London Review of Books

Literary review publishing essay-length book reviews and topical articles on politics, literature, history, philosophy, science and the arts by leading writers and thinkers

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James Lasdun: Bats on the Ceiling

The​ Tenth International Congress of Coptic Studies was held in September 2012 at the headquarters of the Order of St Augustine in Rome. Among the speakers was Karen King, the first woman to hold the Hollis Professorship of Divinity, Harvard’s oldest endowed chair. King had made her name as an interpreter and champion of early Christian texts that asserted...

Jenny Turner: Dark Emotions

Iwas​ washing up or something ten years ago when an episode of The Reunion with Sue MacGregor came on the radio, the one about the Women’s Liberation protesters who stormed the Miss World competition at the Royal Albert Hall in 1970. I must have known about it already, but it was like I’d never got the point. Listening to that programme, for some reason,...

William Davies: Short Cuts

In July​ , BBC Music Magazine carried a column suggesting some punchy ideas for reforming the Proms, given the unique circumstances presented by coronavirus. ‘With massed choirs and a packed flag-waving audience ruled out on medical grounds,’ Richard Morrison wrote, ‘there will never be a better moment to drop that toe-curlingly embarrassing anachronistic...

Christian Lorentzen: I need money

The​ state of Delaware has given the world three gifts: chemicals, debt and Joe Biden. Each promises great things but may deliver undesirable side effects. Until the 19th century Delaware’s primary crop was tobacco. Then a French Huguenot called Éleuthère Irénée du Pont, son of an adviser to Louis XVI, began manufacturing gunpowder on the Brandywine...

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Whatever Made Him

Do we need​ biographies of public intellectuals? Is knowledge about a scholar’s life relevant to an understanding of their work? The Polish-Jewish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman thought not, and sedulously avoided the personal in his books and essays. His biographer, Izabela Wagner, obviously disagrees: she seems to find Bauman’s life more interesting than...

Paul Taylor: Short Cuts

As​ the UK moved into lockdown in March, Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, announced that this summer’s GCSE and A level exams would be cancelled. The exams regulator, Ofqual, was instructed to put in place an alternative system to allow students to move on to further study or employment while ensuring that they would be neither advantaged...

Adam Shatz: On Albert Memmi

In​ 1957, Albert Memmi published a slender but explosive book, Portrait du colonisé précédé de Portrait du colonisateur, later translated as The Coloniser and the Colonised. Memmi was a Jew from Tunisia; he was in his late thirties and firmly on the left. At the time of publication, France had entered the fourth year of an undeclared war against nationalist...

Steven Shapin: Keep him as a curiosity

Joseph​ Banks owed his fortune to land and his celebrity to the sea. Born in 1743 to a wealthy landowning family, he was sketchily educated at Harrow, Eton and Oxford. His father died when he was 18, and he came into his inheritance three years later, living for the rest of his life off the rents from large estates in the Lincolnshire fens, Derbyshire...

Tom Shippey: Did they even hang bears?

Over​ the last forty years, academics have tried, without much success, to superimpose the idea of the Vikings as peaceful traders on the berserkers-and-horned-helmets tradition. There is little disagreement about the events of the Viking Age or its timeline, stretching from 8 June 793 (the unexpected raid on Lindisfarne) to 25 September 1066, when...

Rupert Beale: In the Lab

On​ 29 July, I received ‘Coronavirus (Covid-19) update: issue 97’ from my university. I understand from dimly remembered friends and colleagues outside the Covidology bubble that 2020 hasn’t been much fun for them either. We’re all tetchy. Those of us who have been working round the clock on increasing testing capacity are also thoroughly exhausted....

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