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 Butler: Failed Vocation

Politics,​ Max Weber wrote, is a ‘slow, strong drilling through hard boards, with a combination of passion and a sense of judgment’. The maxim, from his lecture ‘Politics as a Vocation’, is now usually deployed to chide a left impatient for social transformation, but Weber’s account of political leadership deserves more than this. He has acute things...

Vera Tolz: Short Cuts

Donald Trump’s​ press conference on 5 November, in which he claimed he had won the election and said there had been mass voter fraud, was like a scene from a dystopian movie. His allegations were so egregious that TV networks cut away from their live broadcast of his remarks. Yet in the months and years leading up to that moment it was as if no lessons...

Andrew O’Hagan: Coughing Out Slogans

Don​ DeLillo has been a catastrophist for so long that we only really get excited when life’s catastrophes go way beyond his predictions. That happened with 9/11, when the attack on the Twin Towers and their collapse in broad daylight made his warnings suddenly appear to have been too vague in meaning and too small in scale. His subsequent fictional...

Christian Lorentzen: Most Famous Person in History

It’s fitting for the Trump presidency to end under a cloud of lawsuits, recount requests and accusations of ballot dumping. The spectre of illegitimacy has defined the last decade of American politics. Birtherism and Russiagate have now yielded to the notion that votes can’t properly be counted, that the election system is corrupt, that whoever becomes...

Julian Barnes: Summarising Oneself

Few​ today remember Captain Henry Hill (1812-82), a military tailor turned quartermaster of the First Sussex Rifle Volunteers. According to the Brighton census of 1881, Hill, who was then in his late sixties, lived on ‘funded property’ at 53 Marine Parade with his wife, Charlotte; his 27-year-old nephew, James; and three servants. Less conventionally,...

Adam Shatz: Why go high?

In​  ‘Is America by Nature a Violent Society?’ (1968), her critique of the racism ‘inherent’ in American life, Hannah Arendt wrote:the real danger is not [Black] violence but the possibility of a white backlash of such proportions as to be able to invade the domain of regular government. Only such a victory at the polls could stop the present policy...

Thomas Meaney: Warfare State

If​ you’ve been following White House briefings and mainstream US media over the past four years, you could be forgiven for thinking that Trump has radically rewritten US foreign policy. In fact, despite Trump’s pledges to extract American soldiers from foreign conflicts, troop numbers have barely fallen overall and have risen in the Persian Gulf. The...

Peter Geoghegan: Cronyism and Clientelism

On the afternoon​ of Thursday, 19 March, four days before Boris Johnson went on TV to tell the British public ‘you must stay at home,’ Lee Cain, his belligerent head of communications, convened a virtual meeting to discuss Covid-19 messaging. (The Telegraph described the meeting under the headline ‘Anatomy of a Perfect Slogan’.) Until then Johnson had...

Deborah Friedell: Short Cuts

Four years ago​ , my brother, a philosopher, advised me to gamble, exorbitantly, on Donald Trump becoming president. If Hillary Clinton won, he reasoned, so much the better. If she didn’t, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood were going to need the money. But I wasn’t interested in hedging my bets: I knew what was going to happen. At a ‘viewing party’ to...

Wang Xiuying: China after Covid

Amassive​ pool party was held recently in Wuhan, ground zero of the pandemic, with thousands of people piling into the water without wearing masks or practising social distancing. This outraged many people on Twitter, who didn’t know that there have been no new cases of Covid-19 in Wuhan for months. For local people, who experienced the chaotic early...

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