Louis Menand

Louis Menand
Photograph by Stu Rosner

Though readers of the New Yorker might identify him as a gifted book critic and stylish essayist—his pieces are 2004 National Magazine Award finalists in both categories—professor of English and American literature and language Louis Menand considers himself an "intellectual historian. I'm interested in where ideas come from, and the influence of one writer on another." His book The Metaphysical Club absorbed 10 years ("It was fun," he says), and won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for history. It shows how Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, and John Dewey launched pragmatism and moved "American thought into the modern world." Menand does "a version of American studies," he says. "But nothing before the nineteenth century." Known as "Luke" since childhood (his eponymous father taught political science at MIT), Menand earned a degree in creative writing from Pomona College in 1973, then spent one year at Harvard Law School. "I didn't have the personality to be a lawyer," he says. "I don't like to argue." Instead, he earned a Ph.D. in English from Columbia, then taught at Princeton and CUNY before coming to Harvard last fall. Menand teaches courses on the Jameses (Henry, William, and Alice), and on the art and thought of the Cold War period from 1945 to 1965, the subject of his next book. With his wife, Emily, and two adolescent sons in Manhattan, he commutes between there and Beacon Hill. Menand's elegant prose doesn't emerge from revision: "I don't write drafts," he explains. "My habit is to write one draft, very deliberately." Will there someday be a novel, a screenplay? "Ha!" he says. "I wish."

     

You might also like

How Air Pollution Affects Our Brains

An expert Harvard panel discusses the links between air pollution and dementia, learning, mental health, and mood.

Steven Pinker on Apple’s Vision Pro

Professor of psychology on the science and history behind the Vision Pro.

The State of Black America

Harvard African American scholars take stock of a difficult moment. 

Most popular

World’s End

A day trip to Hingham

The State of the Final-Club Debate

Continuing, heated differences over single-gender social organizations

Broadsheet Coffee Roasters

An antidote to Starbucksification?

More to explore

Photograph of Winthrop Bell 1910

Winthrop Bell

Brief life of a philosopher and spy: 1884-1965

Illustration of people talking to each other with colorful thought bubbles above their heads

Talking about Talking

Fostering healthy disagreement

Vacationing with a Purpose

New England “summer camps” for adults