Editor's Note — July 18, 2017, 12:19 pm

Inside the August Issue

David Wong Louie, Sarah A. Topol, Helen Vendler, Philip Roth, and more…

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are,” wrote Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in his epicurean bible, The Physiology of Taste. But what are we when we can eat no longer? It is a question most of us will never have to answer, since we go on noshing until we are a stone’s throw from the grave. David Wong Louie, alas, has not been so lucky. In 2011, this lifelong gourmand was informed that he had a cancerous tumor in his throat, which would prevent him indulging his greatest passion. “I loved to chew and swallow,” he writes. “My desire for food had the urgency of lust; I was constantly horny.” As he recounts in “Eat, Memory,” he was soon reduced to ingesting therapeutic smoothies from a feeding tube, and there is certainly an elegiac note to his chronicle—a farewell to what now strikes him as a culinary paradise lost. “Chewing was glorious,” he recalls. “Swallowing was king.” Yet he has lost none of his ability to evoke the sensuousness that makes even a half-decent meal an erotic experience—and, with surprising frequency, a kind of romance.

In “Sons and Daughters,” Sarah A. Topol visits a tiny village in the Dominican Republic where a genetic mutation has led to a prevalence of intersex children—that is, where children seem to transform from girls into boys at the onset of puberty. There are all sorts of ethical and scientific riddles posed by the population of Las Salinas, including the question of whether such children benefit from early corrective surgery. But the author is more interested in how easily the intersex inhabitants are accepted by their fellow villagers, especially given the prevalent machismo of Dominican culture. Closer to home, Richard Manning chronicles a transformation of political life in America’s Mountain West, where environmentalism is no longer the exclusive purview of tree-hugging liberals but a major driver of progressive change. As he writes in “Political Climbers,” public lands form the backbone of the region’s cultural identity and economy, and the struggle to preserve them may also offer an escape from the cul-de-sac of identity politics.

Elsewhere, we have an extraordinary portfolio of drawings by Olivier Kugler, bringing to life Syrian refugees who have resettled in England and Germany. Walter Kirn writes about the return of the dystopian note to American culture, and its latest iteration in Y.A. fiction, whose “story lines capture perfectly the plight of the adolescent psyche as it begins to chafe against authority.” Anthony Amsterdam contributes two poems, Helen Vendler delves into the expansionist ardor of A. R. Ammons’s verse, and in Akil Kumarasamy’s story, “New World,” Sri Lankan independence is the occasion for festivities, an Old Testament tempest, and at least one likely murder. Last but not least, in Readings, we have short works by Philip Roth and Patrick Modiano, and a list of dubious over-the-counter sexual-enhancement drugs including Anaconda, Cave Diver, O.M.G., Hard Wang, and the esteem-boosting Big Penis Male.

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In February 1947, Harper’s Magazine published Henry L. Stimson’s “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb.” As secretary of war, Stimson had served as the chief military adviser to President Truman, and recommended the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The terms of his unrepentant apologia, an excerpt of which appears on page 35, are now familiar to us: the risk of a dud made a demonstration too risky; the human cost of a land invasion would be too high; nothing short of the bomb’s awesome lethality would compel Japan to surrender. The bomb was the only option. Seventy years later, we find his reasoning unconvincing. Entirely aside from the destruction of the blasts themselves, the decision thrust the world irrevocably into a high-stakes arms race — in which, as Stimson took care to warn, the technology would proliferate, evolve, and quite possibly lead to the end of modern civilization. The first half of that forecast has long since come to pass, and the second feels as plausible as ever. Increasingly, the atmosphere seems to reflect the anxious days of the Cold War, albeit with more juvenile insults and more colorful threats. Terms once consigned to the history books — “madman theory,” “brinkmanship” — have returned to the news cycle with frightening regularity. In the pages that follow, seven writers and experts survey the current nuclear landscape. Our hope is to call attention to the bomb’s ever-present menace and point our way toward a world in which it finally ceases to exist.

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The Ambassador Bridge arcs over the Detroit River, connecting Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, the southernmost city in Canada. Driving in from the Canadian side, where I grew up, is like viewing a panorama of the Motor City’s rise and fall, visible on either side of the bridge’s turquoise steel stanchions. On the right are the tubular glass towers of the Renaissance Center, headquarters of General Motors, and Michigan Central Station, the rail terminal that closed in 1988. On the left is a rusted industrial corridor — fuel tanks, docks, abandoned warehouses. I have taken this route all my life, but one morning this spring, I crossed for the first time in a truck.

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But the exercise of labor is the worker’s own life-activity, the manifestation of his own life. . . . He works in order to live. He does not even reckon labor as part of his life, it is rather a sacrifice of his life.

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To look at him, Sweet Macho was a beautiful horse, lean and strong with muscles that twitched beneath his shining black coat. A former racehorse, he carried himself with ceremony, prancing the field behind our house as though it were the winner’s circle. When he approached us that day at the edge of the yard, his eyes shone with what might’ve looked like intelligence but was actually a form of insanity. Not that there was any telling our mother’s boyfriend this — he fancied himself a cowboy.

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What We Think About When We Think About Soccer, by Simon Critchley. Penguin Books. 224 pages. $20.

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