Eastern Europe is Disappearing. Not the physical place, but the idea. Whatever held the region together in the mind’s eye — a shared experience of occupation and exclusion, the permanent-seeming weight of economic backwardness, treasured memories of defeat — is gone...With its distinctiveness succumbing to the homogenizing forces of globalization and prosperity, Eastern Europe is in the process of being forgotten. As a field of academic study, it is in crisis.
How and why did humans domesticate animals – and what might this tell us about the future of our own species?
One day in London in 1855, during an unusually cold winter, Charles Darwin went for a walk. As he strolled along the banks of the ice-bound Thames, he noticed some pigeons foraging for food. He began to wonder about their relationship to so-called ‘fancy pigeons’, the more exotic varieties favoured by fanciers and breeders. Was there an ancestor common to the nondescript blue-grey creatures on the riverbank, and those featured on the front page of Darwin’s newspaper that day, all puffed-up chests and improbable neck-ruffs?
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...
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?
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.
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.
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...
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.
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...
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...
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...
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.
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...
For a year, Yan Lianke has been feted by the Chinese government—at the same time that he’s been punished.
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...
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...
A new book sheds light on the complicated conflicts among Jews, Christians, and pagans in the pre-Islamic Middle East.
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