projections into some of his plays.Orson Welles made an essay film in his own pioneering style, released in 1974, called F for Fake, which dealt specifically with art forger Elmyr de Hory and with the themes of deception, "fakery," and authenticity in general. These are often published online on video hosting services.
David Winks Gray's article "The essay film in action" states that the "essay film became an identifiable form of filmmaking in the 1950s and '60s". He states that since that time, essay films have tended to be "on the margins" of the filmmaking the world. Essay films have a "peculiar searching, questioning tone ... between documentary and fiction" but without "fitting comfortably" into either genre. Gray notes that just like written essays, essay films "tend to marry the personal voice of a guiding narrator (often the director) with a wide swath of other voices". The University of Wisconsin Cinematheque website echoes some of Gray's comments; it calls a film essay an "intimate and allusive" genre that "catches filmmakers in a pensive mood, ruminating on the margins between fiction and documentary" in a manner that is "refreshingly inventive, playful, and idiosyncratic".
In the realm of music, composer Samuel Barber wrote a set of "Essays for Orchestra," relying on the form and content of the music to guide the listener's ear, rather than any extra-musical plot or story.
A photographic essay strives to cover a topic with a linked series of photographs. Photo essays range from purely photographic works to photographs with captions or small notes to full-text essays with a few or many accompanying photographs. Photo essays can be sequential in nature, intended to be viewed in a particular order — or they may consist of non-ordered photographs viewed all at once or in an order that the viewer chooses. All photo essays are collections of photographs, but not all collections of photographs are photo essays. Photo essays often address a certain issue or attempt to capture the character of places and events.
In the visual arts, an essay is a preliminary drawing or sketch that forms a basis for a final painting or sculpture, made as a test of the work's composition (this meaning of the term, like several of those following, comes from the word essayJA's meaning of "attempt" or "trial").
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- ^Chapter 7: Cause and Effect in Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
- ^Chapter 5: Classification and Division in Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
- ^Chapter 6: Comparison and Contrast in Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
- ^Chapter 2: Description in Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
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- ^Chapter 4: Exemplification in Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
- ^Fadiman, Anne. At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays. p. x.
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The Making of PoBiz Farm
After it became our permanent home, we overfilled it with overloved horses and dogs
The Presence of Absence
Our losses give vitality to our lives
A Whole Day Nearer Now
But all life’s passion not quite spent
Where Are the People?
Evangelical Christianity in America is losing its power—what happened to Orange County’s Crystal Cathedral shows why
My Kingdom for a Wave
If your life as a public intellectual takes you to the highest crests, be prepared for the troughs that follow
My Friend Melanie Has Breast Cancer
Anna Blackmon Moore
How it might have happened, and why we are looking in the wrong places to prevent similar cases
Homeless in the City
A writer describes the decade he has spent living on the streets
Our Farm, My Inspiration
How a weekend getaway became a poet’s muse
My many mentors at Oxford, from Lincoln College to All Souls, linger like spirits in the mind
Emily Fox Gordon
After the excesses of youth and terrors of middle age, a writer faces the contingencies of being old
Driving through postwar Yugoslavia was nearly impossible, but a young poet and his new wife struggled through the desolate landscape to Athens
With purple prose and oversaturated images, National Geographic reimagined postwar America as a dreamspace of hope and fascination
The intimacies shared with our closest companions keep us anchored, vital, and alive
Mortify Our Wolves
The struggle back to life and faith in the face of pain and the certainty of death
Brian Doyle, who died on May 27, considers the capacity of the heart—including his own. Rest in peace.
Rites of Passage
When a quirky old man who lived on the Cape died, I thought I didn’t care
The Complete Zinsser on Friday
Congratulations to William Zinsser, winner of the 2012 National Magazine Award in the category of Digital Commentary
William M. Chace
Opposition to affirmative action has drastically reduced minority enrollment at public universities; private institutions have the power and the responsibility to reverse the trend
A Jew in the Northwest
Exile, ethnicity, and the search for the perfect futon
Dubya and Me
Over the course of a quarter-century, a journalist witnessed the transformation of George W. Bush
LBJ’s Wild Ride
Ernest B. Furgurson
Hanging on for dear life during the 1960 campaign
Vladimir Nabokov's understanding of human nature anticipated the advances in psychology since his day
When I was stabbed 17 years ago in a New Haven coffee shop, the wounds did not only come from the knife
A Mother’s Secret
The images in a treasured photo album preserve an idealized past, while leaving out the painful story of a family torn apart by the Holocaust
Making Sparks Fly
How occupational education can lead to a love of learning for its own sake
In the Orbit of Copernicus
A discovery of the great astronomer's bones, and their reburial in Poland
Plunging to Earth
Once the sport of daredevils, skydiving now offers it existential thrills to grandmothers, pudgy geeks, and even the occasional college professor
The Forgotten Churchill
The man who stared down Hitler also helped create the modern welfare state
Plucked from the Grave
The first female missionary to cross the Continental Divide came to a gruesome end partly caused by her own zeal. What can we learn from her?
