Lewis H Lapham Essays

Lewis H. Lapham was the editor of Harper’s Magazine from 1976 to 1981, and again from 1983 to 2006. In the early Seventies, he began writing the Easy Chair, which he renamed “The Notebook” in 1984. His columns received the National Magazine Award in 1995 for exhibiting “an exhilarating point of view in an age of conformity,” and, in 2002, the Thomas Paine Journalism Award. Lapham founded Lapham’s Quarterly, of which he is also editor, in 2007. He is currently editor emeritus of Harper’s and was inducted into the American Society of Magazine Editors’ Hall of Fame in February of 2007.

In 1984 Lapham led the redesign of Harper’s, which included the creation of the Index, Annotations, and Readings—inventions intended to “incite acts of the imagination rather than facilitate the transfers of data, not to provide ready-made answers but to say, in effect, look at this, see how much more beautiful and strange and full of possibility is the world than can be dreamed of by the mythographers at NBC and Time.

Lapham is the author of numerous books, including Waiting for the Barbarians (1997), Theater of War (2003), Gag Rule (2004), and, most recently, Pretensions to Empire (2006). He hosts the weekly Bloomberg Radio program The World in Time. The New York Times has likened him to H.L. Mencken; Vanity Fair has suggested a strong resemblance to Mark Twain; and Tom Wolfe compared him to Montaigne.

Essay — From the November 2015 issue

Bombast Bursting in Air

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The story, so far, of the 2016 election

By Lewis H. Lapham

Context — October 30, 2015, 11:33 am

Bombast Bursting in Air

Republican presidential candidate John Kasich surveys his competition; Lewis H. Lapham analyzes the 2016 election so far.

By Lewis H. Lapham

Article — From the May 2012 issue

Ignorance of things past

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Who wins and who loses when we forget American history

By Lewis H. Lapham

Article — From the April 2011 issue

Democracy 101

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Mark Twain’s farewell address

By Lewis H. Lapham

Notebook — From the May 2010 issue

Doing the laundry

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By Lewis H. Lapham

In office as President of the United States, Donald J. Trump is undoubtedly a menace, but he isn’t a surprise. He embodies the spirit of an age of folly abandoned to conspicuous consumption of vanity and greed. A self-glorifying photo-op, Trump is made to the measure of an infotainment media in which presidential candidates are game show contestants brought to judgment on election day before the throne of cameras by whom and for whom they are produced.

To regard Trump as an amazement beyond belief is to give him credit where none is due, to mistake a symptom for the cause. Trump’s presence in the White House follows from an American regime change over the last twenty-five years during which a weakened but still operational democracy gave way to a stupefied and dysfunctional plutocracy.

The history of that change is a hedge against the despair of the present, making possible the revolt against what G. K. Chesterton called “the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”

“[Illustrates] how and why our democracy has given way to a dysfunctional plutocracy of the super-rich, by the super-rich, and for the super-rich. Taken together, the book’s essays, published between 1990 and 2016 in Lapham’s Quarterly and Harper’s, serve as a powerful and alarming American history…With Age of Folly, Lapham provides the historical context needed to understand our current political moment.”

– Adam Boretz, The Millions

“Without doubt our greatest satirist—elegant, honorable, learned and fair. I love reading him.”

– Kurt Vonnegut

“Lewis Lapham—born of Mark Twain and H. L. Mencken—is the most provocative and engaging essayist in the country.”

– George Plimpton

“One of the last liberal thinkers, a man of elegant humor. Should he wander onto the premises of Fox TV, he’d surely be shot down like a dog.”

– Liz Smith

“Lapham’s indignation is ecumenical, his scorn spread as smoothly as butter from left to right and north to south across the face of contemporary America.”

Boston Globe

“Lapham is a wonderful writer, a connoisseur of the perfect word.”

Business Week

“The combination of Lapham’s urbane prose and lethal wit … makes for delightful reading.”

Forbes

“To read Lapham’s work, so erudite and conscientious, is to realize that saving our democracy will take bold-face truth-telling, bravery and a populace willing to change: An alchemical improbability. However, if you can read this book and not want to commit to the work necessary to save our democracy, you are already lost.”

Literary Hub

“Although frequently dark, The Age of Folly comes with much humor and elegant writing … Lapham’s sharp prose pricks the self-importance of the powerful, who too often parade with claim to omniscience and omnipotency … Highly recommended.”

– R.J. Terchek, University of Maryland College Park, CHOICE

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