Malcolm Jones

Stories by Malcolm Jones

  • Murder In The Name Of God

    Jon Krakauer did not setout to write about murder. After publishing "Into Thin Air," his best seller about a 1996 Mount Everest expedition that went fatally awry, he began researching a book about faith, focused on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, America's most successful homegrown religion. "There are more Mormons in this country now than Presbyterians," he notes over breakfast in a New York hotel. "Worldwide, they outnumber Jews." In the course of his reporting he wrote to Mark Hofmann, a Mormon who had lost his faith, turned to forgery and then murder and was serving time in a Utah state prison. "I got a letter back from his cellmate saying, 'Mark won't talk to you, but you should talk to me because I'm the most fanatical believer you'll ever meet'." The cellmate was Dan Lafferty, a fundamentalist Mormon who, with his brother Ron, had been convicted of murdering their sister-in-law and her baby daughter in 1984. They said they'd committed the murders...
  • This Is Mr. America

    Benjamin Franklin, Walter Isaacson tells us at the beginning of his long (but never tedious) new biography, "is the founding father who winks at us." By that, Isaacson explains, he means Franklin is the most human--and most modern--of the men who forged the American republic. We admire Washington, Jefferson and Adams, but they remain creatures of the 18th century. The man we encounter in "Benjamin Franklin" (Simon & Schuster. $30)--funny, pragmatic and self-aware--seems like one of us, or at least someone we'd like to be.Unlike Washington's cherry tree, Franklin's kite was real. His experiments with electricity made him one of the great scientists of his day. He was a middle-class business-man whose success as a printer and a journalist allowed him to retire at 42--and in notably un-Babbitt-like fashion, he devoted the rest of his life to his city and his country. He was the diplomat who persuaded the French to back the American Revolution and the author of the first great...
  • Something About Harry

    Everyone hates hype, but it was mighty hard to get mad at the hoopla surrounding the June 21 publication of J. K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (870 pages. Scholastic). OK, there's always going to be a certain level of grumbling when a phenom's this gigantic--one online columnist opined that the Potter books, because they are also popular with adults, only contribute to an increasing "infantilization" of culture. But let's not complicate matters unnecessarily: when any book, especially a novel written primarily for children, outsells the latest blockbuster movie--it sold 9 million copies worldwide the first weekend and made more than the U.S. debut of "The Hulk"--it's a sweet moment, pure and simple.Even behavior that under almost any other circumstances would look, well, crazy--here it just looks eccentric, if not downright charming. In the United States and the United Kingdom, thousands of people turned up at bookstores on Friday night, June 20, waiting for...
  • Her Magic Moment

    J.K. Rowling has this thing she does where her head dips down an inch or two into her shoulders and her hands twist the air in front of her, as if she's wringing agony out of the air itself. And that's what she does when you ask her what she thinks of her new book, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." "At the moment I'm at the stage when you can only see faults," she says, her hands going in time with her voice. "I rang my sister and said, 'The book's dreadful, it's just dreadful.' She just laughed. I said, 'This is not funny. It is not funny that the book's dreadful.' And she said, 'You've said this on every single book.' I said, 'But this time I really, really mean it. It's just dreadful.' And she said, 'Yep, you said that on every single book.' So she was no help at all." Not to pick a fight in the first paragraph or anything, but we're with the sister all the way on this.On the other hand, who wouldn't second-guess themselves if their four previous novels about the world...
  • An American Classic

    In the sunny kitchen of the apartment shared by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock in Decatur, Ga., lunch has been cleared away. While Peacock prepares banana pudding, a guest has a chance to examine the decor. A collection of rolling pins lines one wall. An old-fashioned scale sits on top of a pie safe. But the most surprising element is what's not there. No food processor, no La Cornue stove or Sub-Zero refrigerator. When Peacock makes meringue for the pudding, he whips it with a whisk. "Southern food is essentially very simple," he says. "There are no drizzled leeks or tortilla strips to hide under. It's either well done or it's not." Judging by the catfish stew, cornbread and fig preserves served at lunch, these two have nothing to hide.Peacock and Lewis make an odd couple--an 87-year-old African-American woman in failing health and a 40-year-old white man. She's quiet, he's voluble. She's one of the most celebrated cooks alive, winner of the Grande Dame Award of Les Dames d'Escoffier...
  • The Man Of The Moment

