Culture & Literature
The American Scholar

The American Scholar

Winter 2020

Inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous speech, The American Scholar is the quarterly magazine of public affairs, literature, science, history, and culture published by the Phi Beta Kappa Society since 1932.

United States
Phi Beta Kappa Society
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4 Issues

In this issue

2 min.
a capital crime

I MAKE NO GREAT CLAIMS as a prognosticator, but I do feel certain that, unless manmade or natural disasters return us as a race to a state of prehistory, moral progress will soon stop us from doing two things. One is eating our fellow creatures and the other is executing our fellow human beings. At the end of 2018, according to Amnesty International, “142 countries (more than two-thirds) had abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.” Twenty-one U.S. states have also abolished capital punishment, and four more have a moratorium on it. During the past decade, ours has been the only country in the Americas to execute a prisoner. Texas alone accounted for 13 of the 25 people executed in the United States in 2018. As Lincoln Caplan explains…

1 min.
the american scholar

ROBERT WILSON Editor SUDIP BOSE Managing Editor BRUCE FALCONER Senior Editor STEPHANIE BASTEK Associate Editor KATIE DANIELS Assistant Editor DAVID HERBICK Design Director SANDRA COSTICH Editor-at-Large ANN BEATTIE Fiction Editor LANGDON HAMMER Poetry Editor SALLY ATWATER Copy Editor TAYLOR CURRY Editorial Assistant LYNN PASQUERELLA Consulting Editor Contributing Editors Ann Beattie, Emily Bernard, William Deresiewicz, Allen Freeman, Adam Goodheart, Edward Hoagland, Ann Hulbert, David Lehman, Jessica Love, Thomas Mallon, Anne Matthews, Richard E. Nicholls, Patricia O’Toole, Phyllis Rose, Neil Shea, Wendy Smith, Jean Stipicevic, Jay Tolson, Charles Trueheart, Ted Widmer, Thomas Chatterton Williams FREDERICK M. LAWRENCE Publisher RAYMOND SACHS Publishing Director STEVEN ANDERSON Associate Publisher Editorial Board Allison Blakely, Lincoln Caplan, Fred H. Cate, Joseph W. Gordon, Anthony Grafton, Donald S. Lamm, Cullen Murphy, Brenda Wineapple…

6 min.

Why the Admonition? “Moral Courage and the Civil War” was the perfect title for Elizabeth D. Samet’s superb cover story on Ulysses S. Grant (Autumn 2019). But why the caveat at the end: “The opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Defense Department, or the U.S. Government” ? Such a warning seems antithetical to a magazine dedicated to intellectual rigor. As an American citizen, I would feel more secure knowing that my government fully endorsed the sentiments expressed in Professor Samet’s admiring profile of the heroic general who led an army that emancipated four million people and saved our nation. KITTY KELLEY Washington, D.C. Those Who Can Teach, and Those Who Can’t It seems that there is a…

14 min.
new leader, old troubles

UKRAINE GREETED the news that it was in the middle of the most consequential scandal of the Trump administration with a collective shrug. “I read the transcript of the call—Trump didn’t pressure Zelensky,” my uncle, a retired engineer, told me one evening this fall while I was visiting Kiev. “The Americans are making an elephant out of a fly.” My aunt, stirring borscht at the stove, murmured in agreement. Dysfunction still prevails in Ukraine, especially in the war-torn east; for the rest of the country, the challenges are financial. To be sure, Ukrainians are used to surreal politics. Fifteen years have passed since Ukraine produced one of the biggest scandals of the post-Soviet era: a promising presidential candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, suffered dioxin poisoning after having dinner with Ukrainian security service officials, leaving…

2 min.
desert time

Mara Klein grew up with a father who loved photography and travel. Even now, on walks together, the Berlin-based photographer and her father will sometimes spot the same picture-worthy image. Klein applies this practice to her work, which reflects her talent for capturing small, wonder-filled moments of everyday life. For her “Holy Land(s)” series, she traveled to Israel, where she took this photo on an early morning walk through the Negev Desert. —KATIE DANIELS “In October 2019, I revisited Israel and the places that I’d discovered on my first trip there in 2011. I traveled to the olive groves of northern Israel, gazed at the vastness of the Mediterranean Sea, and wandered in the Negev Desert. There is an energy to these areas that speaks to a different concept of time.…

4 min.
gaining immunity

MEREDITH WADMAN is a reporter at Science magazine and the author of The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease, a Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book of 2017. Her op-eds on biomedical issues have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Time. We asked her to pose four questions about the future of vaccines. 1 Driven by vaccine-resistant communities in New York state, U.S. measles cases reached a level in 2019 not seen since 1992. In Atlanta last February, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the first time summoned police to protect a panel of vaccine experts during a public meeting packed with vaccine opponents. In California, state legislators were inundated by protesters as they moved last summer to tighten…