Harper’s Notes

The Harper Review’s weekly newsletter: new year, new editions, old news, and more.

The editors

January 2, 2024

Journalistic excellence: Works of journalism, by their very nature, often degrade as time pushes them farther and farther from relevance. But even if the news is no longer new, the best writing is worth reading regardless of genre. In this light, Frank Bruni of The New York Times collected the best sentences featured in his weekly newsletter, which highlights the best sentences in journalism. Included are a touching rumination on hospice care inspired by Jimmy Carter, a simile envisioning a rapture of plastic bags, and an appreciation of pastrami in the diets of the past-their-prime movie stars of yore. For a simple indulgence of great writing to start the new year, look no further than the link.

Present-day Plato: The Loeb Classical Library—which our Chicago readers might recognize from the Seminary Co-op’s lush shelves of green and red—is in for a reboot since it first released Plato’s dialogues in the early twentieth century. For The New Criterion, Hillsdale College classics professor Mark F. McClay reviews four new Loeb releases: two volumes of Plato’s Republic, a book of dialogues from Socrates’ last days (Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo), and a compendium of the so-called erotic dialogues, Lysis, Symposium, and Phaedrus. All four volumes are edited by Chris Emlyn-Jones, Professor Emeritus of Classical Studies at The Open University, UK, and William Preddy, the retired Head of Classics at the Rutland School, UK. These editions, armed with commentary that was lacking in the tight-lipped earlier versions, improve upon the first Loebs and provide a surer footing for amateur and scholarly readers alike.

Hour of the Wolfe: Author and journalist Tom Wolfe’s passing in 2018 left a void in the American literary scene and was much lamented by conservative intellectuals. In an essay for the New Statesman, writer Nick Burns explores his legacy, arguing that in this moment of unremitting moral outrage and humorlessness on the left, right, and center, America is in dire need of a satirist of Wolfe’s caliber. But while Wolfe’s rhetorical power should be emulated, Burns says, writers of today require a keener understanding of the vagaries of elite sentiment than Wolfe possessed. Sophisticated, wry, and incendiary, Wolfe’s warmhearted skewering of liberal shibboleths made for entertaining—if not always accurate—reading for littérateurs of every political stripe. We shall not see his like again, writes Burns, and America’s literary landscape will be the poorer for it.

Philosophy’s fate: Does philosophy ever end? In Robert B. Pippin’s forthcoming book, The Culmination, the University of Chicago Committee on Social Thought professor offers a provocative reassessment of Martin Heidegger’s charge that Western philosophy ended with German Idealism. Pippin considers the meaning of Heidegger’s claim through an engrossing survey of Western philosophy, presenting along the way new interpretations of Heidegger, German Idealism, and the rationalist tradition. Due to be published by The University of Chicago Press on January 5, The Culmination will appeal to anyone with an interest in the future of philosophy.