“Because God had chosen America as the construction site of the earthly Paradise, America’s cause was always just and nothing was ever America’s fault…corrupt foreigners commit crimes against humanity, Americans cleanse the world of its impurities.”
Born in San Francisco into a family distinguished by service and achievement, Lewis Lapham was educated at Hotchkiss School, Yale and Cambridge Universities. He was marked early for a career in journalism, working first for the San Francisco Examiner and, by age 25, covering the United Nations for the International Herald Tribune.
He joined the staff of Harper’s Magazine in 1975 and has been its editor since 1983. In an interview, Lapham describes Harper’s, which was founded in 1850, “as a journal for people who still read, who like to read, and who look upon reading as a pleasure, not as an acquisition of data.” The magazine demands “imagination on each side of the page: the courage of the writer to try to tell the truth as he or she has seen it—or heard it, or felt it, or guessed at it—and the will of the reader to take seriously, to try to grasp imaginatively, what is being said.” Lapham’s own monthly column, “Notebook,” won the National Magazine Award (1995) for expressing an “exhilarating point of view in an age of conformity.”
After the publication of his first collection of essays, Fortune’s Child, critics compared him with H.L. Mencken and Montaigne. A master of ironic wit, he is also likened to Mark Twain. Lapham’s books include Money and Class in America (1988), Imperial Masquerade (1990), The Wish for Kings (1993), Hotel America…(1995), Waiting for the Barbarians (1997) and Theater of War (2002). Lapham’s December 2002 essay, “The Road to Babylon: Searching for Targets in Iraq,” was posted on the Harper’s website the following spring. He has also been the host of a documentary series for television, America’s Century, as well as host and executive editor of the series, Bookmark (1989-91).
When he appeared on television with Bill Moyers, his host said of him: “Lewis Lapham speaks the truth to power and wealth in each issue of America’s oldest political journal…In the essays he writes and the articles he publishes, he opens the veins on issues like class, power, politics.”
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