On how humans have thought about animal consciousness:
"In On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin made the intriguing claim that among the naturalists he knew it was consistently the case that the better a researcher got to know a certain species, the more each individual animal’s actions appeared attributable to 'reason and the less to unlearnt instinct.' The more you knew, the more you suspected that they were rational. That marks an important pivot, that thought, insofar as it took place in the mind of someone devoted to extremely close and meticulous study of living animals, a mind that had trained itself not to sentimentalize. Even at so intimate a range of scrutiny, looking not just at apes and dogs but also at birds and worms, Darwin rediscovered that feeling, which even children know. Or which children believe, as a mechanist might say."
PUBLISHED: March 21, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3524 words)
A brief history of Shakespeare and alcohol:
"Shakespeare didn’t just enjoy the interplay of drinking, fantasy, and theater at his favorite taverns, he also enacted this productive relationship onstage. Shakespeare began his popular comedy The Taming of the Shrew with a curious framing device, one that bears little relation to the famous barbs of the lovers’ plot. The play opens with the drunken tinker Christopher Sly arguing with a tavern hostess. He has broken beer glasses and refuses to pay. As she heads to fetch the constable, Sly falls into a stupor; upon waking, he finds himself dressed and pampered as a nobleman. This transformation has occurred because a passing Lord, who stopped at the tavern for refreshment, saw the drunken Sly and came up with a plan for his own amusement: he would take the tinker to his 'fairest chamber' to be pampered with 'wanton pictures' and 'rose water.' Sly then struggles comically to adjust to his dramatically changed circumstances. The prologue ends as the Lord insists that Sly enjoy himself and take in a play."
PUBLISHED: Dec. 19, 2012
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4682 words)
Our latest Exclusive comes from the editors of Lapham's Quarterly
. They've been longtime contributors to the Longreads community, and this week we're thrilled to present "Working the Room," a new essay on humor and the presidency by Michael Phillips-Anderson, from their latest issue, "Politics."
(If you like this, you can subscribe to their print edition here
"In 1848, as a young representative from Illinois, Lincoln took the House floor in support of the Whig presidential candidate, Zachary Taylor. He mocked his Democratic opponents for not gathering behind a single candidate by telling a curious anecdote:
"I have heard some things from New York, and if they are true, we might well say of your party there, as a drunken fellow once said when he heard the reading of an indictment for hog stealing. The clerk read on till he got to, and through the words, 'did steal, take, and carry away, ten boars, ten sows, ten shoats, and ten pigs' at which he exclaimed, 'Well, by golly, that is the most equally divided gang of hogs I ever did hear of.' If there is any gang of hogs more equally divided than the Democrats of New York are about this time, I have not heard of it.
"When Lincoln finished with a remark, wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, 'He looks up at you with a great satisfaction, and shows all his white teeth, and laughs.'"
PUBLISHED: Sept. 25, 2012
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4465 words)
Longreads: Best of 2011 includes seven of our favorite stories from the past year.
The ebook is a unique partnership with the writers and publishers—we want to help celebrate outstanding storytelling, and this is just another way for us to do it. Additionally, money from the ebook sales will be shared with the creators, and we’re excited to have them participating.
Publishers involved include: New York magazine, Lapham's Quarterly, This Recording, Popular Mechanics, The New York Times, GQ, and The Awl.
The story of my brother’s life is complicated by the fact that in my earliest memories there is no such thing as him or me. My brother was born one year and nine days after me, and although I was older, I have no recollection of life before he arrived. Growing up on a small family farm, we were alone in our play, and before the age of five it was always Dan and me together, sneaking strawberries from the garden, building snowmen in the yard until the darkness fell and our cheeks stung from the cold, whispering in our bunk beds at night. We were more than accomplices, much more even than friends; we were all the other had.
PUBLISHED: Dec. 22, 2011
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3999 words)
Hartley Coleridge began life with limitless promise—“all my child might be”—and ended it universally viewed as a failure. He is remembered not for his poems or his essays, though he wrote some fine ones, but for two things and two things only: he was the son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and he was a disappointment. He has been called a misfit, a dreamer, a sinner, a castaway, a wayward child, a hobgoblin, a flibbertigibbet, a waif, a weird, a pariah, a prodigal, a picturesque ruin, a sensitive plant, an exquisite machine with insufficient steam, the oddest of God’s creatures, and, most frequently—by his father, his mother, his brother, and his sister; by William Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth, and Thomas Carlyle; and by countless others over the years—“Poor Hartley.”
PUBLISHED: Dec. 15, 2011
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5348 words)
Thanks to an eccentric New York lawyer in the 1930s, this college in a corner of the Catskills inherited a thousand-year trust that would not mature until the year 2936: a gift whose accumulated compound interest, the New York Times reported in 1961, “could ultimately shatter the nation’s financial structure.” The mossy stone walls and ivy-covered brickwork of Hartwick College were a ticking time-bomb of compounding interest—a very, very slowly ticking time bomb. One suspects they’d have rather gotten a new squash court.
PUBLISHED: Sept. 15, 2011
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2730 words)
It’s unlikely that most serious food reformers think America can or should dismantle our industrial food system and return to an agrarian way of life. But the idea that “Food used to be better” so pervades the rhetoric about what ails our modern food system that it is hard not to conclude that rolling back the clock would provide at least some of the answers. The trouble is, it wouldn’t. And even if it would, the prospect of a return to Green Acres just isn’t very appealing to a lot of people who know what life there is really like.
PUBLISHED: June 16, 2011
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3614 words)
The following menu for a 1902 Christmas dinner party stands—as far as I know—as one of the most unusual ever printed. And also one of the least appetizing: "Apple Sauce. Borax. Soup. Borax. Turkey. Borax. Borax. Canned Stringed Beans. Sweet Potatoes. White Potatoes. Turnips. Borax. Chipped Beef. Cream Gravy. Cranberry Sauce. Celery. Pickles. Rice Pudding. Milk. Bread and Butter. Tea. Coffee. A Little Borax." Unless, of course, one happens to enjoy meals spiced up by the taste of borax—a little metallic, sweet and unpleasant, or so they say—a preservative used to keep meat from rotting in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
PUBLISHED: June 15, 2011
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3032 words)