Book Reviews & Essays

What Masks Signify

Decades Ago, the Sociologist Erving Goffman Had the Answer

Originally published October 2, 2021 in The American Scholar

In the spring of 2020, when masks abruptly became a common sight in the United States, they introduced a new element into our social relations. They hampered our ability to communicate, muffling our voices and hiding our smiles.

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Among the Nonbelievers

How has religious experience changed in a secular age?

Originally published December 28, 2020 in The Nation

Last May, the writer Tara Isabella Burton published a piece in the New York Times Sunday Review about a nascent faith community.

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Heading in One Direction

A tour of contemporary fandom

Originally published January 17, 2020 in Times Literary Supplement

Anyone can be a fan, and almost everyone is. Perhaps this low bar to entry explains why fans don’t get much respect: a fan is a follower, a hanger-on, one in a crowd of interchangeable masses.

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Equipment for Living

Michael Pollan and Leslie Jamison, sober and intoxicated

Originally published June 5, 2018 in The Nation

In December of 1934, an unemployed stockbroker named Bill Wilson checked himself into Towns Hospital in Manhattan. He had a habit of consuming more than two quarts of whiskey per day, and his wife had implored him to get help.

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An Ad Hoc Affair

Jane Jacobs's clear-eyed vision of humanity

Originally published February 3, 2017 in The Nation

In 1956, Jane Jacobs was 39 years old, working as a staff writer at Architectural Forum. Her boss, unable to attend a conference at Harvard, asked her to go in his stead and give a talk on land banking.

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