From the next issue

As the Lock Rattles

John Lanchester

It isn’t always possible to draw a straight line from someone’s personal life to their public works. Johnson’s private life is his business. But one thing you can say about a man responsible for at least nine pregnancies by at least four different women is that he is prone to wishful thinking. That wishful thinking is the common theme in the government’s failures from spring 2020 to autumn 2020 to now. Boris Johnson doesn’t want certain things to be true, so he acts as if they can be ignored. That strategy has worked for him in domestic politics. It was at the heart of his advocacy for Brexit. But it doesn’t work in economics, and it doesn’t work in dealing with a pandemic. This is not to say that lockdowns are a panacea. They are clearly damaging, but there is a mysterious absence of evidence as to just how much harm they cause. I don’t mean economically – we can see the rough impact in the contractions of GDP all over the world – but to health and well-being. 


At the Easel

Naomi Grant

Iamlooking at a painting by the American artist Lennart Anderson, a still life from the 1960s. It’s a simple work: five objects arranged on a table top. A loaf of bread, a terracotta jug, a red pear, a funnel and a shape I can’t identify. The painting is a rare achievement of balance and spacing. No two objects are placed in the same relation; every interval is considered. The...


At the Altarpiece

Charles Hope

Until​ the Reformation virtually all Western Christians permitted and even encouraged the use of religious imagery, following in this respect the example of the pagans rather than the Jews. The most famous justification for the practice appears in two letters written by Pope Gregory the Great at the end of the sixth century to Serenus, bishop of Marseille. Serenus had destroyed some...

From the next issue

On Omicron

Rupert Beale

We have seen​ plenty of viral variants, some with Spike genes of sufficient interest to merit a Greek letter. Spike is the virus’s entry weapon, and the bit of the virus that’s targeted by vaccines. If your antibodies block Spike, you block the virus – and if Spike has mutated, it may have become better at dodging those antibodies. Delta has been the most vicious variant so...

From the blog

Twinkle and Shimmer and Buzz

Nico Muhly

3 December 2021

Identifying with the characters is a normal part of going to the theatre. With Stephen Sondheim, though, it goes further than that. You find yourself identifying with the composer, feeling that he is speaking directly to you as a friend or teacher or relative, almost, though never actually, bypassing the plot and the characters with an unending fusillade of brilliance.

It’s thought that counts

It’s thought that counts

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Mario Vargas Llosa

Rachel Nolan

The coup​ is almost funny, if you squint. The year was 1954, and the CIA, still young and enthusiastic, had decided to overthrow the democratically elected president of Guatemala. Washington was convinced that the tiny republic was a threat, a reflection of growing anti-communist paranoia, and – in particular – of the ministrations of Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays,...


Soviet Nationhood

Sheila Fitzpatrick

It’s​ a puzzle to know how to think about the Soviet Union, now that it is gone. Was it a Russian empire in disguise, which broke apart when its oppressed colonies finally liberated themselves? Was it a benevolent federation in which the Russian big brother generously subsidised its younger siblings and paid for their education? Or was it, perhaps, a multinational state in which the...


The CFA Franc

Rahmane Idrissa

Colonialism began​ as a mercantilist enterprise, with companies establishing trading posts along the ocean coastlines in the warm waters of the tropics. They used whichever medium of exchange was most expedient for trade. Both local currencies and commodities – shells, for instance, and doubloons – were acceptable tokens. All were trade currencies, not sovereign currencies, valid...

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A Hitch in Time

Available for pre-order now: a selection of Christopher Hitchens’s finest LRB reviews, diaries and essays (along with a smattering of ferocious letters). Anthologised for the first time, the collection finds the barnstorming, cauterising, and uncontainable Hitchens at his very best.

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