Civil Warfare in the Streets
After Fort Sumter, German immigrants in St. Louis flocked to the Union cause and in bloody confrontations overthrew the local secessionists
How Longfellow Woke the Dead
When first published 150 years ago, his famous poem about Paul Revere was read as a bold statement of his opposition to slavery
Interview with a Neandertal
What I always wanted to ask our distant cousins about love and death and sorrow and dinner
‘I Tried to Stop the Bloody Thing’
In World War I, nearly as many British men refused the draft—20,000—as were killed on the Somme's first day. Why were those who fought for peace forgotten?
The View from 90
Even when those in my generation have reached a state of serenity, wisdom, and relative comfort, what we face can hardly be called the golden years
Baseball’s Loss of Innocence
When the 1919 Black Sox scandal shattered Ring Lardner’s reverence for the game, the great sportswriter took a permanent walk
Unauthorized, But Not Untrue
The real story of a biographer in a celebrity culture of public denials, media timidity, and legal threats
Empathy and Other Mysteries
Neuroscientists are discovering things about the brain that answer questions philosophers have been asking for centuries
To Accept What Cannot Be Helped
At 80, a woman with a fatal disease knows she doesn't want to die in the hospital and discovers, with her family, what that really means
Paula Marantz Cohen
After years of favoring the endurance-test approach to teaching literature, a professor focuses on how to make books spark to life for her students
The Passionate Encounter
A noted midcentury critic has much to say in his journal about his fellow writers and the literary world they shared
Restoration of Rome Open city, the director’s masterpiece, prompts a look at why he later retreated from the neorealism it introduced
Prozac for the Planet
Can geoengineering make the climate happy?
Every Last One
A guy with a weakness for demography goes door to door for the census and discovers what a democracy is made of
"Deep Travel" opens our minds to the rich possibilities of ordinary experience
When a tornado tears through a beloved landscape, is it possible to just let nature heal itself?
We’ll Always Have McSorley’s
How Joseph Mitchell's wonderful saloon became a sacred site for a certain literary pilgrim
What the Earth Knows
Robert B. Laughlin
Understanding the concept of geologic time and some basic science can give a new perspective on climate change and the energy future
All Style, No Substance
What’s wrong with the State Department’s public diplomacy effort
Too Bad Not to Fail
William J. Quirk
Just what are derivatives, and how much more damage can they do?
