Graeme Wood

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Cullen Murphy’s new book on the Inquisition

Originally appeared in The Daily.

God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World

by Cullen Murphy

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 320pp.

“Inquisition” is among the least cuddly words in the English language — an odd state of affairs, when you consider that some of its linguistic cousins are perfectly lovely. The ultimate Latin root means simply to ask a question, and its English relative “inquisitive” is something we typically laud children for being. But to be the object of any sort of inquisition, whether headed by a hellbent bureaucrat or a man in a scarlet cassock, is very bad news for you indeed, with a guarantee of psychological discomfort and strong hint of the physical sort as well.

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Filed under: Daily, , ,

Death of a Poseur

Jonathan “Jack” Idema, the pseudo-mercenary who was jailed after being convicted of operating a private prison in Kabul, died of AIDS in Mexico last week.

For the International Herald Tribune, I visited his semi-abandoned office building in Fayetteville, N.C., and found chains on the doors.  Idema’s adjoining apartment, where he allegedly conducted his assignations, had a poster for the Broadway musical Urinetown on the wall and a single cowboy spur rusting in the grass outside.

Filed under: International Herald Tribune, , ,

Tongue-Tied

Review of Michael Erard’s Babel No More.

The ability to speak multiple unrelated foreign languages fluently counts among a short list of showstopping talents, like the ability to play a Bach fugue or fly a helicopter (assuming one isn’t a harpsichordist or pilot by profession). It impresses in part because it suggests discipline, time, and effort — and, perhaps, other hidden skills.

But what if the languages came effortlessly? There are, in the history of polyglottism, a few examples of people who seem to have found a way to cheat the system and acquire languages so easily and quickly that what would normally appear a feat of discipline and erudition looks instead like savantism. These hyperpolyglots chitchat fluently in dozens of dialects, and they pick up new ones literally between meals. For the rest of us who have to slave over our verb tables, their talent resembles sorcery.
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Filed under: Barnes & Noble Review, , ,

Freed Press

Late last year, USAID hired me to teach a seminar about journalism to Libyan journalists.  I wrote about the experience in the current Atlantic.

Filed under: Atlantic Monthly, ,

A Turkish Assad?

Which is scarier: a government that hunts down and kills dozens in cold blood, or a government that hunts down and kills dozens by accident?

Read more at the IHT.

Filed under: International Herald Tribune,

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