LRB Readings

Listen to LRB essays and reviews in full, either read by the author or produced by our audio partner, Audm.

21 April 2022 · 34mins

In the 19th century, some wars were acceptable to the British and French publics, but only if they could be justified by liberal rhetoric, took place far away, and did not cost much – something that technological superiority over non-Western peoples helped to ensure.

7 April 2022 · 20mins

That he was a werewolf seems to have been common knowledge and Thiess himself freely admitted it – in fact, he said, it wasn’t even the first time it had been mentioned in court. Ten years earlier, he had been questioned about his broken nose and had explained to the court that a neighbour had struck him with a broomstick while they were both in Hell.

The Fog of History: On Olga Tokarczuk

Fredric Jameson, 24 March 2022

24 March 2022 · 27mins

We have been approaching the figure of Jacob in a spirit of reverence, with hushed voices, as in church, as though he had a religious task or mission. What we have failed to understand is that the Messiah is come, not to fulfil the Law but to destroy it! Not to perfect it but rather to abolish it altogether.

Keep the baby safe: Corrupt and Deprave

Stephen Sedley, 10 March 2022

10 March 2022 · 21mins

Mervyn Griffith-Jones, who regularly advised the director of public prosecutions on possible obscenity cases, was once asked by a colleague how he decided what advice to give. ‘I don’t know anything about literary merit,’ he is reputed to have said. ‘I just read what the director sends me, and if I get an erection we prosecute.’ 

10 February 2022 · 23mins

Saint Boniface used a manuscript to shield himself when attacked by robbers; the slashes it suffered make it a relic of his martyrdom. Pages of many books are marred by dirty fingerprints, wine stains or, in one case, cat urine. An angry scribe in 1420 scrawled next to a smelly lacuna: ‘Confundatur pessimus cattus qui minxit super librum istum in nocte’ (‘a curse on the wicked cat that pissed on this book last night’).

In the Superstate: What is technopopulism?

Wolfgang Streeck, 27 January 2022

27 January 2022 · 34mins

For the new conservatism, crises arise from disorder, not from a wrong order, and their handling should be entrusted to technicians in command of special knowledge, whether scientific or magical, or both (they are hard to distinguish for the political consumer). Angela Merkel never claimed to be an economist, or a lawyer, or an expert in foreign policy or military strategy. She did, however, have herself described by her communications team, and sometimes described herself, as privy to knowledge of a special kind: that of a scientist trained to solve problems by analysing them from the desired outcome backwards.

6 January 2022 · 21mins

Ursula Kuczynski vowed to be better than her mother, an artist whose main talent was for self-regard. However, she found being a good parent harder than being a good communist, and when she had to choose between the two, she invariably chose communism.

Fetch the Chopping Knife: Murder on Bankside

Charles Nicholl, 4 November 2021

4 November 2021 · 31mins

The first true crime craze – the distant antecedent of our own docu-drama craze – proved to be an essentially Elizabethan phenomenon. I would place its high-water mark in the year 1599, when A Warning for Fair Women was staged at the Globe. Over at the Rose, a hundred yards away down Maiden Lane, three new murder plays were commissioned by the Lord Admiral’s Men.

23 September 2021 · 27mins

How can a libertarian be comfortable cosying up to sovereign wealth funds, the military-industrial establishment and the security state? One possible answer is that Peter Thiel is not a libertarian at all. The pretence is just a means of covering up his true business model, which is to rely on craven bureaucrats squandering taxpayers’ money on untested technologies. But the other possibility is that this is the essence of libertarianism.

United States of Amnesia

Eric Foner, 9 September 2021

9 September 2021 · 21mins

One might think it impossible to erase an event of this magnitude from historical memory. But Tulsa tried its best. Scott Ellsworth discovered that police reports and National Guard records had been systematically destroyed; other documents were removed from the state archives. News articles were cut out of surviving copies of local newspapers in the University of Tulsa library.

Pull off my head: What a Bear Wants

Patricia Lockwood, 12 August 2021

12 August 2021 · 36mins

Here is what it is: no force on earth will keep a writer’s preoccupations out of their fiction. You are not necessarily looking for them, but you find them every time. There you are in your octagon, holding a glass of whisky in one hand and working one foot into the fur of a bear, when the fire lights up the primal line.