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.

Essay — From the November 2015 issue

Bombast Bursting in Air

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The story, so far, of the 2016 election

Context — October 30, 2015, 11:33 am

Bombast Bursting in Air

Republican presidential candidate John Kasich surveys his competition; Lewis H. Lapham analyzes the 2016 election so far.

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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Left to the tender mercies of the state, a group of veterans and their families continue to reside in a shut-down town

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Stonewall at Fifty·

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Early in the morning on June 28, 1969, New York police raided the Stonewall Inn at 53 Christopher Street, the city’s most popular gay bar. The police had raided Stonewall frequently since its opening two years before, but the local precinct usually tipped off the management and arrived in the early evening. This time they came unannounced, during peak hours. They swept through the bar, checking I.D.s and arresting anyone wearing attire that was not “appropriate to one’s gender,” carrying out the law of the time. Eyewitness accounts differ on what turned the unruly scene explosive. Whatever the inciting event, patrons and a growing crowd on the street began throwing coins, bottles, and bricks at the police, who were forced to retreat into the bar and call in the riot squad.

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Downstream·

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The squat warehouse at Miami’s 5th Street Terminal was nearly obscured by merchandise: used car engines; tangles of coat hangers; bicycles bound together with cellophane; stacks of wheelbarrows; cases of Powerade and bottled water; a bag of sprouting onions atop a secondhand Whirlpool refrigerator; and, above all, mattresses—shrink-wrapped and bare, spotless and streaked with dust, heaped in every corner of the lot—twins, queens, kings. All this and more was bound for Port-de-Paix, a remote city in northwestern Haiti.

When I first arrived at the warehouse on a sunny morning last May, a dozen pickup trucks and U-Hauls were waiting outside, piled high with used furniture. Nearby, rows of vehicles awaiting export were crammed together along a dirt strip separating the street from the shipyard, where a stately blue cargo vessel was being loaded with goods.

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Is Poverty Necessary?·

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In 1989 I published a book about a plutonium-producing nuclear complex in En­gland, on the coast of the Irish Sea. The plant is called Sellafield now. In 1957, when it was the site of the most serious nuclear accident then known to have occurred, the plant was called Windscale. While working on the book, I learned from reports in the British press that in the course of normal functioning it released significant quantities of waste—plutonium and other transuranic elements—into the environment and the adjacent sea. There were reports of high cancer rates. The plant had always been wholly owned by the British government. I believe at some point the government bought it from itself. Privatization was very well thought of at the time, and no buyer could be found for this vast monument to dinosaur modernism.

Back then, I shared the American assumption that such things were dealt with responsibly, or at least rationally, at least in the West outside the United States. Windscale/Sellafield is by no means the anomaly I thought it was then. But the fact that a government entrusted with the well-being of a crowded island would visit this endless, silent disaster on its own people was striking to me, and I spent almost a decade trying to understand it. I learned immediately that the motives were economic. What of all this noxious efflux they did not spill they sold into a global market.

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What it Means to Be Alive·

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My father decided that he would end his life by throwing himself from the top of the parking garage at the Nashville airport, which he later told me had seemed like the best combination of convenience—that is, he could get there easily and unnoticed—and sufficiency—that is, he was pretty sure it was tall enough to do the job. I never asked him which other venues he considered and rejected before settling on this plan. He probably did not actually use the word “best.” It was Mother’s Day, 2013.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

The United States is nearly drought-free for the first time in decades and is experiencing unprecedented levels of flooding.

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun

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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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