New Republic

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The Monster

Famine is a frightful thing to contemplate, not least because we have the ability to contemplate it. If you have not experienced war, the veteran informs us, you have no idea of the reality of combat. But everyone can imagine, by mentally inverting our ordinary experience, how unpleasant it is to be forced to go […]

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Spy v. Spy: How a Double Agent Won D-Day for the Allies

IN The Art of War, Sun Tzu says that of the five classes of spies the most important is the “converted spy,” or double agent, because it is only through him (or her) that true “knowledge of the enemy” can be obtained. John le Carré writes that in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy—perhaps the greatest literary representation of a counterespionage operation—he wanted to capture “the sheer scale of the mayhem that can be visited on an enemy service when its intelligence-gathering efforts fall under the control of its opponent.”

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Sad New World

AMERICA IS A land of hardy individualists who overcame every obstacle, a country of restless spirits who cheerfully traversed the oceans, conquered the West, defended freedom, and invented the modern world. Right? No, that is not quite the whole of it, argues Susan J. Matt in her indispensable new book, which belongs on the shelf of […]

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The First Celebrity

IT MUST BE TRUE that human culture has always lavished attention on “celebrities” who boast no readily identifiable talents. No doubt a few poseurs were immortalized in ancient cave drawings just because they knew how to draw attention to themselves. But modern American culture is hard to beat when it comes to the lionization of […]

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Civilization and Barbarism

IN A NEW YORK magazine article last spring, a young Chinese-American named Jefferson Mao spoke of the cultural importance of doing well on school exams. “You learn quite simply to nail any standardized test you take,” he told Wesley Yang. Yang’s piece described how Chinese neighborhoods in Queens are filled with “‘cram schools,’ or storefront […]

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All Mashed Up

THERE IS NO more tragic vegetable than the potato. Originating in the Peruvian Andes, it was first domesticated by the Quechua-speaking peoples, who could not help but become reliant on a highly nutritional foodstuff that could be grown in large quantities on small plots in regions inhospitable to grains. John Reader, in his ambling new […]

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Melting Into Eire

To the Irish, few things are more essential than the land. While perusing an oral history collection from the 1930s at University College, Dublin a few years ago, I was struck by how the most unremarkable field, some uninhabited spot tucked between two rural villages, would be described in deliciously precise detail and given its […]

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Lords of the Ring

John L. Sullivan, one of the most celebrated Americans of the nineteenth century, officially stepped into the ring for the final time on September 7, 1892. The flabby champion, a symbol of Gilded Age excesses, faced a fit San Franciscan with a perfect pompadour named James J. Corbett. “Gentleman Jim,” as he would eventually be […]

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Slouching Towards Brutality

On Easter Monday in 1916, a tiny army of Irish separatists seized several buildings of middling significance in central Dublin, neglecting to take Dublin Castle, the seat of British power in the country, and ignoring communications outposts essential to any insurrection. With little popular support and no electoral mandate, they issued a proclamation declaring a […]

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