If These Walls Could Sprechen

I’m delighted to share this recently published story of a small German country house that stood witness to nearly a century of history, two totalitarian regimes, and several generations of ordinary people. Humans will do remarkable (and sometimes terrible) things to persist and survive as wars, empires, and borders change around them.

A few miles west of Berlin, a little house sits on Groß Glienicke lake, a quiet eye in the storm of Europe’s worst century ever.

Nazi bureaucrats arrived at their Final Solution at nearby Wannsee. The Red Army poured through at the end of World War II. Churchill and Truman drove past on their way to meet Stalin in Potsdam. The Berlin Airlift rattled the cupboards as planes landed at and left Gatow airfield. Secret policemen lurked as the Berlin Wall rose. The house endured the long, twilight struggle of the Cold War, the fall of the Wall, and the reunification of Germany.

…Josef Stalin supposedly quipped that one death might be a tragedy but a million deaths are a mere statistic. Harding’s work stands in defiance of that heartless calculation. Against the No Life Matters ethos of the 20th century, The House by the Lake proves that history’s lethally impersonal forces, mass displacement, arbitrary borders, marching armies, and totalitarian dictatorships cannot fully erase the private joys and sorrows of individual lives.

Read more of my review of The House by the Lake at Reason Magazine.


The monsters that torment us – All your fears are well-founded

On Halloween The Wall Street Journal published my review of two books of cultural history that connect our horror stories with very real phenomena.

Haunted by Leo Braudy and Ghostland by Colin Dickey show us that our horror stories are not trivial entertainment, but expressions of profound human emotions and indirect responses to very tangible realities. Both authors make clear that folk tales, urban legends and ghostly visitors carry heavy burdens of historical, spiritual and even theological significance—and they suggest that by analyzing them we can learn a great deal about ourselves.

…from the Sirens that tempted Odysseus to the demons Sarah Michelle Gellar faced down in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” “Each age has its own particular fears,” Mr. Braudy writes, “and the history of horror is the history of the disquiets of the soul, the inner life, made public, taking on the colorations of the era in which they appear.”

If you are a subscriber, you can read the full review of Haunted and Ghostland in The Wall Street Journal.

Books / Video

An Interview with Anya Kamenetz about student loans, higher education, and her book “DIY U”

DIY U by Anya Kamenetz
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Karen Armstrong’s Case for God

[caption id="attachment_171" align="alignleft" width="170" caption="A Case for God"][/caption] Religion poisons everything… God is a delusion… the end of faith... these are phrases lately found among the burgeoning supply of books by "new atheists" who take arms against a sea of holy rollers and jihadis.  In an age of faith-based politics, resurgent creationism, and religious terrorism,…
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Ted Gioia on the Birth and Death of the Cool

[caption id="attachment_147" align="alignleft" width="194" caption="The end of "cool"?"][/caption] Has coolness runs its course?  Are we living in a post-"cool" culture? Musician and writer Ted Gioia talks about his new book, The Birth and Death of the Cool in episode 102 of The New Modern podcast.  You can listen using the embedded player above or via…
Books / Culture / Podcasts

Tyler Cowen: Information Revolution, Autism, Digital Fragmentation, and the New Cultural Order

[powerpress] Huffduff it [huh?] Episode 101 of The New Modern podcast is an interview with Tyler Cowen about his fascinating new book Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World. In addition to his renown as a professor of economics at George Mason University, Tyler Cowen is familiar to many habitual…