Century Marks

Century Marks

A hitch in the review

Christopher Hitchens thought ethics was a matter of action, not intention. To illustrate his point he told how he had had a chance to review a book by an author who had given one of Hitchen's own works a bad review. It was a wonderful opportunity for revenge, but Hitchens realized the book he was reviewing was brilliant and he had to say so. His only obligation was to the truth. Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, died last month at age 62 of esophageal cancer (Chicago Tribune, December 17).

On deck

A well-read Amish man told David McConnell, a professor at the College of Wooster, about his warm-up routine for reading a book: he first skims the table of contents, then he pages through the index. "It's like being in the on-deck circle," the man said. "You rub your hands, you spit, you watch the pitcher and then you have some idea of what's coming" (Men­nonite Quarterly Review, October).

Epistolary art

Students at Amherst College were encouraged to revive the traditional practice of letter writing using manual typewriters or paper with quill pens. Organized by the student activities office as a social event, the project attracted more than 300 students—about twice the number expected. Sealing wax was used to close the envelopes. A leader admitted that she needed to teach herself how to use one of the typewriters, which were purchased online. Some students vowed to continue the letter writing, and it was rumored that one student went to a typewriter store—there still is one in Amherst, Massachusetts—to inquire about renting a manual typewriter.

Cut and paste

In his later years Thomas Jefferson completed a project he had begun decades before: cutting and piecing together his own version of the Gospels. He worked with two texts each of English, French and a combined Latin-Greek New Testament. An admirer of Jesus' moral teachings, Jefferson was skeptical of the miracle stories and the resurrection, and he eliminated references to those events. The original bound version, which he called Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, is on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Facsimiles of the book were given to incoming members of Congress until copies ran out half a century ago (American Heritage, vol. 61, no. 2).

To Princeton or prison?

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate per capita of any country in the world. It is sixth in the world in its number of college graduates. National spending habits reveal a disturbing trend: it costs $37,000 a year for a student to go to Princeton University, and $44,000 per year to house an inmate at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton. Between 1987 and 2007, higher education spending increased 21 percent, while corrections spending went up 127 percent (Atlantic, November).