    When Henri Cartier-Bresson saw me pull out my notebook, he asked in mock horror, "Are you from the police?" I said no, I would make a very poor policeman, and he smiled. Mindful of his distaste for interviews, I went on, "I know you don't like questions--" but he cut me off. "Why not? There are no answers." I started to see why journalists who have wangled interviews with the 94-year-old grandmaster of photography have come to regret it.We were sitting in the Paris apartment he shares with his wife, the photographer Martine Franck. It was a rainy Easter Sunday, the day he'd picked for the interview because he is "an anarchist"--a word he uses to suggest his impudent disregard for propriety. We sat by the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the Tuileries, the Louvre and the Seine. Monet and Cezanne used to sketch this view from the apartment below. Cartier-Bresson sketches it now. But he does not photograph it. For the last 30 years, he has only rarely touched a camera, preferring...
  • &Quot;There Is A Legend. And To Protest Is Daft.&

    Barbara Hershey, his co-star in "The Stunt Man," put it best. "When you meet Peter O'Toole," she once said, "he does not disappoint." But how can this be true? Here, after all, is the actor who first strode into the public imagination in 1962 as the impossibly dashing "Lawrence of Arabia." This is the man who found a way to be both swashbuckling and hilarious in "My Favorite Year" and held his own at scenery-chewing with no less than Katharine Hepburn in "The Lion in Winter." In "The Ruling Class," he convinced us that he was Christ--and Jack the Ripper. And off-screen and off-stage he's engaged in enough drinking and carousing to keep tabloid editors happy for nearly half a century. How could a mere man ever hope to live up to a legend that's larger than larger than life?Somehow he manages. True, he's a bit shorter, time and age having whittled an inch or two off that original 6-foot-3 frame. Otherwise, when he makes his appearance on a bitter February day in London, it's all there...
  • Cool Eye, Cool Tales

    When you ask George Pelecanos what he likes about writing scripts for "The Wire," the highly praised HBO crime drama, he talks about studying film in college and how the chance to write scripts for an actual show was just too good to turn down--never mind that he has an increasingly hot career as a crime novelist. Then he mentions the word "access," and for the first time his voice takes on real excitement. But he's not talking about access to stars or producers. "You know when you're driving along the highway and you see some old chained-up building or factory or dock area, and you think, 'That looks interesting.' But it's off-limits--you couldn't get in if you wanted to. Well, working on this show, I have access." Access to the derelict Baltimore docks where the show is filming its second season. Access to laid-off longshoremen and their lore, like how they used to use wooden shovels to load grain because a metal shovel might strike a spark and burn the whole shipment. Pelecanos...
  • That Other Gulf War

    Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. That same day, Marine Cpl. Anthony Swofford's platoon of scouts and snipers was put on standby at the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base in the Mojave Desert. A week later they shipped out for Saudi Arabia. But before shipping out, Swofford reports in his honest, ugly gulf-war memoir, "Jarhead," they rented every Vietnam War movie they could find."There is talk that many Vietnam films are antiwar," he writes, "that the message is war is inhumane and look what happens when you train young American men to fight and kill." Swofford disagrees. "Vietnam War films are all pro-war, no matter what the supposed message, what Kubrick or Coppola or Stone intended." Civilians may weep at the films' murderous inhumanity, but soldiers "are excited by them, because the magic brutality of the films celebrates the terrible and despicable beauty of their fighting skills... Filmic images of death and carnage are pornography for the military man." It doesn't matter...
  • Photography: Picture Perfect

    It's not the whole truth, but a good part of the reason William Henry Fox Talbot became one of the fathers of photography was that he could not draw well. Talbot (1800-1877) grew up at a time when people sketched picturesque spots on their travels. This upper-class Englishman became so frustrated on his honeymoon at his lack of artistic skill, so the story goes, that he threw himself into developing a process whereby waterfalls and mountain vistas might be recorded mechanically. The result, a decade or so later, was the positive-negative process that Talbot called "photogenic drawing"--and we call photography. Unlike the work of his competitors, such as Daguerre, Talbot's photographs could be reproduced again and again. Think of them as the baby pictures of mass culture.If Talbot, a member of Parliament who also translated Egyptian hieroglyphics and Assyrian cuneiform script, lacked the dexterity necessary to produce a decent drawing, he certainly possessed an artist's eye. That's...
  • Better Than Ever

