Louisa Thomas

Stories by Louisa Thomas

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    The Most Dangerous Publisher

    Barney Rosset, the man who brought Miller's 'Tropic of Cancer' to America, died on Tuesday. Here is Louisa Thomas’s profile from 2008.
  • Ted Sorensen's Legacy for Writers

    Ted Sorensen's prose for then-president John F. Kennedy sometimes promised too much idealism, put too much faith in appeals to our common humanity. The high-flown rhetoric didn't always match Kennedy's actions. But the speeches still have their power because they do not depend on the man who delivered them or the man who helped write them. They depend on who listens and reads them, and how that audience—now as then—responds. They made people feel like they were in the world together, despite their deep disagreements.
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    Movie Review: 'Never Let Me Go'

    It’s almost impossible to write about 'Never Let Me Go' without spoilers. This is telling, and too bad, because while the revelation about the nature of the students at Hailsham is dramatic, it’s also not the real story, which is much more about the human condition than any sci-fi plot twist.
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    Who Helped Harper Lee With "Mockingbird"?

    We like to think of writers, like heroes, as isolated beings. But a book is also shaped the system of editors, agents, publishers, teachers, and readers. Harper Lee did have help in writing 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' It takes nothing away from her accomplishment to realize that the dynamic interplay between individual effort and structural support is particularly pertinent to Lee’s story.
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    David Mitchell's New 'Thousand Autumns'

    David Mitchell’s huge new book centers on a young Dutch clerk who, in 1799, arrives in Dejima, the artificial island and isolated Dutch trading post in Nagasaki harbor, and on a midwife, Orito Aibawaga, with whom Jacob falls in love. The book moves between their two stories, undulating like the sea or the oscillating style of Mitchell’s prose.
  • Tony Judt: Why Liberals Should Speak Out

    Tony Judt is an historian, essayist, liberal polemic, and the author of several acclaimed books, including Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. But in the past year, Judt has also become known for his battle with ALS, commonly called Lou Gherig’s disease. NEWSWEEK’s Louisa Thomas spoke to Judt—who is paralyzed from the neck down and answered questions via e-mail—about some of the larger issues on his mind.
  • The Life and Hard Times of Arthur Koestler

    Political commentators today tend to celebrate a certain kind of skepticism promoted by Cold War intellectuals, men who counseled a vigorous response to evil while remaining humbled by the persistence of evil lurking in all human effort. As an antidote to the failed utopian schemes and totalitarian ideologies that burned through the 20th century—and as an alternative to the cowboy crusading of George W. Bush—this kind of restrained pragmatism makes sense. But it leaves out men like Arthur Koestler, one of the most influential anticommunists of his day.Perhaps the current popularity of the chastened outlook explains the title of Michael Scammell's new biography: Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic. As Scammell's fantastic account makes clear, Koestler was hardly a skeptic. He was an impassioned believer who swerved this way and that—Zionism, communism, anticommunism, science, and -pseudoscience—searching for the absolute that would save him ...
  • 'Woodrow Wilson': A New Biography by John Milton Cooper Jr.

    Woodrow Wilson's foes called him an ideologue, a hypocrite, and a coward. His admirers thought he was the hero who put forth the best hope for the world. Teddy Roosevelt labeled him a "prize jackass"; when Wilson died, eulogists compared him to Icarus. Today Wilson inspires feelings that are just as extreme and contradictory. His name has become a flashpoint in the debate over using American might to spread American ideals. Obscured by Wilsonianism, however, is the man himself.Wilson comes alive in John Milton Cooper Jr.'s insightful and important biography, Woodrow Wilson. Wilson could be stubborn or reflective; idealistic or canny; a visionary who was too often blind. His idea for a League of Nations bound by humane principles can be savaged or exalted, depending on your perspective. Cooper is, on balance, admiring, but he steers clear of caricaturing binaries. Wilson was not a utopian. Nor was he a realist, having watched balance-of-power politics sink Europe into a bloodbath. He...
  • Books: Kati Marton's Family Secrets

    Even as a kindergartner in 1954, Kati Marton understood that her parents were different from most Hungarians. Endre and Ilona Marton drove a Studebaker convertible and played bridge with the American ambassador. Marton knew better than to mention her parents' friends when she was at school, where Westerners were called "imperialists" and students learned rhymes about Eisenhower's fat head. But much was kept secret from Marton. While the 5-year-old was celebrating a joyful Christmas, her parents were trying to hide their fear. Kati did not know that the brutal dictator Mátyás Rákosi had flagrantly—and ominously—snubbed her parents a few nights before at a reception commemorating Hungary's "liberation" by the Soviets. She also did not know that the secret police were gathering a case to arrest them in the new year."Children cannot fully know their parents," Marton writes at the beginning of her memoir about her family, Enemies of the People. For most of Marton's life, she knew even...
  • New Edition of 'Frankenstein' Clarifies Authorship

