Happy Birthday Edward Gibbon

227 years ago this month, the last installment of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire came out. Gibbon was wrong about Roman emperors, and he was wrong about the Church. But he was right that democracy depends on the ability to sail away from a tyrant.

Ivan Denisovich vs Ants

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn admitted that Russians were occasionally like insects. But he didn't like it.

Humans vs Honeybees

Honeybees are truly social; humans are not. When, 75 years ago, Arthur Koestler wrote Darkness at Noon, the differences were obvious.

Santa and Saturnalia

I love holidays at the winter solstice. I love making the deadest, darkest time of the year light and green. I love playing Santa. But I have an almost irresistible urge to put on a pileus.

Animal Farm

Almost a century after the Bolshevik Revolution ousted tsar Nicholas II, and close to 70 years after George Orwell finished his fiction about Josef Stalin, the forces of democracy, and opposing forces, are being played out in the former Soviet Union.

Lord of the Flies

More than 17 decades after it was ceded to the British in perpetuity—and just 17 years after the British handed it over to the People’s Republic of China—the forces of democracy, and opposing forces, are being played out in Hong Kong. 60 years ago, they played out in Lord of the Flies.

Beware the Beachmasters

Happy Labor Day; have fun on the beach. But remember that Charles Atlases--human and otherwise--do best where 97 pound weaklings are unable to run away.

Gaddafi vs Chaos

The US embassy in Libya was evacuated today. There are costs associated with anarchy. And there are costs associated with peace. Most have to do with politics, and sex.

When Men Ruled the World

Most of history is about patriarchs. But for thousands of years before history was written, women made a name for themselves; and that’s happening more often, now.

On Their Backs

This week, Hillary Clinton made news. Every week, Hillary Clinton makes news. Some people seem to think she’s missed the boat. But if the historical precedents are right, it might not be too late to become president.

Easter and Estrus

Etymologically, the word Easter seems to have something to do with the Latin for gadfly, the Greek for mad frenzy, and old English and Sumerian fertility goddesses. Once the equinox was a grand time for kings, or was written about by unmarried monks. These days, everybody gets an egg.

Take My Wife, Please!

Once upon a time, one of Henny Youngman's ancestors offered his wife to a pharaoh--and got compensated for it. Since then, history has repeated itself. In a Darwinian world, that makes sense. Though as Henny Youngman would have put it, "The secret of a happy marriage remains a secret."

The Art of Courtly Love

Andreas Capellanus drew a line between what he called “pure” love, which omitted the final solace, and what he called “mixed” love, which culminated in the final act of Venus—often with pangs of regret. Regret was the usual outcome. And paternity was usually confused.


365 years ago, at 2:00 in the afternoon, Charles I was led shivering to a scaffold in London, and his head was cut off. A week later, the Office of King was abolished. That was the beginning of the end of unpopular government.

Crying Uncle

Last week, the Korean Central News Agency announced the execution of Jang Song Thaek, the uncle of supreme leader Kim Jong Un, who unwillingly stood up and half-heartedly clapped when the supreme leader showed up. As usual, there are precedents for that.

Mimi Alford

On 22 November 1963, at around 12:30 Central Standard Time, Mimi Alford and her husband-to-be, Tony, stopped for gas at 61st Street, off FDR Drive. That night as they watched TV in his parent's house, Mimi started to cry. “There’s something I have to tell you,” she said.


521 years ago, Christopher Columbus boarded his carrack and headed west. The laborers, peasants and convicts on his ships were looking for gold, real estate, and the opposite sex.

Jeffrey Dickemann Came First

In a series of papers—specifically, in 3 articles published from 1979 to 1981—Jeffrey Dickemann became the “father” of Darwinian history. Before the big books with big audiences, before the study of the past was headed with capital letters, he shed light on the origin of man and his history.

The Fierce Anthropologist

Napoleon Chagnon has lived up to his name. He fought his way into the jungle; he fought off intellectuals. And he lived to write about them both in Noble Savages, his new memoir.

Dads Matter

A generation ago, it was all the rage in anthropology to say that fatherhood was what made us human. These days, grandmothers are all the rage. But fathers have always mattered. Happy Father's Day, dad.

Remembering Charles Darwin

Darwin, like his creator, had a passion for beetles. He was otherwise less than godlike; but his autobiography is a good read.

Deported For Being Too Handsome

Earlier this month, 3 men were kicked out of Saudi Arabia for being too handsome. There are Biblical precedents for that--and a few precedents in meerkats.

Picking a Pope

115 cardinals will be locked up in the Vatican this afternoon, and asked to pick the next pope by secret ballot. But it wasn't always a civilized process. Popes have been suffocated, strangled and poisoned; and hundreds of their supporters have been left dead in the streets.

Island Fever

They’re digging out from under Nemo in the Northeast; and it’s another slushy Sunday here in the Midwest. If they weren't so much like Thunderdomes, it might be nice to get off to an island.

White-Fronted Bee-Eaters

Christmas has always been about families; and the masses have always been sung by the unmarried. Who, like White-Fronted Bee-Eaters, have devoted their lives to their parents and cousins and sisters and brothers, as helpers-at-the-nest.

House Mice

House mice, like us, tend to live in democratic societies when they’re out in the open. But they live under despots when they're hemmed in, closed off or locked up. When emigration is not an option. And nobody gets to vote.

Innocent Religions

Thousands of years after the Buddha, Arjuna, Confucius, Jesus and Abraham, fewer women are herded into palaces, and fewer men live alone. Free speech is one of the means to those ends. And when free speech is intolerant, it should be answered with more speech.

Labor Day

The long, hot summer is over. It’s time to head out to the country, fire up the grill and kick back. The hardworking men and women of America are taking a day off. Generations of helpers-at-the-nest and workers have earned it—more than most of us bother to count.

Bastille Day

223 years ago, on 14 July 1789, the crowds took to the streets in Paris, the Bastille was stormed, and the French Revolution began. People have celebrated today, from Paris to Montreal.They've marched in parades and sung the Marseillaise. May it always be sung, from Cuba to the United States.

To the Father of Our Country

The Washington Monument is the tallest obelisk on earth, a straight, tapered shaft of hollow rock—a fitting tribute to the Father of Our Country. Over the course of history, there were Fathers of many Countries. And many of them left obelisks.