For a long time, this was the most popular picture on Instagram. If the photograph has a single antecedent, it is John Everett Millais’ painting of Ophelia from 1852. It combines the coiffure of Florentine princesses with the quintessential pose of tragic womanhood from the Victorian era. The cherry on top is the caption: a single, sideways glyph of a heart.

For a long time, this was the most popular picture on Instagram. If the photograph has a single antecedent, it is John Everett Millais’ painting of Ophelia from 1852. It combines the coiffure of Florentine princesses with the quintessential pose of tragic womanhood from the Victorian era. The cherry on top is the caption: a single, sideways glyph of a heart.

Camera-phone Lucida

The historical roots of our instagram obsession

Facebook is Sauron. It’s also your mom’s couch, a yoga-center bulletin board, a school bus, a television tuned to every channel. Twitter is Grub Street, a press scrum, the crowd in front of a bar. Reddit is a tin-foil hat and a sewer. Snapchat is hover boards, Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots and Saturday morning cartoons. Instagram is a garden: curated, pruned, clean and pretty. It lets you be creative, but not too creative; communicate, but without saying too much. No embedding, no links—just photos, captions and hashtags. Elegant. Simple. Twenty-three filters. A crisp square around each frame...


Photo: Flickr

Photo: Flickr

A Natural History of Walter Rothschild

The Tortoise and the Heir: One very rich man’s zoological obsessions.

Some men shoot tigers. Some men love bears. Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild, Major in the Yeomanry, Conservative MP for Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, heir to one of the greatest banking fortunes in history, and collector of the largest zoological collection ever amassed in private hands, had a specific and incurable addiction to cassowaries... But why did Rothschild prefer them above all other species?

The Awl

Stalin's Finger

 A Review of Satirical Stalinist production novels by Bohumil Hrabal

In 1949, on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia decided to honor Stalin by building a monument to him in Prague. It was going to be the largest statue of its kind in the world. A contest was held to decide who would have the honor of designing it. Every sculptor in Czechoslovakia was required to participate. Most sabotaged their chances on purpose by portraying the great leader in unsuitable poses, smiling or spreading his arms like Jesus. Otakar Švec who learned the art of sculpture as a child from his pastry-chef father, took the extra precaution of getting blind drunk. Unfortunately for him, he won anyway.

The Point

The Self-Sacrificing Japanese Pilgrims Who Chose to be Swallowed by the Sea

For 1,000 years, Buddhists in Japan sealed themselves into boats and let the waves carry them.

Fudaraku tokai was Buddhist ritual particular to Japan. The name means “crossing the sea to Fudaraku,” the Japanese name for mythical Mount Potalaka. Those who undertook the journey set out in small boats from the southern coast of western Japan, usually sealed inside their ship, which was boarded-up like a coffin. Sometimes they leapt into the ocean or pulled a wooden plug from the hull when they were far enough out to sea. Either way, the outcome was almost certain death.

Atlas Obscura



Were the Mysterious Bog People Human Sacrifices?

A British archaeologist argues that the miraculously preserved bodies were left in the water as offerings to the gods.

Sometime around 60 A.D., a man was led into a marsh outside Cheshire, England to be killed. He was in his mid-twenties, stood about 5’ 7’’ tall, and had a trimmed beard, mustache, and brown hair. Except for an armband made out of fox fur, he was naked. It’s likely that he was accompanied, and restrained by... 

The Atlantic

"Fargo," Season 2: One Hour Ahead of the Posse

As its title indicates, Fargo is spun off from the 1996 Coen brothers movie of the same name. Set in western Minnesota and the Dakotas, it inherits the same topography, but it doesn’t so much continue or expand the narrative of the film as inhabit its mood, and by extension that of the brothers’ whole oeuvre.

LA Review of Books

Photo by Heidi Bradner

Photo by Heidi Bradner


Paleogenetics is helping to solve the great mystery of prehistory: how did humans spread out over the earth?

Most of human history is prehistory. Of the 200,000 or more years that humans have spent on Earth, only a tiny fraction have been recorded in writing. Even in our own little sliver of geologic time, the 12,000 years of the Holocene, whose warm weather and relatively stable climate incubated the birth of agriculture, cities, states, and most of the other hallmarks of civilisation, writing has been more the exception than the rule...


The Curious Story of Wierszalin, a Belarussian Prophet’s 1930s Forest Utopia

In the mid-1930s, a prophet appeared in the woods of eastern Poland. He worked miracles and told the future. He attracted disciples from his fellow villagers, who became his apostles, and sometimes, his wives. His followers included peasants and farmers, as well as charlatans, pretenders and would-be tsars. Together, they built a church for the new faith. Then they began work on a city, called Wierszalin which they believed would...

