LRB Readings

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

What’s the difference? Sex in the Brain

Arianne Shahvisi, 8 September 2022

8 September 2022 · 22mins

Being sceptical of sex differences doesn’t detract from the fact that brains are diverse along many other axes, and can relate to their bodies in ways that chafe against the world’s expectations. Maybe it’s nature, maybe it’s nurture; probably there will never be a useful way of cleaving one from the other.

18 August 2022 · 23mins

Between the Scylla of mass commercial culture (in which everyone is given only ‘as much art as his system can tolerate’) and the Charybdis of the modernist fathers, there was nothing to do, he said, but accept a ‘paler, weaker’ belatedness. ‘Minor is as minor does.’

We blitzed it: Inhabiting the Oil World

Laleh Khalili, 4 August 2022

4 August 2022 · 52mins

Geopolitics is never untethered from political struggles and the world’s prime mover isn’t located somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, even if so much malignant power has emanated from Europe and North America. Oil, money and democracy aren’t always about the calculations of a few powerful governments.

21 July 2022 · 22mins

In 1852 California introduced its first anti-Chinese law, a tax on foreign miners that targeted Chinese migrants in particular. In order to work, foreigners had to pay three dollars a month; before long, these fees provided up to a quarter of state revenues. As the mines were slowly exhausted, big capital took over the industry, and, in the wake of the Civil War, the Californian economy went into recession. White workers ‘found in the Chinese Question a racial scapegoat and a racial theory ready at hand’.

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.