LRB Readings

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

Why go high?

Adam Shatz, 19 November 2020

6 November 2020 · 16mins

Trump will cast a long shadow, especially overseas, where America’s image has suffered a calamitous blow. Every country is at times reduced to playing a crude caricature of itself, exhibiting its ugliest attributes. The question now is whether the US can move beyond its worst expression. We have a long way to go before America becomes, at last, what James Baldwin called ‘another country’.

They saw him coming: The Lockhart Plot

Neal Ascherson, 5 November 2020

5 November 2020 · 28mins

Secret emissaries promise that a certain army general will bring ten thousand soldiers across to you. Émigré ‘experts’ assure you that the peasantry of a certain province is itching to rise in arms as soon as you land and raise the rebel standard. How confident are you that any of this is true – or is it at best greedy con-men’s patter, at worst a trap?

Ah, how miserable! Three New Oresteias

Emily Wilson, 8 October 2020

8 October 2020 · 39mins

Misogynist tropes often involve present­ing women as interesting in precisely the ways that Aeschylus’ female characters are interesting: charming, articulate, danger­ous, deceitful, too clever by half, lustful, angry, violent, and consumed by excessive emotion.

Strange Apprentice

T.J. Clark, 8 October 2020

8 October 2020 · 58mins

The coming together of Cézanne and Pissarro – their common cause, their peaceful co­existence, their rivalry, their contrariety – is a mystery. For me it is the deepest mystery of the 19th century; and I cannot escape the feeling that if we could unravel it we would have in our hands the key to French painting, in much the same way as the relation of Plato to Socrates, for ex­ample, still seems the key to ‘philosophy’.

In America’s Blood

Deborah Friedell, 24 September 2020

24 September 2020 · 26mins

Twenty years ago, the National Rifle Association didn’t know what to do after a mass shooting. But it now has the protocol down: it’s had, after all, plenty of practice.

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.

How to Read Aloud

Irina Dumitrescu, 10 September 2020

10 September 2020 · 21mins

It is easy to overlook how loud pre­-modern education was. Most of our evidence for more than a thousand years of teaching consists of books, and, to the modern way of thinking, books are objects used silently. That this was not the usual way of doing things for much of Western history is now better known, though still difficult fully to understand.

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.