The Immortality Of Mae West

Nearly a century after she came on the scene, her wit, bravado, and sexuality are a bigger presence than ever

When Mae West showed a trusted friend the manuscript of her 1970 autobiography, Goodness Had Nothing to Do With It , he complained that the book lacked any mention of her struggles, failures, and disappointments. She scoffed. “Her fans don’t want Mae West to have problems and have to struggle,” she declared in confident third person. “Mae West always triumphs.”

 
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10 Great American Business Novels

A student of an underappreciated literary genre selects some books that may change the way you see what you do.

It has always struck me that the best business novels are interactive. In them, the world of commerce is driven by people whose reality is made palpable to us but whose values, attitudes, and biases often compel us to question our own: As a businessperson, how would I relate to the kind of complex, unpredictable circumstances in which all-too-real fictional characters commonly find themselves?Read more »

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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Traveling With A Sense Of History

From Fort Ticonderoga to the Plaza Hotel, from Appomattox Courthouse to Bugsy Siegel’s weird rose garden in Las Vegas, the present-day scene is enriched by knowledge of the American past

To grow up in New England is to grow up with an inescapable sense of history, a heritage that a New Englander carries with him wherever he goes. Read more »

Sinclair Lewis Got It Exactly Right

He re-created with perfect pitch every tone of voice, every creak and rattle of an America that was disintegrating even as it gave birth to the country we inhabit today

My first—and last—sight of Sinclair Lewis was in Union Square. Lewis Gannett, the book columnist for the New York Herald Tribune in the 1930s, had somehow contrived to make himself a penthouse of sorts atop a factory there, and one night he gave a party at which Sinclair Lewis was the central fact. From Gannett’s windows you could see down to the grubby commerce that surrounded the square.Read more »

The Magazine That Taught Faulkner, Fitzgerald, And Millay How To Write

When many of our greatest authors were children, they were first published in the pages of St. Nicholas

At first, it might seem F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Eudora Welty, and E. B. White have little in common besides their country of birth and their line of work. But when they were growing up, these writers all were devoted readers of the same publication: St. Nicholas, the monthly magazine for children. Founded in 1873, St. Nicholas delighted and instructed children for almost seventy years. Read more »

HEMINGWAY & FITZGERALD: THE COST OF BEING AMERICAN

The work of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald virtually defined what it meant to be American in the first half of this century

One of the last photographs of Hemingway shows him wandering a road in Idaho and kicking a can. It is an overcast day, and he is surrounded by snow-swept mountains. He looks morose, is evidently in his now usual state of exasperation, and he is all alone. The emptiness of Idaho is the only other presence in the picture. Read more »

Crossword In History

F. Scott Fitzgerald surverying the ashes of the Jazz Age from the vantage point of 1931, wrote: “By 1927 a wide-spread neurosis began to be evident, faintly signalled, like a nervous beating of the feet, by the popularity of cross-word puzzles.”

Of course, at the time he was writing, the twenties were tarnished for Fitzgerald, but there is no doubt that toward the end of the decade the crossword puzzle was a ubiquitous and obsessive element of American life. Read more »

Scott & Zelda

HOW TWO FAMOUS FIGURES OF THE TWENTIES GREW UP, MET, AND FELL IN LOVE

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. …” It was an odd way for a rich and world-famous young writer to end his third novel— The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Yet looking back now, now that he is even more famous than he was in his short lifetime, with Gatsby made into a multimillion-dollar movie amidst enormous fanfare, we can see how touchingly appropriate that ending was.Read more »