In this week’s New Yorker

August 3, 2011

Lots of good stuff in the magazine this week, starting with Nicholas Schmidle’s riveting, moment-by-moment account of the raid in Abbottabad that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden — a story I can’t quite get enough of, which surprises me. It reads like the treatment for the first of many Hollywood movies dramatizing this mission we’re going to be seeing in the next five years.

Equally exciting to me, if not more, is Stephen Greenblatt’s news from first century B.C. Rome, in the form of a succinct, comprehensive essay about Lucretius, a poet and philosopher previously unknown to me but clearly a kindred spirit in his devotion to the Epicurean philosophy of pleasure and beauty. His magnum opus, “On the Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura),” helped Renaissance thinkers and artists emerge from the brutal theology of the Dark Ages, which Greenblatt summarizes thusly: “human beings were by nature corrupt. Inheritors of the sin of Adam and Eve, they richly deserved every miserable catastrophe that befell them. God cared about human beings, just as a father cared about his wayward children, and the sign of that care was anger. It was only through pain and punishment that a small number could find the narrow gate to salvation. A hatred of pleasure-seeking, a vision of God’s providential rage, and an obsession with the afterlife: these were death knells of everything Lucretius represented.” The whole piece is dazzling and worth reading.

An especially juicy Talk of the Town section: Hendrik Hertzberg’s trenchant examination of the 14th Amendment and how it’s being stupidly betrayed in the current debt ceiling debacle (“With compromises like these, who needs surrender?”); Nick Paumgarten on clearing out the storage space in the basements of StuyTown; Rebecca Mead on who gets bitten by mosquitoes; Michael Schulman on the props list for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s run at the Park Avenue Armory.

I’m not a big shopper, but I’ve gotten addicted to Patricia Marx’s “On and Off the Avenue” columns, just because her prose is hilarious.

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