LRB Readings

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

I need money: Biden Tries Again

Christian Lorentzen, 10 September 2020

10 September 2020 · 34mins

Joe Biden seems to have got into politics simply because he could: for the fuck of it, not out of any ethical commitment or bracing ambition. Unlike most recent Democrat and Republican nominees for president he isn’t a meritocrat (Dukakis, the Clintons, Obama) or an aristocrat (the Bushes, Gore, Kerry), or the son of a powerful father (McCain, Romney, Trump). Not being an egghead is his biggest asset in the fight v. Trump.

Keep him as a curiosity: Botanic Macaroni

Steven Shapin, 13 August 2020

13 August 2020 · 28mins

There was very often a scientific purpose to the collecting – it’s always good to find new species – but there is no missing the sheer delight Joseph Banks took in going about it. Banksian collecting involved tramping, climbing, shooting and fishing. He was a plant hunter as much as he was a collector.

30 July 2020 · 20mins

The East India Company’s relat­ions with the British state had always been ambivalent. Its increasing territorial and military pretensions after 1750 attracted growing attention and demands for closer supervision and regulation from British governments and MPs. It also aroused scorn and even disgust.

Whose century? After the Shock

Adam Tooze, 30 July 2020

30 July 2020 · 46mins

One has to wonder whether the advocates of a new Cold War have taken the measure of the challenge posed by 21st-century China. For Americans, part of the appeal of allusions to Cold War 2.0 is that they think they know how the first one ended. Yet our certainty on that point is precisely what the rise of China ought to put in question.

16 July 2020 · 19mins

The Succession fans and trolls who revere Machiavellian shrewdness mistake his cynicism for insensitivity to the world, when in fact it reflected precisely the opposite. His cynicism developed from an almost unbearable clarity of insight (it is true that, more often than not, he was disgusted with what he saw).

16 July 2020 · 23mins

Up a grubby set of stairs, ShangriLa was believed to exist, a perfect afternoon of vodkas in a happy land above the banality of everyday custom and talk. The Colony Room, 41a Dean Street, was actually a dump full of interesting maniacs tearing lumps out of one another. But the facts don’t cover it.

2 July 2020 · 25mins

The past decade should have taught governments to beware of hasty large-scale remodelling. But it seems only to have emboldened the Johnson apparat to go flat out for more of the same. It may still seem somewhat mysterious that the British government, with all the expertise available to it, should have proved so spectacularly cackhanded. If it is a mystery, it is not hard to solve.

2 July 2020 · 56mins

The true significance of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s election, and of Trump’s attack on the WHO and China, may be as markers of how radically the world has changed since the WHO was founded, and of the refusal of the nationalist Euro-American right to accept that change.

While Statues Sleep

Thomas Laqueur, 18 June 2020

18 June 2020 · 53mins

It is a task of a different order to redeem a history with the dead. If we are to learn from the Germans and produce a better narrative for the United States, then we need to be clear about who constituted the ‘we’ and about what we mean by paradigmatic ‘Americans’.

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.

Bournemouth: 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.