Editor's Note — June 12, 2014, 8:00 am

Introducing the July 2014 Issue

Kevin Baker on the lost glory of America’s railroads, Mark Hertsgaard on Obama’s environmental failures, Sarah Menkedick on why Mexican immigrants are moving back home, and more

Harper's Magazine, July 2014In this month’s cover story, Kevin Baker, who last wrote for the magazine in the October 2012 issue (“Why Vote?”), crisscrosses the United States at the same time the Republican right was preparing to shut down the federal government. Starting at New York City’s Penn Station, whose previous, long-demolished iteration once represented the zenith of American industrial design, Baker travels via Amtrak from the East Coast to the West Coast and back again. For the entire nineteenth century and much of the twentieth, the railroad linked small towns across the country to the wider world. It literally embodied Ezra Pound’s famous phrase, “Transportation is civilization.” No wonder we used to value our trains and so many people took pride in riding them. Today, however, plans for improving or even maintaining the rail system are met with apathy, if not opposition. Passing through (and relishing) the American landscape, comparing notes with other travelers and railroad fanatics, Baker ponders the now-decaying industry that once provided a literal track for America’s expansion.

President Obama has just unveiled new EPA regulations to limit the emission of greenhouses gases from the nation’s power plants, his most high-profile attempt to combat climate change since taking office. Yet his environmental record has been decidedly spotty, especially for a man who promised to halt the rising of the oceans during his acceptance speech in 2008. In “Promises, Promises,” Mark Hertsgaard examines those failures — many of them stemming from the president’s eagerness to accommodate Big Oil and other key energy-industry players — and considers Obama’s potential to redeem that record.

In the debate over immigration reform, few consider the possibility that recent immigrants can become dissatisfied with their choice to move here. The number of Mexican immigrants bound for the United States doubled in the 1980s and again in the 1990s; in the poverty-stricken Sierra Norte, villages nearly emptied of their young men. Yet by 2012, net migration to the United States from Mexico had dropped to zero. What has changed? Sarah Menkedick travels to the village of San Pedro Cajonos, in Oaxaca, to take part in its annual fiesta and talk to residents who have recently given up on the so-called American dream and returned to their rural hometowns.

In 2013, photographer Kirsten Luce accompanied local law-enforcement officers in Texas on raids of houses where migrants are stashed by smugglers after crossing the Rio Grande. Her moving and sometimes disturbing photographs are a record of lives in limbo — and proof that El Norte retains its allure for a substantial number of people in Latin America.

While doing research for The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses, Harvard lecturer Kevin Birmingham found, in one of Joyce’s letters, a cryptic reference to the author’s experience with an early twentieth-century drug called galyl, whose only purpose was to treat syphilis. Birmingham suspects that Joyce may have contracted the disease during one of his many visits to Dublin’s red-light district in 1904. In this month’s Annotation, he examines Joyce’s medical record and finds new evidence for the diagnosis.

In “The Man Who Stole the Nile,” Frederick Kaufman follows the trail of an Ethiopian billionaire who is planning to export tons of rice to Saudi Arabia as his countrymen go hungry. On his adventure through Ethiopia, Kaufman encounters shady businessmen and corrupt politicians and tries to get to the bottom of one man’s control of the country’s agricultural resources.

Also in this issue: New fiction by Jess Walter; Simon Kuper and Jorge Luis Borges on the beautiful game; a play by Benjamin Kunkel; Francine Prose on Karl Ove Knausgaard; and Christopher Cox on the temptations (and disappointments) of politics as a career.

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I was tucked in a blind behind a soda machine, with nothing in my hand but notepad and phone, when a herd of running backs broke cover and headed across the convention center floor. My God, they’re beautiful! A half dozen of them, compact as tanks, stuffed into sports shirts and cotton pants, each, around his monstrous neck, wearing a lanyard that listed number and position, name and schedule, tasks to be accomplished at the 2019 N.F.L. Scout­ing Combine. They attracted the stunned gaze of football fans and beat writers, yet, seemingly unaware of their surroundings, continued across the carpet.

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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.

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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.

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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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