E.B. (Elwyn Brooks) White

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From October 1938 to March 1943, E. B. White contributed a column to Harper’s Magazine called One Man’s Meat, which he wrote from his farm in North Brooklin, on the coast of Maine. “I have been making my living by describing my antics with sheep and poultry,” he wrote in 1941, “to an audience which appears to be half envious, half contemptuous.” Many of the essays, which also touched upon World War II, nationalism, and a single world government, were published as a volume in 1942. One Man’s Meat went on to win the Limited Editions Club’s Gold Medal, awarded every three years to the book considered most likely to attain the stature of a classic, and was briefly banned by the Army.

Elwyn Brooks White was born in 1899, the prosperous second year of William McKinley’s presidency, in Mount Vernon, New York. “Pop was a golden man living in a golden age, doing it well,” he wrote to his brother Stanley in 1954, “and barely realizing that he was dumping six kids into an age of terror and destruction.”

In one of his earliest columns for Harper’s Magazine, White posited: “It must be a lot of fun to write for children—reasonably easy work, perhaps even important work.” His first children’s book, Stuart Little, was published in 1945, a year after he sought a doctor’s aid for having “mice in the subconscious”; Charlotte’s Web (1952) and The Trumpet of the Swan (1973) cemented his place in the canon. Soon after he ceased to write his monthly column for Harper’s Magazine, he complained of “sketchy health”: “I never realized nerves were so odd, but they are,” he wrote. “They are the oddest part of the body, no exceptions.”

Among his other works are the poetry collection The Lady is Cold (1929); a comic collaboration with James Thurber, Is Sex Necessary? Or, Why You Feel The Way You Do (1929); Here Is New York (1949), which The New Yorker deemed “the wittiest essay, and one of the most perceptive, ever done on the city”; and a revision of William Strunk, Jr.’s popular English-language style guide, The Elements of Style (1959). White received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, and in 1978 he won a Pulitzer Prize for “his letters, essays and the full body [of] his work.”

Article — From the October 1999 issue

At Walden Pond

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Readings — From the December 1985 issue

One man’s meat

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Wraparound — From the July 1975 issue

Wraparound

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Saving radiance?

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One man’s meat — From the May 1943 issue

One man’s meat

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One man’s meat — From the April 1943 issue

Goose’s return

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One man’s meat — From the April 1943 issue

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One man’s meat — From the April 1943 issue

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One man’s meat — From the April 1943 issue

Victory Corps

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One man’s meat — From the April 1943 issue

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One man’s meat — From the April 1943 issue

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One man’s meat — From the April 1943 issue

Anthologists

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One man’s meat — From the April 1943 issue

Seed potatoes

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One man’s meat — From the March 1943 issue

One man’s meat

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One man’s meat — From the March 1943 issue

One man’s meat

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One man’s meat — From the March 1943 issue

One man’s meat

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One man’s meat — From the March 1943 issue

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One man’s meat — From the February 1943 issue

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One man’s meat — From the January 1943 issue

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One man’s meat — From the December 1942 issue

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Thirty miles from the coast, on a desert plateau in the Judaean Mountains without natural resources or protection, Jerusalem is not a promising site for one of the world’s great cities, which partly explains why it has been burned to the ground twice and besieged or attacked more than seventy times. Much of the Old City that draws millions of tourists and Holy Land pilgrims dates back two thousand years, but the area ­likely served as the seat of the Judaean monarchy a full millennium before that. According to the Bible, King David conquered the Canaanite city and established it as his capital, but over centuries of destruction and rebuilding all traces of that period were lost. In 1867, a British military officer named Charles Warren set out to find the remnants of David’s kingdom. He expected to search below the famed Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, but the Ottoman authorities denied his request to excavate there. Warren decided to dig instead on a slope outside the Old City walls, observing that the Psalms describe Jerusalem as lying in a valley surrounded by hills, not on top of one.

On a Monday morning earlier this year, I walked from the Old City’s Muslim Quarter to the archaeological site that Warren unearthed, the ancient core of Jerusalem now known as the City of David. In the alleys of the Old City, stone insulated the air and awnings blocked the sun, so the streets were cold and dark and the mood was somber. Only the pilgrims were up this early. American church groups filed along the Via Dolorosa, holding thin wooden crosses and singing a hymn based on a line from the Gospel of Luke: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Narrow shops sold gardenia, musk, and amber incense alongside sweatshirts promoting the Israel Defense Forces.

