Writing

Graduate student, law student, freelance journalist. I’m an intellectual and cultural historian currently researching the impact of art and social movements on American life and law. Check out my writing:

  • “Philip Pullman’s War on Authority,” The New Republic — For a quarter century, Philip Pullman has written fantasy fiction to fight against religion on behalf of free thought. In his new novel The Secret Commonwealth and HBO’s new prestige drama adaptation of His Dark Materials, Pullman’s war on authority comes to new battlefields.
  • “An Activist’s Fight for Citizenship,” The New Republic — In an elegant and impressive new book, Sam Erman argues that in the late 19th century, from Reconstruction to the Spanish-American War, Americans assumed that the 14th Amendment prohibited the United States from ruling an empire: it ostensibly guaranteed citizenship and statehood in all U.S. territories. Then a host of legal and political changes made overseas U.S. empire constitutional. Erman’s story explains how–and how Puerto Rican activists fought back.
  • “Michael Ondaatje’s Haunting Pasts,” The New Republic — Set in post-war London, a city still shattered from the Blitz, Michael Ondaatje’s new novel Warlight illuminates both a hidden world of endless conflict and the subtle, mysterious threads of interpersonal connection that bind us all together.
  • “How to Abolish War,” The New Republic — The 20th century was a century of war. It was also a century of powerful peace movements. And those movements ultimately shaped our ideas about justice, inspired the international and human rights laws that now govern the world, and pushed progressive politics toward a more democratic and inclusive vision of America. I review three new books to reconstruct a century-long history of antiwar activism.
  • “The Art of (Not Forgetting) War,” Public Books — The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new exhibit “World War I and the Visual Arts” is a uniquely unflinching and emotionally affecting look back at the brutality of the war. And how we remember the Great War speaks volumes about the values we embrace today.
  • “Militarizing the Presidency,” Boston Review — Since the start of the War on Terror, American presidents have increasingly relied on the military to accomplish every foreign policy goal, from outright warfighting to traditionally un-military tasks like diplomacy, foreign aid, and global health. The results, especially in Iraq and Syria, have not been good. I review three new books that explain how we got to this point, and try to imagine a way past America’s military solutionism.
  • Game of Thrones Is a Shakespearean History Play,” The Millions — Who has the right to rule? In HBO’s smash hit, everybody tries to justify their claims to power. That’s why we love the show: in our own crises of political legitimacy, from hanging chads to the Iraq War to Russian hacking, Game of Thrones reflects our recent history back to us in the guise of a fractured fairy tale.
  • “Totalitarianism, at Home and Abroad,” LA Review of Books — In the 2016 election, commentators consistently evoked parallels to 1930s European fascism. But they ignored America’s own history of racist totalitarianism in slavery and then Jim Crow. I review Vaughn Rasberry’s Race and the Totalitarian Century to make the case for the power of home-grown African American critics of totalitarianism as powerful voices from the past to critique the present.
  • “Lessons from the Nuclear Freeze,” Boston Review — In the 1980s, a social movement against nuclear weapons successfully blocked parts of Ronald Reagan’s aggressively conservative foreign and domestic agenda, and in the process, helped end the Cold War. This is a story of how progressive protesters can rein in right-wing populism.
  • “When W.E.B. Du Bois Was Un-American,” Boston Review — Late in his career, the Civil Rights icon fought against 1950s McCarthyism and in favor of nuclear nonproliferation and world peace. He paid a terrible price, but passed on a moral crusade to a later generation of antiracist and antiwar advocates. His vision of justice speaks forcefully to the present.
  • “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Climate Change,” Pacific Standard — Climate change is nothing new. In fact, the United States was founded partly to change North American nature. This is the untold story of early American climate change, from Thomas Jefferson to Johnny Appleseed, Henry David Thoreau to Zitkala-Sa.
  • “Shakespeare Contra Nietzsche,” Marginalia Review — Friedrich Nietzsche thought he was the reincarnation of William Shakespeare. That belief shaped his writing and philosophy, and through him, it helped shape modernity. Thanks to Nietzsche, we live in a Shakespearean age.
  • “Superheroes in a Time of Terror,” LA Review of Books — On Salman Rushdie, Junot Díaz, DC and Marvel comic book movies, and the complicated politics of the Global War on Terror.
  • Reviews of new books by Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, and Salman Rushdie at Marginalia Review
  • “The Nietzsche Doctrine,” LA Review of Books — On Hamlet, Hegel, Freud, Nietzsche, and the desperate need for art in our lives.
  • “Walter White’s Heart of Darkness,” LA Review of Books — On Breaking Bad, the impossibility of knowing other people’s minds, and the difficulty (and searing necessity) of moral judgment.