Happy 150th Birthday, Atlantic Monthly

The Atlantic’s 150th anniversary issue* is out, and my (obviously biased) view is that it’s great. This is a good illustration of the truth that some things look much better and more attractive on paper than on the computer screen. Typography, graphic design, and the whole ergonomics of in-print presentation have evolved over the last 500 or so years to suit the human eye and mind very well. (Yes, yes, I know about consumption of paper and so on.) If you get the issue you won’t regret it.

I remember, from elementary school, seeing my mom and dad get the 100th anniversary issue of the Atlantic in the mail and read it at home. They read it to us squirmy kids too -- I think there were stories by Ernest Hemingway and Thornton Wilder, and a poem by Robert Frost. Also something by James Thurber, which is where my dad, a humorist, would have started.

On a more earthbound level, I am both pleased and somehow depressed to realize that in the 125th anniversary issue I had an article called “Entitlements,” advancing the then-somewhat-original idea that Social Security and Medicare were going to need some financial fixing.

In this 150th anniversary issue I have a surprisingly optimistic article** about how today’s America looks from overseas, including the many ways in which the “Chinese challenge” of the 2000s differs from the “Japanese challenge” of the 1980s. “Nut graf,” as they say in the newsmagazine business:

I am not saying that a year’s exposure to China has made me complacent or triumphalist. Through scale alone, China will be a handful. As I argued in a recent article about China’s emergence as the world’s factory, Americans need to be actively thinking about how to protect their economic interests when dealing with China, how to help China limit its air and water pollution before it’s too late for everyone, and how to engage China constructively in other ways.

But I am saying that for now, Americans shouldn’t worry about an ideological challenge from China, or whether China’s economic rise will soon mean the preeminence of the “Chinese idea.” The people and leaders of China have too much else on their minds. What I’ve learned from China, so far, is that instead of girding to defend the American idea against some new foreign challenge, we should take the opportunity to shore it up [[as the end of the article explains]].

Happy Birthday, Atlantic; 150 happy returns to come.

* This follows a year-plus buildup of articles from the archive, as we entered our "150th Year" etc. But this issue is the actual 150th anniversary of the very first issue of the magazine.

** Yes, subscribers only. I won't even say "Subscribe!" this time. Just: check it out at the newsstand.