Ancient Advice on Living a Happier Life

Lucius Annaeus Seneca is a towering and controversial figure of antiquity. He lived from 4 BCE to 65 CE, was a Roman senator and political adviser to the emperor Nero, and experienced exile but came back to Rome to become one of the wealthiest citizens of the Empire. He tried to steer Nero toward good … Continued

What is an ‘Old Millennial?’

There’s a sensation you get when you hear the name of a group you’re a member of. If someone says “Bostonian” or “liberal” or (sorry) “Patriots fan,” my brain perks up a little. Oh, they’re talking about me. Over the last few years, though, I’ve found I’m getting less and less of that ping from … Continued

Reflections on ‘Useless’ Knowledge

Deep into the Great Depression, and only weeks after Hitler invaded Poland, Harper’s Magazine published Abraham Flexner’s surprising homage to two increasingly unpopular ideas: intellectual freedom and useless knowledge. Universities in some parts of the world had become what he called “tools of . . . a special political, economic or racial creed,” while others … Continued

The Odd History of Misquotation

How fitting that the man often credited with saying “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes” most likely did not invent the phrase. Commonly attributed to Mark Twain, that quotation instead appears to be a descendant of a line published centuries ago by the satirist … Continued

Why Commencement Speakers are So Predictable – But Shouldn’t Be

This spring, approximately 3.5 million students across the United States will receive their diplomas from institutions of higher education. Most will listen to commencement speakers who offer wisdom, perspective, and encouragement before they venture out into the world. It would serve students better to have speakers that challenge, instead of confirm, their pre-existing ideas and … Continued

The Problem With Glamorizing Suicide

f there was a list of ways not to portray suicide, this would tick every box. The new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, adapted from the novel by Jay Asher, is about a teenager called Hannah Baker who takes her own life. She leaves behind a set of cassette tapes, each addressed to a different … Continued

Is ‘Progressive Business’ an Oxymoron?

In Capitalism and Freedom (1962), the economist Milton Friedman once accused corporate social responsibility of being a ‘fundamentally subversive doctrine’. In Friedman’s view, the business of business is business, not political causes, and certainly not progressive ones. However, the view that businesses fulfil a larger social purpose than filling the pockets of shareholders has recently … Continued

Should You Learn How to Cook?

It’s a shame that the standard way of learning how to cook is by following recipes. To be sure, they are a wonderfully effective way to approximate a dish as it appeared in a test kitchen, at a star chef’s restaurant, or on TV. And they can be an excellent inspiration for even the least … Continued

Why Tolkien Couldn’t Stand Disney

It’s no secret that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were legendary frenemies. But while they may have sparred over fantasy and religion, they shared one little-known viewpoint: a disdain for the works of Walt Disney. Literary friendships are often thought of in the driest abstract, with learned people of letters sitting in stuffy rooms debating … Continued