Did Conservatives Start Creative Writing Programs to Fight the Cold War?

Wallace Stenger, Paul Engle

In 1946, there were only two programs in creative writing at American universities—one at Iowa and another at Stanford. In 1967, when the Associated Writing Programs (now Association of Writers and Writing Programs) was founded, there were 13. A mere eight years later, there were 55, which nearly tripled by 1985, when there were 150 graduate programs and 10 undergraduate ones. In 2012, there were 342 graduate programs in creative writing, from the M.A. to the Ph.D, and 163 undergraduate ones.

The Montesquieu of the Arabs

Statue of Ibn Khaldun in Tunisia / Wikimedia Commons

Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) is your favorite historian’s favorite historian and chances are you have never heard his name. Though his principal work, the Muqaddimah (literally the “introduction”), has been pronounced “the most comprehensive and illuminating analysis of how human affairs work that has been made anywhere” by Arnold Toynbee, there are relatively few studies devoted to his philosophic science of history. It is thus a most welcome bit of fortune when a rare book on Ibn Khaldun is published, and more welcome still to discover the book—The Orange Trees of Marrakesh by Stephen Frederic Dale—is an intellectual biography geared toward the non-specialist.

Stalin’s Man in London

Ivan Maisky, left, with  Molotov and Winston Churchill / Wikimedia Commons

In 1937, London was swept by rumors of Stalin’s brutal purges. English politicians, already reluctant to form a united front with the Soviet Union, became even more hesitant upon hearing of the systematic murder taking place in the USSR.

“So that’s what the English are like!” the Soviet ambassador Ivan Maisky wrote with fury in a secret diary the writing of which, under Stalin, could have gotten him killed. “Chamberlain wants to tear France away from its Eastern allies and to that end he is exploiting our recent trials. That won’t work.”

If It Ain’t Baroque…

Tintoretto, The Last Supper, 1592-94 / Wikimedia Commons

Around the turn of the fifth century B.C. the followers of Parmenides and Heraclitus got into a rather lively debate about whether the universe was characterized by static being or constant flux—but those guys have been dead for a long time now, and no one much cares anymore what they had to say. The issue has, however, proved to be stubborn. In just the last century, physicists had to confront the puzzling fact that certain tests revealed light to be composed of discrete particles, while others showed it to constitute a wave: a controversy as yet unresolved.

The Unbreakable Patti Smith

Patti Smith

This is not your average rock memoir. Patti Smith lives a quiet life in rural Michigan with her cats and half-empty paper coffee cups. She reads a lot. She travels—Berlin, Tokyo, Reykjavik, London—but doesn’t trash hotel rooms. She drops names, but they are the names of her favorite authors and film directors. She watches The Killing and CSI: Miami on TV.

How to Lose a Hundred Million Dollars Without Really Trying

Port Newark / Wikimedia Commons

There are, broadly speaking, two ways to reform institutions: from the top down, via an alliance of elites; and from the bottom up, with the impetus coming from those who are affected by the system and want to see it altered. Elites pushing social change ought not to forget that the legitimacy that will sustain their reforms will come from the bottom.

The Prize is a meticulously reported case study of one elite alliance’s attempt to reform public education in an American city. The alliance in this case is comprised of Mayor (now Senator) Cory Booker, Governor Chris Christie, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.