Voices of a Nation
In the 19th century, American writers struggled to discover who they were and who we are
Hive of Nerves
To be alive spiritually is to feel the ultimate anxiety of existence within the trivial anxieties of everyday life
The Bearable Lightness of Being
If you live long enough and contentedly enough in exile, your feelings of estrangement can evolve into a sense of living two lives at once
Solitude and Leadership
If you want others to follow, learn to be alone with your thoughts
Reading in a Digital Age
Notes on why the novel and the Internet are opposites, and why the latter both undermines the former and makes it more necessary
Nabokov Lives On
Why his unfinished novel, Laura, deserved to be published; what’s left in the voluminous archive of his unpublished work
They Get to Me
A young psycholinguist confesses her strong attraction to pronouns
When the Light Goes On
How a great teacher can bring a receptive mind to life
To Die of Having Lived
A neurological surgeon reflects on what patients and their families should and should not do when the end draws near
My Brain on My Mind
The ABCs of the thrumming, plastic mystery that allows us to think, feel, and remember
The Stolen Election
An expatriate Iranian writer travels her troubled homeland in the weeks after a disputed presidential vote
Seventy Years Later
The Second World War destroyed Adolf Hitler, but his legacy is showing disturbing signs of life
The physics and poetics of the search for the God particle
Wrestling with Two Behemoths
A longtime New Yorker, and New Yorker writer, gets the cold shoulder from powerful New York cultural institutions
Writing About Writers
Covering the book beat
The Doctor Is IN
Daniel B. Smith
At 88, Aaron Beck is now revered for an approach to psychotherapy that pushed Freudian analysis aside
A Mindful Beauty
Joel E. Cohen
What poetry and applied mathematics have in common
The Renaissance writers and humanists Petrarch and Boccaccio turned to geography to understand the works of antiquity
A daughter examines a life played out in romantic defiance of bad fortune
Not Ready for Mt. Rushmore
Reconciling the myth of Ronald Reagan with the reality
A blast in Baghdad tests the endurance of a soldier and his family
The Devil You Know
John B. Renehan
Keeping the peace in Ramadi calls for a little moral dexterity
Questioning assumptions about intelligence, work, and social class
What I'd really like to tell the bores in my life
A writer in Quebec finds that language creates an unbridgeable divide
Any Way You Slice It
Sundays at the community oven aren't just about the pizza
He bet cautiously at the track, but elsewhere he was drawn to those with the odds stacked against them
The Terminator Comes to Wall Street
How computer modeling worsened the financial crisis and what we ought to do about it
Evolution does not rob life of meaning, but creates meaning. It also makes possible our own capacity for creativity.
Second Chances, Social Forgiveness, and the Internet
We need the means, both technological and legal, to replace measures once woven into the fabric of communities
The Potency of Breathless
Paula Marantz Cohen
At 50, Godard’s film still asks how something this bad can be so good
The Man Who Shot the Man Who Shot Lincoln
Ernest B. Furgurson
The hatter Boston Corbett was celebrated as a hero for killing John Wilkes Booth. Fame and fortune did not follow, but madness did.
Visions and Revisions
Writing On Writing Well and keeping it up-to-date for 35 years
Dawn of a Literary Friendship
In 1969 the writer Robert Phelps first wrote to the novelist James Salter. Here are the letters that forged a bond of two decades.
The Dowser Dilemma
How a town in Vermont found water it desperately needed and an explanation that was harder to swallow
Putting Man Before Descartes
Human knowledge is personal and participant—placing us at the center of the universe
The Future of the American Frontier
Can one of our most enduring national myths, much in evidence in the recent presidential campaign, be reinvented yet again?
Affirmative Action and After
W. Ralph Eubanks
Now is the time to reconsider a policy that must eventually change. But simply replacing race with class isn’t the solution.
Spies Among Us
Military snooping on civilians, which escalated in the turbulent '60s, never entirely went away and is back again on a much larger scale
A Country for Old Men
Having reached the shores of seniority himself, the author finds a surprising contentment in the eyes of his fellow retirees
The Civil War only enhanced George Whitman's soldierly satisfaction; for his brother Walt, however, the horrors halted an outpouring of great poetry
My Bright Abyss
I never felt the pain of unbelief until I believed. But belief itself is hardly painless.
The High Road to Narnia
C. S. Lewis and his friend J. R. R. Tolkien believed that truths are universal and that stories reveal them
The Censor in the Mirror
It’s not only what the Chinese Propaganda Department does to artists, but what it makes artists do to their own work
The Torture Colony
In a remote part of Chile, an evil German evangelist built a utopia whose members helped the Pinochet regime perform its foulest deeds
Where Does American History Begin?
Mixing geography with invention, the first explorers and mapmakers made the New World a very hard place to pin down
Something Called Terrorism
In a speech given at Harvard 22 years ago and never before published, Leonard Bernstein offered a warning that remains timely
The New Old Way of Learning Languages
Now all but vanished, a once-popular system of reading Greek and Latin classics could revitalize modern teaching methods
The Disadvantages of an Elite Education
Our best universities have forgotten that the reason they exist is to make minds, not careers
The End of the Black American Narrative
A new century calls for new stories grounded in the present, leaving behind the painful history of slavery and its consequences
Revisiting the gritty Roman neighborhood of his youth, a writer discovers a world of his own invention
Knitting a new life in America after a mother’s suicide, long ago in Japan
When George Plimpton, the boyish editor of The Paris Review, went three rounds with the light-heavyweight champion of the world
In literature, as in life, the art of swimming isn’t hard to master
The Broken Balance
The poet Robinson Jeffers warned us nearly a century ago of the ravages to nature we now face
Passing the Torch
Stephen J. Pyne
Why the eons-old truce between humans and fire has burst into an age of megafires, and what can be done about it
The Liberal Imagination of Frederick Douglass
Honoring the emotions that give life to liberal principles
What Kind of Father Am I?
