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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

&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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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....

'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...

'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...

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,...

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...

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...

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...

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."...

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...

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...

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....

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...

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...

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...

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"...

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...

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...

Books: A New 'Past'

Near the beginning of Marcel Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past," there is the famous scene in which the narrator inhales the aroma of a madeleine, a shell-shaped pastry, dipped in tea. It is a smell not encountered since childhood, and it unlocks the treasure house of his memory. Everything that follows, all 3,000 pages of the saga, stems from this scene. Or so we've been told--we've made it only through the first 150 pages of Proust's masterpiece, although we've gotten that far at least...

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