An infinite number of things happen; we bring structure and meaning to the world by making art and telling stories about it. Every work of literature created by human beings comes out of an historical and cultural context, and drawing connections between art and its context can be illuminating for both. Today’s guest, Stephen Greenblatt, is one of the world’s most celebrated literary scholars, famous for helping to establish the New Historicism school of criticism, which he also refers to as “cultural poetics.” We talk about how art becomes entangled with the politics of its day, and how we can learn about ourselves and other cultures by engaging with stories and their milieu.
This volume is a treasure trove of photography from the last 175 years, following the evolution of Vienna from imperial capital to modern metropolis. Like a visual walk through time and cityscape, hundreds of carefully curated pictures trace the developments in Vienna’s built environment and the cultural and historical trends they reflect, whether the urban Gesamtkunstwerk of the 19th-century Ringstrasse or the experiments of “Red Vienna” in the 1920s, when the city had a social democrat government for the first time.
Vienna combines drama and elegance like no other. For centuries the heart of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the stately city on the Danube, has been defined by vast palaces and imperial grandeur—but behind the Baroque opulence, Vienna is also a place of genteel coffee house culture, epicurean tradition, and a heritage of both delicate and daring music, art, and design, from Johann Strauss to Egon Schiele, from Gustav Mahler to Josef Hoffmann.
From Helen of Troy’s abduction to the deception of the Trojan Horse and the fall of the city, tread the line between myth and reality in this phenomenal new exhibition.
The story of the ancient city of Troy, and of the great war that was fought over it, has been told for some 3,000 years. Spread by travelling storytellers, it was cast into powerful words by the Greek poet Homer as early as the eighth to seventh century BC – and into powerful images by ancient Greek and Roman artists. Just as it enraptured audiences in the past, it still speaks to us today and it’s easy to see why. It’s a story that has it all – love and loss, courage and passion, violence and vengeance, triumph and tragedy – on a truly epic scale.
Spanning several decades, the tale is set in Greece’s mythical past. At its heart is the powerful city of Troy on the western coast of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), besieged for 10 years by the Greeks, who sailed across the Aegean Sea to take revenge for a grave insult – the abduction of a woman. This ancient world war features a stellar cast of characters. Even the gods are involved.
Including beautiful full-color reproductions of the artworks, A Month in Siena is about what occurred between Matar, those paintings, and the city. That month would be an extraordinary period in the writer’s life: an exploration of how art can console and disturb in equal measure, as well as an intimate encounter with a city and its inhabitants. This is a gorgeous meditation on how centuries-old art can illuminate our own inner landscape—current relationships, long-lasting love, grief, intimacy, and solitude—and shed further light on the present world around us.
From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Return comes a profoundly moving contemplation of the relationship between art and life.
Listen to an excerpt below:
After finishing his powerful memoir The Return, Hisham Matar, seeking solace and pleasure, traveled to Siena, Italy. Always finding comfort and clarity in great art, Matar immersed himself in eight significant works from the Sienese School of painting, which flourished from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. Artists he had admired throughout his life, including Duccio and Ambrogio Lorenzetti, evoke earlier engagements he’d had with works by Caravaggio and Poussin, and the personal experiences that surrounded those moments.
In its heyday, dynamite was a transformative tool; it could blast rock quarries, excavate tunnels, and demolish buildings with power and reliability never before seen. But it also proved to be useful in some surprising ways. In this special episode of Sidedoor, we team up with the history podcast Backstory to explore two less-typical applications of the explosive: the artistic blasting at Mount Rushmore, and how anarchists used dynamite to advance their political agenda in 1886.
A revelation for Moby-Dick devotees and neophytes alike, Ahab’s Rolling Sea is a chronological journey through the natural history of Melville’s novel. From white whales to whale intelligence, giant squids, barnacles, albatross, and sharks, Richard J. King examines what Melville knew from his own experiences and the sources available to a reader in the mid-1800s, exploring how and why Melville might have twisted what was known to serve his fiction. King then climbs to the crow’s nest, setting Melville in the context of the American perception of the ocean in 1851—at the very start of the Industrial Revolution and just before the publication of On the Origin of Species.
Featuring a coffer of illustrations and an array of interviews with contemporary scientists, fishers, and whale watch operators, Ahab’s Rolling Sea offers new insight not only into a cherished masterwork and its author but also into our evolving relationship with the briny deep—from whale hunters to climate refugees.
The so-called winning of the West is one of the fundamental dramas in American history, and Mr. Brands makes the most of his subject by quoting extensively from the participants’ own accounts. In his chapters on Lewis and Clark, he cites the explorers’ descriptions of the daunting cataracts on the Missouri and Columbia rivers and their reaction on reaching their goal.
In “Dreams of El Dorado,” H.W. Brands has made his job even harder by taking on such a broad swath of western history, from Thomas Jefferson’s seminal purchase of Louisiana, in 1803, to Theodore Roosevelt’s sweeping measures to conserve western resources and landscapes, more than a century later. That’s a lot of history to crowd into just over 500 pages—as Mr. Brands no doubt appreciates, since his own books on Texan independence and the California Gold Rush were each somewhat longer than that.