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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Alan Bennett: An Ordinary Woman

An ordinary kitchen. Gwen, a middle-aged wo­man, talks to the camera.He​  pulled up his trousers.‘You are nice to me,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t have shown it to anybody else.’I said, ‘Well, I hope you haven’t been doing.’‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Not much chance of that. No demand at the moment.’He’d come home from school looking a bit down and retreats upstairs...

Pankaj Mishra: Flailing States

‘The abyss of history​ is deep enough to hold us all,’ Paul Valéry wrote in 1919, as Europe lay in ruins. The words resonate today as the coronavirus blows the roof off the world, most brutally exposing Britain and the United States, these prime movers of modern civilisation, which proudly claimed victory in two world wars, and in the Cold War, and...

Mattathias Schwartz: Short Cuts

One​ of the enduring mysteries of the relationship between Donald Trump and John Bolton, his third national security adviser, is how the two men ever came to terms in the first place. Bolton, an unreconstructed Cold Warrior, once canvassed for the arch-conservative Barry Goldwater and interned in the Nixon White House. He made his career talking up...

Ferdinand Mount: Superman Falls to Earth

Precaution​ and continence, as we know, are not qualities that characterise Boris Johnson in any sphere of his life. On 3 February, as a prelude to the Brexit trade talks, he gave a speech in the Painted Hall at Greenwich. It was a hymn to the glories of free trade and the spirit of Adam Smith, almost as baroque as James Thornhill’s enormous ceiling...

Thomas Jones: Short Cuts

The​ Abbey of Santa Maria di Falleri, a 12th-century Cistercian monastery about thirty miles north of Rome, has crumbled over the centuries into disrepair. It makes a brief appearance as a medieval palace in the classic comedy L’armata Brancaleone (1966). The roof was restored a few years ago, and the abbey can now be visited – Covid-19 permitting –...

James Romm: Site of Sin and Suffering

Anyone​ who doubts that Thebes is indeed a ‘forgotten city’ hasn’t spent much time in Greek souvenir shops. In a marketplace shaped by the interests of foreign tourists, there are countless mementos of Athens and Sparta, but barely a trace of a city that was at one time their equal and even, for a brief stretch, the leading power of Hellas. Two years...

Adam Shatz: America Explodes

In July​  1999, the writer Joe Wood vanished while attending a conference of journalists of colour in Seattle. He was 34, a brilliant essayist, ferocious in his critiques of racism – not least as he experienced it in the ‘liberal’ publishing world. The last time we met, a week before his trip to Seattle, he was wearing a Malcolm X cap and carrying...

Thomas Laqueur: While Statues Sleep

Afew years ago​ Susan Neiman published an article titled ‘History and Guilt’, which asked whether America can ‘face up to the terrible reality of slavery in the way that Germany has faced up to the Holocaust’. Her new book tries to answer that question, considering the ways in which the US can learn from Germany’s Aufarbeitung der Vergangenheit, its...

Michael Kulikowski: A Very Bad Man

Consider​ the many things that would not exist without Caesar’s account of the Gallic Wars: Asterix and Obelix; The Wicker Man; Gauloises cigarettes; the little Airfix Romans and Britons that many of us grew up with. Even today, Caesar’s legionaries and their colourful Gallic foes are bread and butter for companies that sell expensive toy soldiers to...

Adam Shatz: Trump’s War on America

In July​  1999, the writer Joe Wood vanished while attending a conference of journalists of colour in Seattle. He was 34, a brilliant essayist, ferocious in his critiques of racism – not least as he experienced it in the ‘liberal’ publishing world. The last time we met, a week before his trip to Seattle, he was wearing a Malcolm X cap and carrying...

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