    It began as a game to pass the time while the rain fell and lightning struck. Visiting Switzerland in June 1816, a small group—young and rivalrous, amorous and ever so literary—agreed to a ghost-story-writing contest. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, just 18, could come up with nothing at first. Then she had a nightmare—a walking corpse, glimmering yellow eyes. It delighted her. The next day, she announced to the others that she had imagined a story. Frankenstein was born.Two years later Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus was published anonymously. Readers immediately wondered about the author's identity. Some guessed it was the poet Percy Shelley, who had written the novel's preface. Those who knew that the author was Percy's (by then) wife, Mary Shelley, were amazed. Mary later said that she was constantly asked how she, "then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?" In an introduction to a revised 1831 edition, she told the Gothic tale of the...
  • It's Going to Be a Tough Year on Mad Men

    Time has been Mad Men's costar from the start. It provides the jokes, the fears, the gadgets. It's behind the haunted look in Don Draper's eyes. But when season three begins on Aug. 16, time may play its biggest role yet. Creator Matt Weiner won't pin down the year, but the evidence points to 1963—and 1963 was no ordinary year. For men who thought they ruled by right, it was the year things fell apart.On Mad Men, the cracks are there already. Copywriter Peggy Olson broke through Sterling Cooper's glass ceiling with her wit and smarts, but she's had to endure the derision—and worse—of her male colleagues. What will she think of the rise of the women's movement that followed the February 1963 publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique? The call to arms in Friedan's preface ("I came to realize that something is very wrong with the way American women are trying to live their lives today") seems aimed directly at Peggy—and at Betty Draper, Don's beautiful caged bird of a wife...
  • "New Nationalism" Looks New Again

    In august 1910, Teddy Roosevelt climbed on top of a kitchen table in Osawatomie, Kans., and gave one of the defining speeches of his life. "Ruin in its worst form is inevitable," he said, "if our national life brings us nothing better than swollen fortunes for the few and the triumph in both politics and business of a sordid and selfish materialism." When he described his solution—a "new nationalism" encompassing greater government involvement in financial markets and social programs—the crowd roared. Before long, TR had launched another presidential campaign.The "new nationalism" speech is remembered as a high point of the progressive movement, but long forgotten is the 1909 book that gave the speech its name: Herbert Croly's The Promise of American Life. The free reign of laissez-faire capitalism in the 19th century had produced great booms—but also busts, trusts, monopolies, and rapidly growing inequality and dislocations. In Croly's formulation, the people required Hamiltonian...
  • Crying for Kashmir

    When Justine Hardy and her mother visited the Kashmir Valley in the spring of 1989, it seemed to them an idyll. The weather was warm, the nights were cool, and mother and daughter rode bikes, shopped, and packed picnics of Kashmiri delicacies. Distantly, they were aware of unrest: protests, strikes in the city, and the ever-present jawans—young Indian soldiers, reminders to the Kashmiri Muslims that India held the region by threat of force. But to the British tourists, and even to many Kashmiris, these signs seemed more annoying than dangerous. For the most part, Hindus and Muslims lived and worked peaceably, their festivals intertwined, their Kashmiri identity shared.That December, separatists kidnapped a young medical student, the daughter of a Kashmiri government minister in Delhi, from a bus. Kashmiri separatists took to the street, crying, "Jo kare khuda ke khauf, Utale Kalashnikov!" ("All God-fearing men, pick up the gun!") Since then, more than 50,000 people have died. But...
  • How to Make an American Flag

    This 130-foot U.S. flag was lost and then destroyed, but that didn't stop its makers from building it again and again.
  • The Quiet Poet Laureate

    Kay Ryan has lived in the same small house on a hill in Marin County, Calif., for 30 years. She shingled the exterior walls and covered the steps and walkways in bright tile scraps herself. The house suits her—filled with artwork by friends and with books, surrounded by mountain-biking trails, sheltered by plants. She likes being in this out-of-the-way place, keeping her distance. As she settles into a faded pink director's chair, chatting amiably, her hazel eyes are warm but a little guarded. This is what she had dreaded when she agreed to become the poet laureate of the United States—that a reporter would show up at her door and ask her to hold forth on the State of American Poetry for the Masses. But Ryan is a kind and generous person, and so she has sliced lime for this interloper's sparkling water, offered her cut cantaloupe, and invited her onto the tiny deck lined with low-hanging strawberries, a geranium, lemon verbena, cacti. The pots were planted by Carol Adair, Ryan's...
  • A Tourbook Written in Crayon

    For a child, a box of Crayola crayons can be a wondrous thing. When I was in elementary school, I was particularly taken with burnt sienna. It was neither brown nor red, but seemed taken from the earth, and it had the most beautiful name. I was reminded of my early curiosity and respect for that color recently, as I stood on top of the walls of Siena's Museo dell'Opera, high above the Piazza del Duomo, and looked out over the city spread below. At first, all I saw was a dull sea of brown, but then it began to take shape and gain heft. The brown became warmer, redder, and splintered into dozens of tones. I thought of burnt sienna, and suddenly the association between a crayon and a city did not seem silly or strange. Afterward, walking through the cramped streets of the town's historic center, I saw echoes of the color everywhere. There were the brick-red chevrons of the sloping Piazza del Campo, the town's spectacular medieval square, and the Palazzo Pubblico, burnished in afternoon...
  • Books: Yiyun Li's First Novel

    Yiyun Li left China to become a scientist. So how'd she become one of America's best young novelists?
  • Cleopatra Revisited

    Men have long vilified Cleopatra, but she's earned a royal treatment.