America’s True Power

At a time when many are concerned by the nation’s loss of the unassailable economic position it occupied just after World War II, one historian argues that our real strength—and our real peril—lie elsewhere

We know more about sickness than about health. This is as true of medicine as it is of history, and as true of the condition of a nation as it is of a person. Moreover, the diagnosis must proceed not only from symptoms but from retrospect. For the diagnosis of a patient, some kind of knowledge of his medical history is fundamental. Read more »

The War Of The Great Books

What seemed to be just another tempest in the teapot of academia has escalated into a matter of national values and politics. Who would have believed that the choice of which books Stanford University students must read would create so much tumult? And that the controversy goes back so far?

Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind must surely be the most unexpected happening of American intellectual life in recent years. It is an erudite, closely argued book of philosophy and cultural criticism. That it should sit atop the New York Times best-seller list for eleven weeks and produce a hard-cover sale of a half-million copies defies publishing’s common sense. Read more »

The Man Who Changed His Skin

Thirty years ago John Howard Griffin, a white Texan, became an itinerant Southern black for four weeks. His account of the experience galvanized the nation.

On a sunny November day in 1959, a tall, brown-haired Texan entered the home of a New Orleans friend. Five days later an unemployed, bald black man walked out. The name of both was John Howard Griffin, and the journey he began that Louisiana evening was to take him to a country farther than any he had ever been in, one bordered only by the shade of its citizens’ skin. Read more »

The American Christ

He was a capitalist. He was an urban reformer. He was a country boy. He was “Comrade Jesus,” a hardworking socialist. He was the world’s first ad man. For a century and a half, novelists have been trying to recapture the “real” Jesus.

The two most popular novels in nineteenth-century America were Lew Wallace’s Ben Hur (1880) and Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps (1896). (In fact, Sheldon’s book remained the dominant twentieth-century best-seller right up until Peyton Place overtook it in the late 1950s.) Although the first of these two books is set in ancient Palestine and the second takes place in the contemporary American Midwest, they are dominated by the same central character, Jesus.Read more »

Is America Falling Behind?

It’s never a bad thing question how well you’re doing; the problem is to find a judicious observer who is determined neither to flatter nor to condemn

Irresistibly readable though it is, I doubt that Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (Random House) has leaped onto the best-seller list simply because people want to follow the roller-coaster histories of the Hapsburgs or the British Empire or other by-gone centers of world power. The book packs its wallop because Kennedy asks aloud a question that has been silently nagging at America’s consciousness: Is America falling behind? Read more »

The Strategy Of Survival

A lifelong student of military history and affairs says that nuclear weapons have made the idea of war absurd. And it is precisely when everyone agrees that war is absurd that one gets started.

Edward Luttwak is the author of nine books on the art of war, and he pronounces with startling confidence on a great array of events, as the titles of his works suggest. One is The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, another The Grand Strategy of the Soviet Union. His most recent book is last year’s Strategy (Harvard University Press). Read more »

A Heart’s Love For New Orleans

The modern city plays host to conventions and tourists, but it still retains the slightly racy charm that has always made it dear to its natives

Writers have been good to New Orleans, or maybe it’s the other way around.Read more »

The Greatest Diarist

George Templeton Strong was not a public man, and he is not widely known today. But for forty years he kept the best diary—in both historic and literary terms—ever written by an American.

Who was George Templeton Strong, and why single out for special attention a conservative and supercilious New York lawyer who is remembered chiefly, if at all, for a diary he kept between the years 1835 and 1875? A civil leader and much esteemed man of affairs, he took an active part in the educational and cultural life of his turbulent city and served with distinction on the United States Sanitary Commission during the Civil War. But he never occupied top positions, never coveted the limelight, had no special influence on, important people.Read more »

The Rattle-Snake As A Symbol Of America

Only one man would have had the wit, the audacity, and the self-confidence to make the case

At the end of 1775, when fighting had already begun between the Americans and the British, an essay about the character of rattlesnakes appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal signed by “An American Guesser.” The Guesser, obviously a patriot and a witty one, has just recently been identified as Benjamin Franklin. This piece, and fifty-six other newly attributed writings, which have never before been collected, are included in the recently published Library of America volume Benjamin Franklin: Writings.Read more »

Lincoln Fiction & Fact

A new novel about Lincoln examines questions about civil liberties in wartime, staff loyalties and disloyalties, and especially, Lincoln’s priorities

This interview took place at the end of May in William Safire’s office at the Washington bureau of The New York Times. Safire is a trim and affable man of fifty-seven. We had first met in 1971 at the house of the Washington columnist Rowland Evans, Jr. Our host had advertised Safire in advance as the compulsively alliterative speech writer for the then Vice-President, Spiro T. Agnew (“the nattering nabobs of negativism”), and also as one of the few members of the Nixon troupe who dared circulate at large in Georgetown.Read more »