Looking back at a lifetime of parenting sons and being parented by them
Rome’s Gossip Columnist
When the first-century poet Martial turned his stylus on you, you got the point
Janna Malamud Smith
Like Robinson Crusoe after the storm, a daughter salvages what she can after her mother’s death
A Slow Devouring
Banter, beer, and bar food smooth a disciplined but difficult passage through Finnegans Wake
Who Cares About Executive Supremacy?
The scope of presidential power is the most urgent and the most ignored legal and political issue of our time
Moral Principle vs. Military Necessity
The first code of conduct during warfare, created by a Civil War–era Prussian immigrant, reflected ambiguities we struggle with to this day
Dreaming of a Democratic Russia
Sarah E. Mendelson
Memories of a year in Moscow promoting a post-Soviet political process, an undertaking that now seems futile
The Daily Miracle
Life with the mavericks and oddballs at the Herald Tribune
By limiting freedom of expression, we take away thoughts and ideas before they have the opportunity to hatch
Alone at the Movies
My days in the dark with Robert Altman and Woody Allen
Ann Hagman Cardinal
A young woman wins a drawing and learns to give and to receive
As a beloved uncle makes his final journey in the wilderness, a new life begins
The Cradle of Modernism
From the Autumn 1990 issue of The Scholar
Findings: Meditations on the Literature of Spying
From the Spring 1965 issue of The Scholar
To the Rescue of Romanticism
From the Spring 1940 issue of The Scholar
Melvin Jules Bukiet
Come with us to a place called Brooklyn, where the stories are half-baked and their endings bland and soft
Religious groups that have allied themselves with politicians, and vice versa, have ignored at their peril the lessons of Roger Williams and U.S. history
The Trojan War
Now even some environmentalists are supporting the use of nuclear power to generate electricity. One man’s story suggests the industry can’t be trusted
How a precocious group of high school poets learned to provide verse on demand
Lady of the Lake
Writer Brenda Ueland and the story she never shared
Apologies All Around
Today's tendency to make amends for the crimes of history raises the question: where do we stop?
From the Spring 1976 issue of The Scholar
The Mystery of Ales
Kai Bird and Svetlana Chervonnaya
The argument that Alger Hiss was a WWII-era Soviet asset is flawed. New evidence points to someone else
The Mystery of Ales (Expanded Version)
Kai Bird and Svetlana Chervonnaya
The argument that Alger Hiss was a WWII-era Soviet asset is flawed. New evidence points to someone else
Love on Campus
Why we should understand, and even encourage, a certain sort of erotic intensity between student and professor
What diplomacy can do and why we need it more than ever
Gazing Into the Abyss
The sudden appearance of love and the galvanizing prospect of death lead a young poet back to poetry and a “hope toward God”
‘Mem, Mem, Mem’
After a stroke, a prolific novelist struggles to say how the mental world of aphasia looks and feels
Between Two Worlds
The familar story of Pocahontas was mirrored by that of a young Englishman given as a hostage to her father
The Invasion of Privacy
Richard H. Rovere
From the Autumn 1958 issue of The Scholar
A New Theory of the Universe
Biocentrism builds on quantum physics by putting life into the equation
Can we begin to think about unexplained religious experiences in ways that acknowledge their existence?
In Pursuit of Innocence
From the Spring 1953 issue of The Scholar
The Judge's Jokes
Shards of memory, for better or for worse, from my father the after-banquet speaker
The celebrated Austrian writer Peter Handke appeared at the funeral of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. Should we forgive him?
The Cook's Son
The death of a young man, long ago in Africa, continues to raise questions with no answers
One Day in the Life of Melvin Jules Bukiet
Melvin Jules Bukiet
A Manhattan writer runs afoul of the local penal system and lives to tell the tale
Findings: Privacy Revealed
Richard E. Nicholls
From the Archives
First we stopped noticing members of the working class, and now we're convinced they don’t exist
THE SCHOLAR AT 75: An Educated Guess
Who knew that mixing the intelligent and the idiosyncratic would yield a long life for a certain small quarterly?
