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It’s the Oil

Jim Holt: Iraq’s Lucrative Mess, 18 October 2007

... Iraq is ‘unwinnable’, a ‘quagmire’, a ‘fiasco’: so goes the received opinion. But there is good reason to think that, from the Bush-Cheney perspective, it is none of these things. Indeed, the US may be ‘stuck’ precisely where Bush et al want it to be, which is why there is no ‘exit strategy’. Iraq has 115 billion barrels of known oil reserves ...

Mathematics on Ice

Jim Holt: Infinities without End, 27 August 2009

Naming Infinity: A True Story of Religious Mysticism and Mathematical Creativity 
by Loren Graham and Jean-Michel Kantor.
Harvard, 256 pp., £19.95, April 2009, 978 0 674 03293 4
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... A surprising number of mathematicians, even quite prominent ones, believe in a realm of perfect mathematical entities hovering over the empirical world – a sort of Platonic heaven. Alain Connes of the Collège de France once declared that ‘there exists, independently of the human mind, a raw and immutable mathematical reality,’ one that is ‘far more permanent than the physical reality that surrounds us ...

Smarter, Happier, More Productive

Jim Holt: ‘The Shallows’, 3 March 2011

The Shallows: How the Internet Is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember 
by Nicholas Carr.
Atlantic, 276 pp., £17.99, September 2010, 978 1 84887 225 7
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... I don’t own a computer, have no idea how to work one,’ Woody Allen told an interviewer recently. Most of us have come to find computers indispensable, but he manages to have a productive life without one. Are those of us with computers really better off? There are two ways that computers might add to our wellbeing. First, they could do so indirectly, by increasing our ability to produce other goods and services ...

Thinking about Death

Michael Wood: Why does the world exist?, 21 March 2013

Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story 
by Jim Holt.
Profile, 307 pp., £12.99, June 2012, 978 1 84668 244 5
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... The proof helps us still less with Stephen Hawking’s question, adduced on the first pages of Jim Holt’s book: ‘Why does the universe go through all the bother of existing?’ Mattering and bothering are important issues in Holt’s quest, but they tend to be treated as entailments and sidebars, marginalia to ...

Short Cuts

Jeremy Harding: Embedded in Iraq, 29 November 2007

... a desperate folly became an exercise in losing the war while looking to secure the resources (see Jim Holt in the London Review, 18 October). Oil is not a visible part of the story for reporters faced with the daily round of bombings and shootings, though Anne Garrels of National Public Radio says about the post-invasion looting: ‘people … will ...

Frameworks of Comparison

Benedict Anderson, 21 January 2016

... in Javanese Culture’, published in 1972 in Culture and Politics in Indonesia, edited by Claire Holt. The essay had an unlikely origin. One day, as I was sitting in my office with the door open, two senior professors walked by, chatting loudly on their way to lunch. The man doing most of the talking was Allan Bloom, who much later published a bestseller ...


Clive James, 21 October 1982

... While thinking its top man the living end. Scargill and Benn say let’s break Tebbit’s law. Jim Callaghan less bluntly says that too. Israel and Syria might go to war. The boggled mind wonders what else is new. In Berne the Polish Embassy’s front door Is opened while some breakfast is pushed through: The terrorists are hauled out bearing traces Of the ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 2012, 3 January 2013

... is an achievement in itself. We go on through the rooms, talking to all sorts of people – Jim Naughtie, Nigel Slater and David Hare, who claims that the best conjunction he’s seen so far is George Steiner talking to Joan Collins.Come away at eight o’clock with HMQ still at it, and the policemen in the forecourt very jolly and eating ice cream.1 ...

Festival of Punishment

Thomas Laqueur: On Death Row, 5 October 2000

Proximity to Death 
by William McFeely.
Norton, 206 pp., £17.95, January 2000, 0 393 04819 5
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Death Row: The Encyclopedia of Capital Punishment 
edited by Bonnie Bobit.
Bobit, 311 pp., $24.95, September 1999, 0 9624857 6 4
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... 1890s as the terror component of the broad legal, economic and social process through which the Jim Crow regime of unquestioned white supremacy established itself in the South. There were at least 1540 of them, about one every other day for ten years. There were, in fact, more lynchings than there were authorised executions by all jurisdictions in the ...

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