Atlas Obscura

The Doomed Blind Botanist Who Brought Poetry to Plant Description

Somewhere in the great southern ocean that stretches south from Java there is a tree that grows straight out of the ocean floor. Its name is Pausengi, and it sits in the axis of the world. A terrible whirlpool surrounds the trunk of this tree, drawing in any ship that sails too close to it. In its branches rests the Garuda, half-man and half-eagle. 

The story of the Pausengi tree and its marvelous fruit–traditionally believed to be an antidote to all poisons– appear in book 12 of the Ambonese Herbal, a vast work of botanical knowledge from the tropics compiled in the latter half of the 17th century by the great German naturalist Georg Everhard Rumpf...

Atlas Obscura

Yosemite, California

Yosemite, California

Sight Beyond Sight, Carleton Watkins' California

How one pioneering photographer captured the American West before its ruin—and before his own. 

Watkins came to the state in 1851 during the Gold Rush, and photographed California as if it were a new planet on which he was the first person to arrive. 


Drawbridge California 2015

Drawbridge California 2015

The Art of Decay

Decaying places have a charm in and of themselves, whether experienced in person or in art. I like Walker Evans’s photographs of trash, Boris Mikhailov’s ugly Ukrainian bazaars and Cindy Sherman when she’s being gross. But I’m not sure why. I do know that I love the smell of rotting grass and the sight of fence posts covered in lichen or roof shingles covered in moss, and that the open doorway to a half-collapsed house is an invitation I can’t resist...

The Point

China’s Most Censored Author Published His Riskiest Book Yet

For a year, Yan Lianke has been feted by the Chinese government—at the same time that he’s been punished.

New Republic

Sunshine of Absolute Neglect

Art should be central to our conversations about the art world, but it isn’t. 

LA Review of Books


Monsters in the Museum

On February 13, 1718, Peter the Great, Tsar of all the Russias, issued an edict on monsters: All monsters, animal or human, were to be requisitioned for the new museum in his new city, St. Petersburg. Peter desired anything in the realm that was marvelous—extraordinary stones, human and animal skeletons, the bones of fish and birds, old inscriptions, ancient coins, hidden artifacts, old and remarkable weapons—but he wanted monsters most of all.

Monsters, Peter believed, were not the work of the devil, but products of nature. He offered generous payment: Delivery of live specimens would fetch a hundred rubles for humans, fifteen for animals, and seven for birds. Dead ones, preserved in spirits, or, failing that...


Sunshine of Absolute Neglect

In his disarmingly elegant new collection of essays, Pirates and Farmers, Dave Hickey offers a solution for the art world as a whole.

LA review of books

Paleolithic diets: bigger on fashion than fact

Take a big helping of a fantasy of our evolutionary past, stir in fears of modern dirt and decadence, and leave out incest and cannibalism.

Prospect Magazine


Where do René Redzepi and his restaurant Noma fit in this new world of food?

The Point



Shutter Madness

Garry Winogrand used to say that he took photographs of things to see what they would look like as photographs. He photographed relentlessly: crowds, zoos, dogs, cars, parties, sidewalks and women...

The Awl


Are paper books becoming obsolete in the digital age, or poised to lead a new cultural renaissance?

LA Review of Books

A Secret Library, Digitally Excavated

Just over a thousand years ago, someone sealed up a chamber in a cave outside the oasis town of Dunhuang, on the edge of the Gobi Desert in western China...

The New Yorker



Decay Is the Way Dead Things Live 

A universe built out of garbage and rubbish, whose creatures are by turn ridiculous and pathetic, not alive but not dead, and perpetually surprised by the labyrinth of night...

La review of books


That Face! The Uncanny Art Of Studio Photography's Heyday

No product of human industry is infinite, but photography comes close. In 1976, John Szarkowski, the longtime curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art...

The Awl

The Tongues of Rogues

How secret languages develop in closed societies.



New Sounds, Old Voices

Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville wanted to photograph speech. In 1857, after years of experimentation, he succeeded...

New yorker

Yemen, the Crucible of al-Qaida, Was Once a Powerful Arabian Kingdom Run by Jews

A new book sheds light on the complicated conflicts among Jews, Christians, and pagans in the pre-Islamic Middle East.

Tablet Magazine


The Aira Effect

About mid-way through César Aira’s novel An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, its protagonist, the German master of documentary painting Johann Moritz Rugendas and


Cloud Gate, Tilted Arc

Anish Kapoor named his colossal sculpture Cloud Gate, but everyone in Chicago calls it the Bean. One hundred and ten tons of polished stainless steel...


Our Radical Future: Cults, Utopias and Rebellions of the 1890's

Canudos, the holy city. From the hills it had looked like a mirage. Fifty-two hundred mud huts and a handful of white-washed churches spread along a bend in the Vasa-Barris, where a few years before there had been only a ruined farmhouse


Carleton Watkins: Yosemite, California

Carleton Watkins: Yosemite, California