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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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John Lanchester: Gargantuanisation

When​ the Ever Given wedged itself into the side of the Suez Canal on 23 March, many, many people were annoyed and upset. The ship’s as yet unnamed captain and all-Indian crew, for a start: it’s going to be interesting to see what the inquiry concludes not just about the grounding, but also about the giant penis the Ever Given drew on satellite tracking...

Adam Tooze: The Gatekeeper

Paul​ Krugman’s latest collection of essays, Arguing with Zombies, first appeared in January 2020. Not only was it quickly buried by Covid, but he missed out on a thing all too rare for a pundit: the opportunity to declare victory. A year later, in Joe Biden’s Washington, Krugmanism rules. The gigantic scale of the $1.9 trillion Biden rescue plan, and...

Michael Wood: At the Movies

Shaka King’s​ Judas and the Black Messiah (available on Amazon Prime) leaves us in no doubt as to who is the more interesting character. This preference is obscured (or perhaps highlighted) by the fact that the actors playing the two parts (LaKeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya) have both been nominated as ‘best supporting actor’ at this year’s Oscars,...

Neal Ascherson: Scribbles in a Storm

Written​ constitutions? ‘Because of where I came from, these documents seemed profoundly exotic.’ In spite of where she came from, which was England, Linda Colley became many years ago the first English intellectual to explain to her nation just how exotic ‘Britishness’ was. Now, with the same pioneering enthusiasm, she has produced a book about constitutions....

T.J. Clark: Aboutness

We​ are on our way to Paradise. Some say we are there already; and it is true that the soft green hill the angels are leading us towards, and the fountain perched on top with its retinue of birds, could well be a Garden of Eden. The angels are forbearing: they know we’re likely to make a slow start. Some of us look to have registered the new light in...

Owen Bennett-Jones: Pissing on Pedestrians

Given​ how many of those who worked closely with Robert Maxwell wrote a book about him, it’s interesting that so many facts about him remain unclear. Did he face a death sentence at the age of sixteen? Was he in the French Foreign Legion? In the months before his death, in 1991, was he really being investigated for a war crime? Did MI6 finance his first...

Jonathan Parry: Managing the Nation

Since​ 2008, the LGBT Labour merchandising department has had massive success selling ‘Never Kissed a Tory’ T-shirts. They have generated so much fuss that in 2018 Owen Jones had to make clear: ‘If you want to kiss Tories, Momentum are not going to stop you.’ However, to large swathes of the left, the idea of doing so has remained anathema (the former...

Clair Wills: Benign Promiscuity

Molly​ Keane’s gloriously camp novel, Good Behaviour, begins with the narrator, Aroon St Charles, a 57-year-old survivor of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy, murdering her aged mother with a rabbit mousse. She doesn’t choke on it: Aroon has made sure that the quenelle in cream sauce is perfect, with ‘just a hint of bay leaf and black pepper, not a breath...

Thomas Meaney: The Bayswater Grocer

Among​ the ‘new nations’ that became independent in the 1960s, Singapore makes the least pretence of a break with colonial rule. Streets and roads bear the names of some of the most savage grandees of the empire – Havelock, Neill, Outram. The bicentennial of 2019 celebrated the arrival of the city-state’s ‘founding father’, Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles,...

Patrick Cockburn: In Kent

In October​  last year the number of people infected with Covid-19 began to rise in the coastal towns of north-east Kent. The area had escaped the full impact of the first wave of the pandemic in the spring, with many residents saying that they didn’t know anyone who had caught the virus. After the end of the lockdown on 4 July, there was a sense that...

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