Politics: “The Front-Runner Fallacy”: The first thing to keep in mind a year before a given election? Most voters aren’t paying attention. Amidst all the punditry over Donald Trump’s and Ben Carson’s lead in the GOP polls, David Greenberg shows us how “startlingly unreliable” early polls tend to be as predictors of actual election outcomes. Polling at times in the single digits in the fall of 1975, 1987, 1991, and 2003: Jimmy Carter, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, and John Kerry. In fact, one year before Carter was elected to the nation’s highest office, voters’ top choices were Senator Ted Kennedy, Governor George Wallace, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Unfortunately only one of these men (Wallace) was actually running for president. So, fear not, wary political watchers: “Early polls capture not the convictions of a newly aroused and assertive body politic, but instead the fleeting impulses of an electorate that remains overwhelmingly disengaged.” Read more.
Technology: “The End of Thirst”: “Imagine turning on your tap and seeing no water come out. Or looking down into your village’s only well and finding it dust-dry. Much of the developing world could soon face such a scenario.” In this month’s Technology column, Sam Kean looks at the future of water: from desalination plants and recycling wastewater to allow us to drink from the sea ... or the toilet; to capturing fog drops and storing them in tanks; to weather modification to make it rain. Read more.
Study of Studies: “Why You Bought That Ugly Sweater”: There’s a science to every sale. We all can sense the tactics (and ploys) at play when we enter stores as prospective customers: from the soundtrack, to the attitude of the staff, to the lighting and appeal (or not) of the fitting rooms. Ahead of Black Friday, Eleanor Smith studies the tricks that retail stores may be using, intentionally or not, to part you from your money. Avoid snooty salespeople, cool temperatures, and blue-toned interiors: All have been shown to make customers more likely to spend. Read more.
From the Culture File:
Film: “The Greatest Actor Alive”: The Swedish actor Max von Sydow made his first foray into film in 1957. For a significant portion of the six decades since, Terrence Rafferty asserts, he has been the greatest actor alive. Now 87, von Sydow may be on the verge of becoming a pop-culture icon, as he takes on roles in the highly anticipated Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens and HBO’s Game of Thrones. Read more.
Books: “The Secret to Rome’s Success”: Emily Wilson reviews Mary Beard’s sweeping new history of ancient Rome, SPQR, which reveals the enduring value of an expansive vision of citizenship. Read more.
This month’s Big Question asks: What is the greatest comeback of all time? Many of history’s greatest screw-ups are marked by even more iconic recoveries; think Richard Nixon, Winston Churchill, Julius Caesar, and Chrysler. Joe Scarborough, Erin Burnett, Pat Buchanan, and others weigh in on who had the best fourth quarter.
The December 2015 issue of The Atlantic is available today, November 17, 2015, on TheAtlantic.com and The Atlantic’s mobile app, and on newsstands later this week.