Selected Essays

I've written for a wide variety of publications over the past fifteen years -- The Times Literary Supplement, The Boston Globe, The Spectator, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Globe and Mail, The Walrus -- as well as for my own blogs and online journals. The following is a selection of recent and older pieces; over time, I'll add to it.

Decline and sprawl

Kushanava Choudhury's personal tale of his return to Calcutta, the city of his youth, is a vivid and engaging depiction of a megalopolis once central to the fortunes of India - now caught up in forces of globalization-driven change.

A city in all dimensions

Todd Webb's images of post-war New York City show not only the physical dimensions of a growing metropolis, but the social realities of a difficult transition to peacetime.

Tidiness, the state, and us

Urban messiness is a trigger for all manner of negative emotions -- a phenomenon that authoritarian governments have learned to exploit.

The ends of history

The scope of history writing has recently become both vaster and much smaller than traditional histories of nations and dynasties. These are welcome changes -- but if our hope is to understand our place in the world, they may not be enough

How to get into a pantheon

Once reserved for the immortal gods, the concept of a pantheon has undergone significant change over the past two millenia -- driven by nationalisms, rivalries, cultural change, and increasingly, public enthusiasms.

A garish white light

Writing seems so simple, just a matter of placing one word after another. So why is it so hard for us to write what we really mean?

The President is paranoid

An administration undercut by subterfuge and paranoia, foreign policy challenges inflated with systematic hyperbole... Well, it seemed odd at the time.

Magnetic suns and moth balls

In James Gray's film "Two Lovers", a man badly in need of rescue ignores his potential rescuer while finding himself incapable of rescuing someone even worse off than himself.

A glimpse of beauty

Amid the infinite cornucopia of enticing images served up to us at our whims, we are often attracted most to those images of beauty that dote on us the least.

The world never saw such a war

Drew Gilpin Faust's illuminating book details the impact that combat death on an industrialized scale had on the young American republic during and after the Civil War.

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