John Lingan

John Lingan has written for the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Morning News and other outlets. He lives outside Washington, D.C.

Recent Articles

The Soul-Killing Structure of the Modern Office

Our artless workspaces have been the twisted end result of utopian thinking.

CubeSpace/Asa Wilson
CubeSpace/Asa Wilson Picture Leonardo DiCaprio heading stolidly to work at the start of two of his most alliterative movies. In Revolutionary Road , set in 1955, he’s Frank Wheeler, a fedora’d nobody who takes a train into Manhattan and the elevator to a high floor in an International-style skyscraper. He smokes at his desk, slips out for a two-martini lunch, and gets periodically summoned to the executive den where important company decisions are made. Wheeler is a cog, but he is an enviable cog—by appearances, he has achieved everything a man is supposed to want in postwar America. In The Wolf of Wall Street , set in the late 1980s, DiCaprio is a failed broker named Jordan Belfort who follows a classified ad to a Long Island strip mall, where a group of scrappy penny-stock traders cold-call their marks and drive home in sedans. His office need not be a status symbol, since prestige for stock traders is about domination, not conformity; if you become a millionaire,...

Agee, Before He Was Famous

Can a rediscovered first draft of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men speak more directly to our time than the finished masterpiece? 

Library of Congress
By age 26, James Agee had spent four years at Fortune , the glossy magazine created by Henry Luce to celebrate the American business class, filing un-bylined reportage on topics like orchid cultivation and cockfighting and the occasional skeptical item on how the new Tennessee Valley Authority was playing out. Most writers would consider it a plum job, especially in the early 1930s. But Agee, politically progressive and instinctively adversarial, was uneasy over the magazine’s thrall to the lavish life. He had ambitions worthy of a Blake or a Dostoevsky: highly personal, mythic literature meant to get “as near truth and whole truth as is humanly possible,” as he put it in a letter in early 1936. A few months later, Agee got an assignment that spoke to his ideals. As part of Fortune ’s “Life and Circumstances” series, he was to travel to Southern cotton country and live among poor working families. Agee had grown up in Knoxville, Tennessee, and he...