Not Compassionate, Not Conservative
A political traditionalist critiques our pseudo-conservative president
Scooter and Me
Professing liberal doubt in an age of fundamentalist fervor
Fear of Falling
Working in the mop-and-bucket brigade in college created the perspectives of a lifetime
The posthumous masterwork of an influential black historian tells how slavery itself undermined the Confederacy
Can a friendship really end for no good reason?
Getting It All Wrong
The proponents of Theory and Cultural Critique could learn a thing or two from bioculture
Lincoln the Persuader
Douglas L. Wilson
Seeking to get people behind his policies, he made himself the best writer for all our presidents
My Mother’s Body
Just remembering her is not enough; resurrecting her is the ultimate goal
Tomorrow Is Another Day
An Ethiopian student survives a brutal imprisonment by translating Gone with the Wind into his native tongue
The Ordinariness of AIDS
Can a disease that tells us so much about ourselves ever be anything but extraordinary?
The Sack of Baghdad
The U.S. invasion of Iraq has turned cultural icons into loot and archaeological sites into ruins
Miles from Nowhere
On a return trip to the wilderness of British Columbia, the author revisits a rough and exquisite landscape
Rum and Coca-Cola
The murky derivations of a sweet drink and a sassy World War II song
The Embarrassment of Riches
Do not pity me for having more money than anyone I know. Still, wealth does have its mild difficulties
The Case for Love
Did the friendship of an early Supreme Court justice and the wife of a colleague ever cross the line of propriety?
Leaving Race Behind
Our growing Hispanic population creates a golden opportunity
On the Outside Looking In
Paris and its banlieues in November 2005
Onward, Christian Liberals
Christianity's long tradition of social injustice
What Jesus Did
Forget about Christ as secular sage, historical figure, or even as Christian
Two Strangers, Three Stories
All the lonely people and where they come from
Shouldn’t There Be a Word ... ?
The holes in our language and the never-ending search for words to fill them
The Idea of Bombay
Bollywood epitomized modernity for a boy in a distant province. As an adult, he sees a troubled city.
Henry James vs. the Robber Barons
Why Italian art should stay in England, where it belongs, and not fall into the hands of foreigners
The New Anti-Semitism
First religion, then race, then what?
My Holocaust Problem
If we cannot speak of it—though speak of it we must—how do we remember what happened to the Jews of Europe?
Palladio in the Rough
A South Carolinian builds classical revival houses that really look old
A Sunday-afternoon player of a certain age says his farewell to basketball
The ebb and flow of life in a Newfoundland fishing village
Buster Brown's America
How a Jew from Slovakia became a Catholic from Manhattan, then fell from grace and turned into a real American
A Visit to Esperantoland
The natives want you to learn their invented language as a step toward world harmony. Who are these people?
Teaching the N-Word
A black professor, an all-white class, and the thing nobody will say
The Rise and Fall of David Duke
Lawrence N. Powell
Breaking the code of right-wing populism in Louisana
Finding the ideal of freedom in a rugged prison colony
Custom and Law
Melvin Jules Bukiet
After the death of his father, a not-notably observant Jew turns to the mourning rituals of his faith
Mary Beth Saffo
How chance authors the universe
Twenty-three ways of looking at our ancestors
Roosevelt Redux: Part Two
Thomas N. Bethell
Robert M. Ball and the battle for Social Security
Buy a house in Maine and they will come. And come.
Thomas N. Bethell
Robert M. Ball and the battle for Social Security
The elderly are entitled to what they have earned
All About Eve
What men have thought about women thinking
A Long Cold View of History
How ice, worms, and dirt made us what we are today
The Big Roundup
John Lomax roamed the West, collecting classic songs from the cowboy era
The Glue Is Gone
The things that held us together as individuals and as a people are being lost. Can we find them again?
So Help Me God
What all fifty-four inaugural addresses, taken as one long book, tell us about American history
What We Got Wrong
How Arabs look at the self, their society, and their political institutions
The Coming of the French
My life as an English professor
The Software Wars
Paul De Palma
Why you can't understand your computer
The Crooner and the Physicist
Jacques Brel and The New Yorker profile that never reached critical mass
A Sturdy Man
Notes on a human symphony