I passed through the Western Wall Plaza to the Dung Gate, popularly believed to mark the ancient route along which red heifers were led to the Temple for sacrifice. Outside the Old City walls, in the open air, I found light and heat and noise. Tour buses lined up like train cars along the ridge. Monday is the day when bar and bat mitzvahs are held in Israel, and drumbeats from distant celebrations mixed with the pounding of jackhammers from construction sites nearby. When I arrived at the City of David, workmen were refinishing the wooden deck at the site’s entrance and laying down a marble mosaic by the ticket window.

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A documentary about climate change, domain names, and capital

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The Black Axe·

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Eleven years ago, on a bitter January night, dozens of young men, dressed in a uniform of black berets, white T-­shirts, and black pants, gathered on a hill overlooking the Nigerian city of Jos, shouting, dancing, and shooting guns into the black sky. A drummer pounded a rhythmic beat. Amid the roiling crowd, five men crawled toward a candlelit dais, where a white-­robed priest stood holding an axe. Leading them was John, a sophomore at the local college, powerfully built and baby-faced. Over the past six hours, he had been beaten and burned, trampled and taunted. He was exhausted. John looked out at the landscape beyond the priest. It was the harmattan season, when Saharan sand blots out the sky, and the city lights in the distance blurred in John’s eyes as if he were underwater.

John had been raised by a single mother in Kaduna, a hardscrabble city in Nigeria’s arid north. She’d worked all hours as a construction supplier, but the family still struggled to get by. Her three boys were left alone for long stretches, and they killed time hunting at a nearby lake while listening to American rap. At seventeen, John had enrolled at the University of Jos to study business. Four hours southeast of his native Kaduna, Jos was another world, temperate and green. John’s mother sent him an allowance, and he made cash on the side rearing guard dogs for sale in Port Harcourt, the perilous capital of Nigeria’s oil industry. But it wasn’t much. John’s older brother, also studying in Jos, hung around with a group of Axemen—members of the Black Axe fraternity—who partied hard and bought drugs and cars. Local media reported a flood of crimes that Axemen had allegedly committed, but his brother’s friends promised John that, were he to join the group, he wouldn’t be forced into anything illegal. He could just come to the parties, help out at the odd charity drive, and enjoy himself. It was up to him.

John knew that the Black Axe was into some “risky” stuff. But he thought it was worth it. Axemen were treated with respect and had connections to important people. Without a network, John’s chances of getting a good job post-­degree were almost nil. In his second year, he decided to join, or “bam.” On the day of the initiation, John was given a shopping list: candles, bug spray, a kola nut (a caffeinated nut native to West Africa), razor blades, and 10,000 Nigerian naira (around thirty dollars)—his bamming fee. He carried it all to the top of the hill. Once night fell, Axemen made John and the other four initiates lie on their stomachs in the dirt, pressed toge­ther shoulder to shoulder, and hurled insults at them. They reeked like goats, some Axemen screamed. Others lashed them with sticks. Each Axeman walked over their backs four times. Somebody lit the bug spray on fire, and ran the flames across them, “burning that goat stink from us,” John recalled.

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Who Is She?·

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I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t get up—­just couldn’t get up, couldn’t get up or leave. All day lying in that median, unable. Was this misery or joy?

It’s happened to you, too, hasn’t it? A habit or phase, a marriage, a disease, children or drugs, money or debt—­something you believed inescapable, something that had been going on for so long that you’d forgotten any and every step taken to lead your life here. What did you do? How did this happen? When you try to solve the crossword, someone keeps adding clues.

It’s happened to us all. The impossible knowledge is the one we all want—­the big why, the big how. Who among us won’t buy that lotto ticket? This is where stories come from and, believe me, there are only two kinds: ­one, naked lies, and two, pot holders, gas masks, condoms—­something you must carefully place between yourself and a truth too dangerous to touch.

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Murder Italian Style·

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The Catholic School, by Edoardo Albinati. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1,280 pages. $40.

In a quiet northern suburb of Rome, a woman hears noises in the street and sends her son to investigate. Someone is locked in the trunk of a Fiat 127. The police arrive and find one girl seriously injured, together with the corpse of a second. Both have been raped, tortured, and left for dead. The survivor speaks of three young aggressors and a villa by the sea. Within hours two of the men have been arrested. The other will never be found.

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A federal judge in South Carolina ruled in favor of personal-injury lawyer George Sink Sr., who had sued his son, George Sink Jr., for using his own name at his competing law firm.

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“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

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