Lewis H. Lapham

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Lewis H. Lapham was the editor of Harper’s Magazine from 1976 to 1981, and again from 1983 to 2006. In the early Seventies, he began writing the Easy Chair, which he renamed “The Notebook” in 1984. His columns received the National Magazine Award in 1995 for exhibiting “an exhilarating point of view in an age of conformity,” and, in 2002, the Thomas Paine Journalism Award. Lapham founded Lapham’s Quarterly, of which he is also editor, in 2007. He is currently editor emeritus of Harper’s and was inducted into the American Society of Magazine Editors’ Hall of Fame in February of 2007.

In 1984 Lapham led the redesign of Harper’s, which included the creation of the Index, Annotations, and Readings—inventions intended to “incite acts of the imagination rather than facilitate the transfers of data, not to provide ready-made answers but to say, in effect, look at this, see how much more beautiful and strange and full of possibility is the world than can be dreamed of by the mythographers at NBC and Time.

Lapham is the author of numerous books, including Waiting for the Barbarians (1997), Theater of War (2003), Gag Rule (2004), and, most recently, Pretensions to Empire (2006). He hosts the weekly Bloomberg Radio program The World in Time. The New York Times has likened him to H.L. Mencken; Vanity Fair has suggested a strong resemblance to Mark Twain; and Tom Wolfe compared him to Montaigne.

Article — From the May 2012 issue

Ignorance of things past

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Who wins and who loses when we forget American history

Article — From the April 2011 issue

Democracy 101

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Mark Twain’s farewell address

Notebook — From the November 2010 issue

Figures of speech

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Notebook — From the May 2010 issue

Doing the laundry

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Romancing Kano·

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I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:

The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.

leadership
service
integrity
creativity

Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.

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The Prisoner of Sex·

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“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
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“In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.”
Photograph © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images
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Weed Whackers·

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“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
Photograph by Chad Ress
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The Neoliberal Arts·

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“College is seldom about thinking or learning anymore. Everyone is running around trying to figure out what it is about. So far, they have come up with buzzwords, mainly those three.”
Artwork by Julie Cockburn

Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:

65

An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.

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