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Recap: The Week in Ideas

Posted by Josh Rothman  January 27, 2012 05:26 PM

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America, the lonely superpower: Thanassis Cambanis on the downsides to being the world's most powerful country. During the Cold War, everyone thought that unipolarity would be great. The reality isn't so great, though: "American dominance has destabilized the world in new ways, and the United States is no better off in the wake of the Cold War. In fact... a world with a single superpower and a crowded second tier of distant competitors encourages, rather than discourages, violent conflict--not just among the also-rans, but even involving the single great power itself."

Bureaucrats with torches: Cullen Murphy on the Spanish Inquisition. It seems like ancient history, but in fact it's an early example of modernity. "The Inquisition was driven by a host of innovations. They are innovations that we take for granted, woven into the world we live in now."

The Megaboston that almost was: Chris Marstall on how, a century ago, Boston was on the verge of becoming one of America's largest cities. One proposal would have brought "32 cities and towns — from industrial centers like Malden, Waltham, and Cambridge to leafy burgs like Wellesley, Lexington, and Nahant — within Boston’s borders. At some 327 square miles and with a population of 1.4 million, the huge new megalopolis would have been larger in area than New York City, Chicago, or Philadelphia."

And don't miss: Erin McKean on amazing new neologisms from Twitter -- my favorite is nukepicking, "the combination of nitpicking and blowing things out of proportion"; and Kevin Lewis on the Republican face.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
contributors
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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