    No one has seen the original two-and-a-half version since 1927, the year it was released. Ufa, the German studio that bankrolled the film, cut a half hour out of the original eight months after it debuted. The American version was not just cut but re-edited with a completely different story line. Since the '20s, various versions have appeared in various countries. Crucial scenes in a version that surfaced in, say, Australia might not turn up in any other version. Footage supposedly lost forever would appear in archival vaults in East Germany. In 1984, the disco producer Giorgio Moroder issued a version with a techno soundtrack fleshed out with vocals by the likes of Pat Benatar and Adam Ant. So, which version did you see?Whatever you saw, you probably didn't walk away unaffected. Even a shredded version of "Metropolis" is still capable of awing the most sophisticated modern viewer (not least because this futuristic fantasy is so prescient about the future--not a few of the designs...
  • Back To The Future

    If we think of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 at all, it is probably as fodder for some television quiz-show question: what do the Pledge of Allegiance, shredded wheat, the Ferris wheel and historian Frederick Jackson Turner's "closing of the frontier" speech have in common? (Answer: they all made their debuts there.) At the time of its creation, though, the fair was anything but trivial. France had wowed the world with its fair in 1889, at which Alexandre Gustave Eiffel unveiled his tower. The Chicago fair, timed to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus's voyage, would be America's chance to prove that, technologically and culturally, it could eat at the grown-ups' table. The fair's directors gambled everything. And they won, seducing the world with the architecture of Louis Sullivan and the technology of Edison. But as Erik Larson shows so entertainingly in "The Devil in the White City," it almost didn't happen.Bad weather, a national depression and the deep-seated scorn...
  • 'More Craft, Less Smoke'

    "The Spooky Art," Norman Mailer's book about writing, appears on Jan. 31, his 80th birthday. Since his debut novel, "The Naked and the Dead" (1948), Mailer has written 31 more books. He has won the Pulitzer Prize twice. He has directed four films and written 10 screenplays. He has been married six times and has nine children. He was once arrested for stabbing his second wife. He ran for mayor of New York twice. He has arthritis in his knees and sometimes walks with two canes. With his wife, the artist and novelist Norris Church Mailer, he lives in a brick house beside the ocean in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he recently sat down for an interview with NEWSWEEK's Malcolm Jones. He does not like interviews. Excerpts:JONES: Can you say a little about the novel you're working on?MAILER: I'm not going to talk about that novel, because I'd talk it away. I won't even mention the subject. But I've got about 200 pages written on it, and it'll probably keep me busy for the rest of my...
  • 'You're In The Lap Of History'

    "The Spooky Art," Norman Mailer's book about writing, will appear on Jan. 31, his 80th birthday. Since his debut novel, "The Naked and the Dead" (1948), Mailer has written 31 more books. He has won the Pulitzer Prize twice. He has directed four films and written 10 screenplays. He has been married six times and has nine children. He was once arrested for stabbing his second wife. He ran for mayor of New York twice. He helped found The Village Voice. He has arthritis in his knees and sometimes walks with two canes. His voice is roughly musical, like a man gargling marbles. With his wife, the artist and novelist Norris Church Mailer, he lives in a brick house beside the ocean in Provincetown, Mass., where he recently sat down for an interview with NEWSWEEK. He does not like interviews.NEWSWEEK: You were once a fixture on the New York literary scene. Now you live here in Provincetown year-round?MAILER: Yes, mainly because I can get more work done here. And I love the town. It's...
  • Books: Mother Lode Of Invention

    As soon as you start reading the new college textbook "Inventing America," you wonder just how far the authors are going to go. They promise to tell the story of America, complete with bewigged Founding Fathers, abolitionists and the Sherman Antitrust Act--all the stuff you dutifully highlighted in yellow when you took American History 101--but with a twist: it will all be seen from the point of view of innovation. Americans, they passionately believe, are inveterate creators and tinkerers, whether it's the light bulb they're inventing or constitutional government. So, you wonder, does this mean concentrating on Benjamin Franklin with the key and the kite and skipping Franklin in Paris? Not exactly. But it means the authors start our nation's history about 9,000 years ago with maize--"a cultivated food so unlike its wild ancestor, and so adaptable to different growing conditions, that its creation was perhaps the most important plant-breeding achievement of all time." Which is a...
  • In Peace May It Wave

