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The American ScholarThe American Scholar

The American Scholar

Autumn 2019

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


access_time2 min.
revisionism revised

MY BROTHER’S NAME IS ETCHED INTO the black granite face of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D. C. Dedicated in 1982, Maya Lin’s masterpiece was unlike any war memorial that preceded it, commemorating as it did not just generals, or the boys from a given town, but every one of the nearly 60,000 U.S. service people who died in the misguided conflict in Southeast Asia. In the glib vernacular of today, every one of these warriors was a hero, but even if you solemnly honor the sacrifice of each man and woman who died, and even if you have lived the sorrow of how each death can reverberate through a family for decades, it must be said that the triumph of Lin’s vision is its fidelity to an antiheroic…

access_time1 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…

access_time8 min.

Mission to Mars George Musser’s advocacy of an Apollo-like program for a mission to Mars (“Our Fate Is in the Stars,” Summer) makes a forceful, albeit rose-colored, argument for the future direction of NASA. In touting a major Mars initiative, Musser overhypes or sidesteps a number of issues. First, he implies that the Apollo program was the driving force behind the dynamic advances in computer and electronics technology that we enjoy today. Though without question the Apollo program was an important component of that development, it must be remembered that NASA did not exist until 1958 and President Kennedy’s call for putting a man on the moon did not come until 1961. By that time, semiconductor technology was already being pursued in universities, the national laboratories, and industry, as the potential…

access_time9 min.
a burning problem

I feel my chest tighten as the open air is choked with the iron smell of blood, burning hair, and melting rubber. EVANS AFRIYIE-GYAWU has a process. If you ever share a beer with him, he’ll open the bottle himself, ask for a plastic cup that’s not from the top or bottom of the stack, and clean the rim of the bottle with a wet wipe. Then he’ll pour some of the alcohol into the cup to semisterilize it, pour it out, refill the cup, and finally take a drink. As a toxicologist and public health expert, Afriyie-Gyawu sees contamination in places most people don’t, which makes it odd to find himsurroundedbyburning tires and smoldering carcasses in one of the largest meat-processing facilities in Kumasi, a city of two million people…

access_time1 min.
following the music

The New Orleans second line is a brass-band parade named for the second group of onlookers following a first line of musicians and official marchers. The parades got their start when bands hired to accompany funeral processions would, on the way back from the cemetery, play joyful, upbeat songs to celebrate the life of the deceased. Second-line parades take place not only during holidays such as Mardi Gras, but also throughout the year, as documented in Nima Taradji’s photographs. “I first became aware of second-line parades when I was taking a photography workshop in New Orleans. Their history goes back to the time after the Civil War, when insurance companies wouldn’t insure black customers, so African-American neighborhoods created their own social clubs, where members paid monthly dues to receive insurance for…

access_time3 min.
unlocking prison problems

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine and the author of Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration, which follows the stories of two young people accused of serious crimes in Memphis and Brooklyn. She is also the Truman Capote Fellow for Creative Writing and Law at Yale Law School. We asked her to pose four questions about the future of criminal justice reform. 1 The number of people incarcerated in the United States has quintupled since the 1980s, to almost 2.2 million. We used to incarcerate people at roughly the same rate as Scandinavia. That region’s rate has held steady, but we now have 5 percent of the world’s population and nearly 25 percent of its prison population. Recent polls…