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Dmitri Levitin: The Islamic Enlightenment, 22 November 2018

The Republic of Arabic Letters: Islam and the European Enlightenment 
by Alexander Bevilacqua.
Harvard, 340 pp., £25.95, February 2018, 978 0 674 97592 7
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The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle between Faith and Reason 
by Christopher de Bellaigue.
Vintage, 404 pp., £10.99, February 2018, 978 0 09 957870 3
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... and political liberalisation. For some, this metanarrative is a cause for celebration (Steven Pinker, for example, in his recent book Enlightenment Now); others – religious opponents of secularisation (Alasdair MacIntyre), or Marxist critics of liberal modernity (Theodor Adorno) – are more condemnatory. The second conception is typically ...

Look Me in the Eye

Julian Bell: Art and the Brain, 8 October 2009

Splendours and Miseries of the Brain: Love, Creativity and the Quest for Human Happiness 
by Semir Zeki.
Wiley-Blackwell, 234 pp., £16.99, November 2008, 978 1 4051 8557 8
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Neuroarthistory: From Aristotle and Pliny to Baxandall and Zeki 
by John Onians.
Yale, 225 pp., £18.99, February 2008, 978 0 300 12677 8
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Echo Objects: The Cognitive Work of Images 
by Barbara Maria Stafford.
Chicago, 281 pp., £20.50, November 2008, 978 0 226 77052 9
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... Here was a clear-spoken, scrupulous expositor of science who, unlike some flippant Darwinians (Steven Pinker, for instance, who equates art with cheesecake and regards pornography as a mere ‘pleasure technology’), had an unequivocal reverence for high artistic achievement. Zeki’s account of the brain’s various visual areas, illustrated ...

Crops, Towns, Government

James C. Scott: Ancestor Worship, 21 November 2013

The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? 
by Jared Diamond.
Penguin, 498 pp., £8.99, September 2013, 978 0 14 102448 6
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... and larded his account with anecdotal evidence from informants, he reaches the same conclusion as Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature: we know, on the basis of certain contemporary hunter-gatherers, that our ancestors were violent and homicidal and that they have only recently (very recently in Pinker’s ...

Don’t like it? You don’t have to play

Wyatt Mason: David Foster Wallace, 18 November 2004

Oblivion: Stories 
by David Foster Wallace.
Abacus, 329 pp., £12, July 2004, 0 349 11810 8
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... lets self-appointed language authorities boss them around. Unmoved by the cavils of the likes of Steven Pinker, who claims that usage rules ‘survive by the same dynamic that perpetuates ritual genital mutilations’, Wallace is aghast at the state of American linguistic disfigurement. He is sympathetic to a friend’s remark that ‘listening to most ...

The Mask It Wears

Pankaj Mishra: The Wrong Human Rights, 21 June 2018

The People v. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It 
by Yascha Mounk.
Harvard, 400 pp., £21.95, March 2018, 978 0 674 97682 5
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Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World 
by Samuel Moyn.
Harvard, 277 pp., £21.95, April 2018, 978 0 674 73756 3
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... detestation of ‘social justice warriors’ unites figures as seemingly disparate as Mark Lilla, Steven Pinker, Elon Musk, Niall Ferguson and Jordan Peterson. Bernie Sanders’s insurgent campaign confirmed, however, that socialist ideals exist, beyond the experience of communist tyranny, as what John Stuart Mill called ‘one of the most valuable ...

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