I Have Landed
Stephen Jay Gould’s last book.
The title of Stephen Jay Gould’s twenty-second book on natural science borrows a phrase his grandfather scribbled in an English primer after he arrived at Ellis Island: “I have landed. September 11, 1901.” Last year Gould — a Harvard zoologist — ended an unbroken run of 300 columns on Darwinism (among many, many other topics) in Natural History magazine; this book would have been a simple collection of his final essays if the World Trade Center hadn’t collapsed on the centennial of his grandfather’s landing. The weird coincidence of dates inspired a handful of shorter pieces tacked onto the end, about Americanism, evil, and the New York skyline. These articles give the book some shape, but they were written in a hurry and don’t stand up to the longer natural-history essays, which are brilliant. Gould’s mind likes to scurry into every corner of high and low culture: Here he investigates Gilbert and Sullivan, myths of the Alamo, forgotten female naturalists, and Vladimir Nabokov’s second career as a lepidopterist. But he always returns to the theme of Darwinism. For Gould the theory of evolution offers a vision of an ancient and continuous “tree of life,” linking all creatures, and he applies this idea of continuity to his own catholic interests. The Nabokov essay, for example, starts with a bland debate over how the novelist’s butterfly-collecting and -classifying might have informed (or detracted from) his fiction; but the piece ends with a fierce argument against the wall between literature and science — a wall Gould himself, who died last month, has spent a career trying to topple.
Michael Scott Moore
Idomeneo in Berlin
Remember the scandal over “Idomeneo” in Berlin? Remember how Islamists went mad when the Deutsche Oper decided to stage a controversial production of Mozart’s opera, unleashing a storm of violence?
Behind the frosted-glass office doors of an old building on New Montgomery Street in San Francisco you can find a barber shop, a bartending school, and a number of lawyers
Noah and the Dinosaurs
One rule of fundamentalists is that they hate to be interviewed. William Dembski doesn’t. He has a long face and glasses, wears knife-edged slacks and sober ties; he mixes fashion sense with a relaxed wonkishness that announces dedication to reason rather than the Bible-thumping fanaticism he’s been accused
I Have Landed
The title of Stephen Jay Gould’s twenty-second book on natural science borrows a phrase his grandfather scribbled in an English primer after he arrived at Ellis Island
For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again
I think Derek Walcott holds the title for Greatest North American Playwright Almost Never Produced in San Francisco, but Michel Tremblay runs a close second.
The Invention of Love
The last time one of Tom Stoppard’s plays had its American premiere in San Francisco, last spring, I wrote that it “wouldn’t be above Stoppard to spin a whole script around a minor and meaningless point of grammar.”
Sending in the Marines
NATO, officially, is pleased to have pirates to fight. A mission against sea bandits in the Indian Ocean is not mission creep for the trans-Atlantic alliance, if you talk to its leaders
Battleships Off Somalia
Navies are expensive, and sending warships to Somalia is a hugely inefficient way to fight pirates, considering that the number of successful attacks off the Somali coast this year
How Do You Prosecute a Pirate?
The most eyebrow-raising aspect of Western counter-piracy missions off Somalia is how rarely they arrest a pirate.
Ghosts of Dresden
The Allied firebombing of Dresden in 1945 destroyed the baroque center of what Pfc. Kurt Vonnegut called, in a letter home from Germany, “possibly the world’s most beautiful city.”
How to Film Nazis
The big surprise last week during the Berlin Film Festival was a disastrous premiere for a long-awaited feature film, Jud Süß — Rise and Fall, by a talented German director named Oskar Roehler.
Nazis on the Campaign Trail
Holger Apfel is a burly, fat-cheeked 35-year-old with glasses, given to wearing brown suits. He leads a delegation of the neo-Nazi NPD (National Democratic Party of Germany) in the German state parliament of Saxony.
It’s Called Soccer
Americans live on what amounts to an enormous island, defended on two shores by the sea, and we’ve evolved a few marsupial traditions that nobody else understands.
One Hundred Years of Hanging Ten
The George Freeth memorial in Redondo Beach is a salt-bitten bust of a lifeguard in an old-fashioned swimming vest, gazing with the stoicism we expect from early surf heroes into the deep mysteries of a concrete parking garage.
Tilting at Turbines (in the Severn River)
The morning was clear and cold, with frost on the church steeple and the cemetery grass. I had a quick English breakfast at a white-cloth table, in my wetsuit, and drove to Newnham, a village on the Severn River in Gloucestershire, parking near the White Hart Inn.
Denis Johnson, Poet of the Fallen World
“I’m kinda like Ozzy Osbourne,” says Denis Johnson in a distracted moment, explaining that he might not remember to call me back. “My wife was just telling me that.”
This Will Kill That
“Here is one,” replied the archdeacon, opening the window of his cell; he pointed to the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, whose two black towers, stone walls, and huge roof
The Curse of El Rojo
I’d packed the car lightly — a bag of clothes, a bag of cassette tapes, a backpack of books, a few essential tools.