The life of Samuel Johnson, would-be attorney-at-law

By Richard Cohen

Toward the end of his life, Samuel Johnson drew up a list of subjects that he would like to research. He projected forty-nine works in all; none was on any aspect of the law. According to James Boswell, Johnson’s celebrated biographer, almost the only subjects sure to…

Self-help for your mind from centuries ago

By Julia Bourke

They may have been founded in 1098, but the Cistercian order in France still managed to anticipate one of the most exciting discoveries of modern science. Known as the “white monks” because of their habits of undyed sheep’s wool, the Cistercians envisaged religious life as a process…

How fasting rewired my brain

By Beau Friedlander

Here’s what happened when I didn’t eat for prescribed periods of time: it affected every cell in my body, and my mind started working better. I can’t prove any of this. There’s science out there that might explain it, but that work is far from settled.


Notes from a high-wire artist

By Philippe Petit

A void like that is terrifying. Prisoner of a morsel of space, you will struggle desperately against occult elements: the absence of matter, the smell of balance, vertigo from all sides, and the dark desire to return to the ground, even to fall. …

The marriage of twentieth-century avant-gardists Arthur Cravan and Mina Loy was blissfully happy — until his mysterious disappearance

By Emma Garman

When the surrealist hero and sometime pugilist Arthur Cravan vanished off the coast of Mexico at the age of thirty-one, both the man and the circumstances lent themselves to speculation that he’d faked his own death. Born Fabian Avenarius Lloyd in Switzerland to Anglo-Irish parents, Cravan spent…

A history of humans trying and failing to understand the minds of apes

By Ferris Jabr

Around 500 BC, the Carthaginian explorer Hanno the Navigator guided a fleet of sixty oared ships through the Strait of Gibraltar and along the northwest lobe of the great elephant ear that is the African continent. Toward the end of his journey, on an island in a…

The correspondence of René Descartes and Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia — a debate about mind, soul, and immortality

By Anthony Gottlieb

There is an “official theory” about the nature of minds that “hails chiefly from Descartes,” wrote Gilbert Ryle, an Oxford philosopher. According to the theory, each person has a mind that is a private, inner world. It has no spatial dimensions and is not subject to laws…

A neighborhood along the Underground Railroad

By Alex Green

A s long as it has existed, Waltham, Massachusetts, has been a place where outsiders quietly come and go. Bisected by the Great Road, it was once one of few stops on the journey west from Boston to the Massachusetts frontier, nine miles out from the city…

The American democracy and dream are the building of castles in air. Whither goeth the one so goeth the other, these days up in smoke and the spout.

By Lewis H. Lapham

You can tell the ideals of a nation by its advertisements.
— Norman Douglas

There may not be an “American character,” but there is the emotion of being American…that feeling…of nostalgia for some undetermined future when man will have improved himself beyond recognition and when all…

David Reich’s genetics lab unveils our prehistoric past

By Ron Rosenbaum

“It’s like the discovery of the New World,” David Reich tells me. “Everything is new, nobody’s looked at it in this way before, so how can things not be interesting?”

The excitement surrounding David Reich’s ancient genetics lab at Harvard Medical School is almost palpable. Journals like…

Lapham’s Quarterly

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