We Were What We Wore

Fashion once expressed America’s class distinctions. But it doesn’t any more.

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The Rise And Decline of the Teenager

The word emerged during the Depression to define a new kind of American adolescence—one that prevailed for half a century and may now be ending

When the anthropologist Margaret Mead journeyed to the South Pacific in 1926, she was looking for something that experts of the time thought didn’t exist: untroubled adolescence.

 
 
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Facing Death

Our ancestors look gravely and steadily upon things that we cannot

In the course of this lethal century, death has been rendered increasingly abstract—a choreographed plunge on the television screen, the punch of a red button in a bomber or a computer game, a statistic in a column of print. The constant flicker of electronic sounds and images that surround us constitutes a mental environment as insulating as the buzzing belief systems of animism, Islam, or medieval Christianity.Read more »

Have Our Manners Gone To Hell?

A controversial recent book suggests that what we think of as good manners is a relatively new thing, a commodity manufactured to meet the needs of an industrial age. But now that the Industrial Revolution is over, we may need them more than ever—for very different reasons.

All of us have encountered surly check-out cashiers, come up against uncivil civil servants, and witnessed rude public behavior. The couple behind us who talk through the entire movie. The stranger who lets the shop door slam in our face. The driver who steals our parking space. We often hear—and voice—the complaint that bad behavior is on the rise, that chivalry is dead. But are Americans really less polite than ever? Are manners in perpetual decline from some golden age of civility?Read more »

The Tyranny Of The Lawn

For more than a century now, American homeowners have been struggling to remake their small patch of the environment into a soft, green carpet just like the neighbor’s. Who told us this was the way a lawn had to be?

When it comes to lawn care, my father has always insisted on doing it the hard way. No shortcuts or modern conveniences for him. After my parents bought a new house in San Diego in the early 1970s, he refused to break up the soil with a Rototiller the way most people did. His more thorough alternative involved digging a foot down with a shovel, pulling the rocks out, and forcing the dirt through a mesh screen.Read more »

How British Are You?

Very. The legacy of British traits in America is deeper and more significant than we knew.

As one of the most imaginative historians in contemporary America, David Hackett Fischer has produced a work that may put his fellow scholars’ teeth on edge. Historians, rather conservative in temperament, are reluctant converts when their choice ideas are thrown into question. Yet Fischer’s latest book, Albion‘s Seed: Four British Folkways in America (Oxford University Press) will fascinate them as well as the general reading public.Read more »

The Country Club

For a century now it has been a haven to some, an outrage to others—and it is one of the very few social institutions that have survived their founders’ world

I‘m sorry, son,” said the father to his young offspring in a New Yorker cartoon some years ago, “but we WASPs have no tribal wisdom to pass on.”

 

Nevertheless (and at the risk of stepping on a joke), no ethnic group capable of developing a social institution as durable, adaptable, and now universal as the country club could be wholly lacking in tribal wisdom. 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 Dinner Party

For generations it was the mainspring, the proof, and the reward of a civilized social life. Now, a fond student of the ritual looks back on the golden age of the dinner party and tells you just how you should have behaved.

The dinner party is the ultimate celebration of what it means to be civilized,” my father used to say. “There is nothing better in this world than to settle down around a lovely table and eat good food and say interesting things with one’s friends. ”

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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 »