A New European Narrative?

Back in 2013—an age ago, the calm before the storm—José Manuel Barroso, then the president of the European Commission, gave a speech launching a new project. This was before the refugee crisis, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, before the British voted to leave the European Union, before the terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels, London, …

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The Victory of Ukraine

In later years, there would be bigger demonstrations, more eloquent speakers, and more professional slogans. But the march that took place in Kiev on a Sunday morning in the spring of 1917 was extraordinary because it was the first of its kind in that city. The Russian Empire had banned Ukrainian books, newspapers, theaters, and …

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How He and His Cronies Stole Russia

For twenty years now, the Western politicians, journalists, businessmen, and academics who observe and describe the post-Soviet evolution of Russia have almost all followed the same narrative. We begin with the assumption that the Soviet Union ended in 1991, when Mikhail Gorbachev handed over power to Boris Yeltsin and Russia, Ukraine, and the rest of …

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How to Succeed in Business

To begin with, a quiz. Who wrote the following sentences: Lee Iacocca, Jack Welch, or Sheryl Sandberg? (a) When communicating hard truths, less is often more. (b) It takes self-confidence, courage and a willingness to take the heat when you make the tough calls. (c) Opportunities are rarely offered; they’re seized. (d) Get your priorities …

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In the New World of Spies

To those who met them in Japanese-occupied Manchukuo in 1935, the Swiss businessman Charles Emile Martin and his American partner, Cy Oggins, must have seemed an enigmatic pair. Oggins was a distinguished-looking man with craggy features, well-made suits, and a penchant for silver-topped walking sticks. He seemed to know a great deal about Oriental antiquities, …

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Vladimir’s Tale

On November 20, 1998, Galina Starovoitova, a member of the Russian parliament, was murdered in the stairwell of her St. Petersburg apartment building. In the weeks that followed, obituaries, articles, and tributes to her life poured forth from all over the world. Starovoitova, almost everyone agreed, was different from the Russian politicians of the past …

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The Worst of the Madness

Once, in an attempt to explain the history of his country to outsiders, the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz described the impact of war, occupation, and the Holocaust on ordinary morality. Mass violence, he explained, could shatter a man’s sense of natural justice. In normal times, had he stumbled upon a corpse on the street, he …

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Yesterday’s Man?

He began his education in the twilight of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, at an experimental kindergarten in Budapest. His mother was briefly a patient of Sigmund Freud’s. In interwar Vienna he wound up as the personal secretary of Vladimir Jabotinsky, one of the early leaders of the Zionist movement. Traveling in Soviet Turkmenistan as a young …

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A Mad, Bad, and Brutal Baron

Like a contemporary reincarnation of Adela Quest, the heroine of E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, James Palmer was both attracted and repelled by his first encounter with the grotesque, grimacing, wooden gods of Inner Mongolia: “I entered the shrine of a gruesome god, his sharp teeth grinning and his head festooned with skulls. I …

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Laughable and Tragic

Perhaps it was the elaborate court rituals, perhaps it was the stiff manners of the royal family, or perhaps it was the swiftness of the final collapse: for whatever reason, even the most tragic tales of the latter years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire often lapse into black humor.

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