LRB Readings

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

Julian Assange in Limbo

Patrick Cockburn, 18 June 2020

18 June 2020 · 17mins

Many of the secrets uncovered weren’t particularly significant or indeed very secret. In themselves they don’t explain the degree of rage WikiLeaks provoked in the US government and its allies. This was a response to Julian Assange’s assault on their monopoly control of sensitive state information, which they saw as an essential prop to their authority.

4 June 2020 · 28mins

Over the decades the princess and her lady in waiting became an effective double act. They made a striking couple: at nearly six foot tall, Anne Glenconner towered over Margaret’s 5'1''. Margaret was easily lost to view at large parties; Glenconner’s job was to find the next person on the list to be intro­duced and then sail with apparent seren­ity through the crowd, VIP in tow, hoping to spot the princess from above.

The Bournemouth Set

Andrew O’Hagan, 21 May 2020

21 May 2020 · 1hr 01min

‘Remember the pallid brute that lived in Skerryvore like a weevil in a biscuit,’ Stevenson wrote. Yet his three years there, the only period he spent in England, were the best years of his writing life, giving rise to a group of masterpieces as well as sever­al mysteries about his own life.

The Case for a Supreme Court

Stephen Sedley, 21 May 2020

21 May 2020 · 22mins

It isn’t wholly fanciful to envisage an aggressive Parliament determining that a judge who has stood up to the government on an issue of legal principle has failed to behave well, and using its majority in both houses to procure the judge’s dismissal. That, as Montesquieu said of a putative loss of the separation of powers, would be the end of everything.

You are a milksop

Ferdinand Mount, 7 May 2020

7 May 2020 · 33mins

When the fighting was finally over, one cannot escape the conviction that it was primarily Cromwell’s angry will that carried on the civil unsettlement through the Commonwealth and into the Protectorate, grimly seeking one resolution after another and every time frustrating the outcome himself. Where did it all come from? The clue is surely in the name.

Pointing the Finger: ‘The Plague’

Jacqueline Rose, 7 May 2020

7 May 2020 · 34mins

One of the things Camus’s novel conveys is that, at the very moment we appear to be taking the grimmest reality on board, we might also be deluding ourselves. Counting is at once a scientific endeavour and a form of magical thinking. It can be a way of bracing ourselves for and confronting an onslaught, and at the same time a doomed attempt at omnipotence.


Adam Tooze, 16 April 2020

4 April 2020 · 32mins

It isn’t a secret that China’s debt bubble, Europe’s divisions and America’s irrational political culture pose a challenge to the functioning of what we know as the world economy. What caused the panic last month was the realisation that Covid-19 has exposed all three weaknesses simultaneously. 

A nice girl like Simone

Joanna Biggs, 16 April 2020

4 April 2020 · 57mins

Twelve years after she published The Second Sex in 1949 she was still receiving letters from women who told her that it had ‘saved me’; psychiatrists, she heard, gave it to their patients. It was the book that brought her the most satisfaction; she was gratified that younger women now wrote as ‘the eye-that-looks, as subject, consciousness, freedom’. (Less pleased was Norman Mailer, whose first wife divorced him after reading it.)

Too early or too late?

David Runciman, 2 April 2020

21 March 2020 · 26mins

There is a difference between a politician deciding your fate and its being left to impersonal chance. But it isn’t a dif­ference that matters much when lives are on the line. When something has to be done – and something always has to be done, even if it’s nothing – then what mat­ters is what it leads to.

Secrets are like sex

Neal Ascherson, 2 April 2020

21 March 2020 · 19mins

Like sturgeons and swans in medieval England, public information began as royal property. Today, we understand more vividly than ever before that information is also a commodity: I have it, you don’t; if you want it, you must pay me for it; if you don’t, I will use your lack of it to control you. Against this, and very reluctantly, a public ‘right to know’ has been imported into the Anglo-British state in the form of the Freedom of Information Act. But it’s a newborn right still struggling to survive against a centuries-old tradition of government.

The BBC on the Rack

James Butler, 19 March 2020

7 March 2020 · 30mins

A post-broadcast era need not be a post-democratic one; an increasingly plural public sphere could be a resource as much as a threat. The BBC’s hegemony in Britain affords it opportunities to defend its own role and the role of public service broadcasting generally. It is a commonplace that it has many admirers but few friends. Now it is under naked attack by the government, it may find it has more than it thought.

The Word from Wuhan

Wang Xiuying, 5 March 2020

22 February 2020 · 20mins

People on the left call for a united front against the virus. Liberals are determined to hold the government to account for everything that has gone wrong. In the West, panda-huggers say no other government would be doing better under the circumstances; dragon-slayers are cheerleading for the end of communist rule, as they do every time there is trouble in China. Whatever happens, those arguments won’t change.

Fiction and the Age of Lies

Colin Burrow, 20 February 2020

Colin Burrow, read by the author

9 February 2020 · 1hr 08mins

Colin Burrow ranges from Homer to Ian McEwan in his search for the truth about the relationship between lies and fiction, in this LRB Winter Lecture.

In Quarantine

Erin Maglaque, 20 February 2020

9 February 2020 · 22mins

In​ the cold autumn of 1629, the plague came to Italy. It arrived with the German mercenaries (and their fleas) who marched through the Piedmont countryside. The epidemic raged through the north, only slowing when it reached the natural barrier of the Apennines. On the other side of the mountains, Florence braced itself.