    The artist Jasper Johns once said that he painted pictures of maps of the United States and American flags because he didn't have to design them. They were, he said, "things the mind already knows." Peter Elliott performs a version of Johns's magic in "Home Front," his collection of photographs taken since September 11, 2001. Each picture shows a flag that some citizen has displayed in one fashion or other. Flags fly from the front porches of mansions and double-wides. Flags fill the windows of bodegas and barbershops. Flags flutter from the masts of ships and the backs of motorcycles. The astonishing thing about each of these flawlessly structured black-and-white images is how the flag is the first thing you see in every photograph, even when it's not the picture's focal point. Invariably, it leaps out at you, verifying Julia Reed's claim in her introduction that "the flag is our most recognizable and emotional symbol."The people, rich and poor and from every corner of the country,...
  • America's Colorful Characters

    Paul Simon wrote a hit song about it. Utah named a state park after it. But for millions of Americans between the end of World War II and the mid-'60s, Kodachrome was the recording angel of their lives. A matchless color film, like Technicolor, it made life look not just lifelike. It made it look like Oz.Now, in "Americans in Kodachrome," it looks even better. Using dye-transfer printing, a process that is usually reserved for fashion photography and art photographs, Guy Stricherz has selected 92 family photos, all of them made by amateurs, and turned them into a glistening portfolio of midcentury American life.Picnics, Christmas, birthdays, vacations, prom night and the big fish that didn't get away--if you spend just a little time with this book, you will start wondering if you're not related to almost everyone else in the country ("My aunt used to have a tablecloth that's just like that one").As Stricherz says in an eloquent afterword, "each image is a mystery with a private...
  • Photos: What A Poet Sees

    The first assignment Jonathan Williams gave his poetry class at Wake Forest University in 1973 took everyone by surprise: he asked us to write an epitaph just big enough to be carved on a tombstone. "Chiseling words into stone is hard work," he said. A poet could profit by measuring out words with a stonecutter's economy. Like almost everything else I ever learned from Williams, that advice was both sound and unconventional. "Poet, Essayist, Publisher, Hiker, Bourgeoisophobe and Dotty Anecdotist," he calls himself in his latest book, "A Palpable Elysium" (Godine), a collection of his photographs (he's good at that, too) with explanatory essays. And the pictures do take some explaining, because Williams's taste--in people, places and things--is both broad and eccentric, with quality the only denominator. For almost half a century, he has directed his discerning ears and eyes "on homemade things made by people on the Outside, beyond the pale. Black, white, Native American; often...
  • All Sugar, No Spice

    There are many things to love in Alice McDermott's new novel, "Child of My Heart," and just as many that will drive you nuts. McDermott's first novel since "Charming Billy," her 1998 National Book Award winner, this book returns to her favorite territory--the Irish-American landscape of New York's Queens and Long Island. But in telling the story of a 15-year-old girl's '60's summer in the Hamptons, McDermott does a nice job of subverting expectations--starting with the fact that this may be one of the few novels about the Hamptons where the heroine isn't rich. Instead, she baby-sits and dog-walks for the rich. Her parents are a working-class couple who moved to eastern Long Island because they had a beautiful daughter and thought her chances might be better down the road if she fell in with the right--i.e., wealthy and well-connected--people. This sounds vaguely like "Beauty and the Beast," but the beast in this case is a dissolute, lecherous old painter who never transforms into...
  • Exhibits: Terrible, Beautiful

    Founded in 1863 as part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the Mutter Museum was created as an educational service for practicing physicians. Its enormous collection of bottled fetuses, skulls, wax replicas of diseased bodies, dissected tissue and Siamese-twin body casts was meant to give doctors a look at what they might face in the examining room and the operating theater. Today the museum serves the public, and its purpose, curator Gretchen Worden insists, is still "educational." Its superficial resemblance to a freak show is just that, superficial. And once you've had a good tour of the museum's admittedly ghastly inventory, you tend to agree. The Mutter teaches you indelibly how strange life can be, how unpredictable and various. But if you can't stop staring, you're in good company. "Mutter Museum" (Blast Books) collects the superb work of a distinguished group of photographers, including Rosamond Purcell, William Wegman and Joel-Peter Witkin, who have traveled to...
  • Books: What Are You Wearing?

