It’s a prestigious journal indeed that can name such luminaries as Mark Twain, Sun Tzu, and Winston Churchill among its contributors. The debut issue of Lapham’s Quarterly features work from these thinkers and many others, which makes for a fascinating read and a pretty startling group of contributor bios (Homer’s and Herodotus’ are crowned by classical-sculpture mug shots).
The hefty new journal (all 200+ pages of it) is a labor of love for former Harper’s editor and unabashed history buff Lewis Lapham. Four times a year the Quarterly’s editors will seize upon the most urgent question in the headlines—foreign war, financial panic, the separation of church and state—and dig up relevant responses from authors whose writings have passed the test of time. Lapham’s method assumes that profound observations of the human character and predicament don't become obsolete.
Each issue adheres to a specific theme (this one’s is “States of War”), which is explored through essays by prominent writers past and present. The way the journal frames the ideas of long-dead thinkers within a contemporary context is engrossing, and the selections from modern writers and thinkers are no less effective or prescient.
Lapham’s Quarterly is careful to avoid narratives bogged down in scholar-speak, instead favoring histories rich in both detail and prose. This commitment to readability makes the journal’s content a unique, pleasant marriage of great storytelling and important historical accounts.