Worth Hanging Out and Drawing Upon this Quarterly’s Content!


I wasn’t very kind in last week’s blog post, which is something I try to avoid; my mom taught me if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. With that in mind, I’m going to gush this week about one of my favorite indulgences – a treasure that arrives in my mailbox so rarely, I begin to have withdrawal symptoms a week before it arrives.

I’ll get to Lapham’s Quarterly’s written content in a moment, but I first want to share what a treat it is on multiple sensory levels. It is printed on fine silky paper, so each turn of the page is luxurious. The articles are interspersed with vibrant full-color print reproductions of breathtaking works of art, spanning the ancient to the modern.

If I haven’t enticed you yet, don’t worry, as I haven’t got to the hard sell. It’s not its quality or its artwork that is the true worth of the magazine. It is the publication’s written content that’s the biggest nugget of gold.

The brainchild of Lewis Lapham, formerly of Harper’s Magazine, Lapham’s Quarterly addresses one hot topic in each issue by, as it states on its website, “Bringing up to the microphone of the present the advice and counsel of the past.”

Articles are short; none are longer than six pages, but all pertinent to the selected topic, which have included religion, medicine and crime in previous issues. Contributors range from Aristotle and Cicero to Shakespeare and Mark Twain. It’s a hybrid of a scholarly journal and a high-end mass-market magazine, whose target audience, according to Lapham, is “people who wished they had paid more attention in school.” That’s me!

All of the commentaries are insightful, and with short articles (some as short as a few paragraphs) it’s the type of magazine that you can pick up and put down as you come and go. It makes for a wonderful coffee table book, and even if an article doesn’t grab you, you’ll find yourself transfixed by the artwork alone.

I’m not sure how I came upon Lapham’s initially, but I consider the subscription of $49 a year a bargain. I believe it is especially valuable in this current post-truth environment, as I think it is critical to look at our current societal dilemma through a historical lens, which is the basis upon which Lewis Lapham founded his namesake publication. As George Santayana said in his book The Life of Reason, I, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

We humans tend to suffer from amnesia when it comes to societal change, and I worry the atrocities of just the last century may become buried in history books that collect dust, or even worse rewritten to omit the dangers of oligarchy, if we don’t actively work to make it relevant.

Cicero said, “Not to know what happened before one was born is always to be a child.” I find Lapham’s Quarterly a great intellectual road map toward my intellectual adulthood. And it makes a great gift too!

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zoe@zoewright.net

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