    At the outset of his very smart, very funny new book, "Uniforms," Paul Fussell asserts that "everyone must wear a uniform, but everyone must deny wearing one, lest one's invaluable personality and unique identity be compromised. If you refuse to dress like others, you will be ridiculed, and no one wants to appear in public dressed like a fool or an oddball." An astute historian and social critic ("The Great War and Modern Memory," "Class"), Fussell is talking mostly about Americans, but when he says "everyone" he means it, from the banker in the dark suit to the professor in the blazer and khakis. If you are part of a group, you dress like the group. But "Uniforms" is most interesting at its most obvious, when Fussell talks about the real uniforms on cops or nurses or soldiers, and explains why we think about these people the way we do based on what they wear. The Postal Service, he points out, is so persnickety about its reputation for trustworthiness that postal workers who might...
  • Back To Basics

    About a month before Mother's Day, I suggested to my 11-year-old son that as a gift for his mother he could learn a song on his guitar. He thought this was a great idea, and together we settled on "Time After Time," the Cyndi Lauper song. I rounded up some sheet music, his guitar teacher wrote out the chords, and he got to work.The only problem was, he'd only been taking guitar for about three months, and just as it had for me at his age, the idea of the guitar took precedence over the reality. Which is to say, he didn't practice much. So very quickly I realized I was going to have to learn the song with him. And pretty quickly after that I realized that to do that, I was going to have to relearn all the guitar lessons I'd forgotten since I was twelve. Or maybe learn them for the first time, since I was not exactly a brilliant or even very committed student that first time. Amazingly, we somehow got through it. We learned the song, we didn't kill each other, and he played it for his...
  • Books | Top Picks For Kids

    Sometimes you learn, sometimes you laugh, but mostly these new children's picture books teach you what fun it is just to look at cool stuff.Knick-Knack Paddywhack! Paul O. ZelinskyThis unflaggingly clever pop-up version of "This Old Man" is so funny you may lose count.Loretta: Ace Pinky Scout Keith GravesHigh-achiever Loretta learns that everybody stinks at something.Keats's Neighborhood Ezra Jack KeatsThis anthology of the great artist-storyteller's work includes the charming classic "A Snowy Day."Baghead Jarrett J. Krosoczka Joshgoes through a whole day with a bag on his head. Is he brave? Or does he have a terrible secret? We're not saying.Zathura Chris Van AllsburgIn the unsettling sequel to "Jumanji," the kids get sent into outer space by the diabolical board game.Gluey Vivian Walsh and J. Otto SeiboldA lovable snail--yes, a lovable snail--tries to help a charming bunny. The bunny balks.Dear Mrs. LaRue Mark TeagueThe howlingly funny tale of a duplicitous dog, Ike, at obedience...
  • Breaking Her Silence

    I could start with an anecdote, a revealing vignette, say, set in a Japanese teahouse in Manhattan where I met Donna Tartt for an interview (it tickles her that in this teahouse you can get green tea, the beverage at the heart of Japan's ritualistic tea ceremony, in a go cup). Or I could talk about the frenzy of chatter filling up the shrinelike Web sites where her fans speculate endlessly about what she's been up to since her acclaimed, best-selling debut novel, "The Secret History," appeared 10 years ago ("My favorite rumor," she says with a giggle, "was that I'd bought an entire island, like Dr. No"). Or I could talk about the reception her new novel, "The Little Friend," received when it was published in the Netherlands last month (most salient fact: it sold 150,000 copies in one week).It's tempting to just go on telling stories about Tartt, because she's a character--Mississippi bred, Bennington educated, a snappy dresser with an eccentric streak (she won't talk about her...
  • Conroy's Literary Slam-Dunk

    Showing off the Citadel recently, Pat Conroy kept circling his alma mater, looking up at the looming water tower from different angles. "Somebody put my name up there and then painted one of those circles with a slash over it," he said. "I just wanted to see if it was still up there." Conroy ran afoul of the Charleston, S.C., military college in the late '90s when he supported the admission of female cadets. The rift has since been smoothed over so successfully that ex-cadet Conroy was asked to give the 2001 commencement address, and he revels in the fact that many cadets tell him that reading "The Lords of Discipline," his 1980 novel about the Citadel, persuaded them to apply. So why does he care if his name is still sullied on the water tower? "Hey, you got your name on a water tower," he says with a big grin, "you know you're still in the game."Getting in the game--and staying there--remains the 56-year-old Conroy's defining characteristic. As a child he fought off his abusive...
  • Pin Me Up, Pin Me Down

    You almost never hear the word pinup anymore. It has a charming, almost dusty connotation, like hi-fi or soda shop, that conjures up a more innocent time. Its heyday ran roughly from the '20s to the '50s, when Playboy took over. The pinup was often risque, but never pornographic. Calendars of them hung in barbershops and garages, and if your grandmother chanced to see one, she might have blushed, but she wouldn't have gotten sick. Perusing "Bernard of Hollywood: The Ultimate Pin-Up Book" (Taschen), it is hard to think of another photographer who worked harder than Bruno Bernard to capture the slightly comic, almost daft notions of sensuality that we associate with pinup photography from the '40s and '50s. Imagine the musical-comedy star Jane Powell in a white--what? negligee? bustier? anyway, something with many feathers!--in a canopied bed in the middle of the desert. It's Fellini years before "Juliet of the Spirits."There is hardly any nudity in this book, just a few Vegas...
  • It's Back To School For Zadie Smith

    Zadie Smith is thinking seriously about hanging it up. Never mind that at 26 she's published two novels in two years, starting with the best-selling "White Teeth," which copped pretty much every first-novel prize in sight, beguiled the critics and then sold more than a million copies. Her new novel, "The Autograph Man" (Random House), which hits stores here next week, is already a critical hit in her native England, where she's one of the 24 candidates for this year's Booker Prize. So what's next for Smith? Graduate school.Kidding, right? Nope, she's a graduate fellow at Radcliffe this fall, dithering like an eager freshman over which courses to take. Maybe an Eliot seminar, maybe a class in literary theory. You listen to her over lunch in a cafe just off Harvard Square, and you keep waiting for the punch line that never comes. She's dead set on studying. Maybe she'll find time to work on a book of essays, but there are no plans for another novel. "I want to be a great writer, and I...
  • The Making Of A Legend

    "The first day a photographer took a picture of her, she was a genius," director Billy Wilder said of Marilyn Monroe. If you don't count the shot of her taken by an Army photographer when she was working on a World War II assembly line, Andre de Dienes was that photographer. He met Monroe in late 1945, when she was still just Norma Jeane Dougherty, a Hollywood nobody nursing a budding modeling career. The tragic figure, the vamping icon--that was future tense. What de Dienes saw, and captured on film, was simply a beautiful girl out of her mind with happiness at the chance to get in front of a camera.Many of the pictures in "Marilyn" (Taschen), an extravagantly produced showcase of de Dienes's work coming in September, have never been seen before. Unseen Marilyn photos? You'd think there'd be a greater chance of discovering a new planet, but yes, indeed, the legend who personified the word "overexposed" just expanded her portfolio. Better yet, these are first-rate pictures,...
  • Books: The Young And The Feckless

    When we talk about beach reading, we usually mean trash fiction. But it wasn't always so. There used to be novels--they weren't common, but they did exist--that managed to be both entertaining and thoughtful. Think W. Somerset Maugham and those novels of naive Americans abroad and in over their heads. But since the passing of that generation, no one's come along to fill its shoes. Which is the first of several good reasons to welcome the arrival of Arthur Phillips, whose debut novel, the forthcoming "Prague" (Random House), not only keeps you turning pages but gives you something to think about and smile about--at the same time.Start with the title. Nothing in this book takes place in Prague. To the story's twentysomething denizens, Prague is the place where someone else is having all the fun, like the party train in Woody Allen's "Stardust Memories." Mark and Scott and Charles and Emily and John--a scholar, a teacher, a businessman, a journalist, an embassy assistant--none of these...