Science & Technology

This shot from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows a maelstrom of glowing gas and dark dust within one of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC).

Interstellar Visitors

Chris Lintott

3 June 2021

Perhaps, as Cixin Liu’s science fiction trilogy The Three-Body Problem suggests, revealing your presence to a hostile cosmos results in your inevitable destruction, so sending messages into space may be something no sensible civilisation would do. If so, we may come to regret the 2008 advert for Doritos transmitted by one of the most powerful radar systems on the planet towards a star in the constellation of Ursa Major.

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Mushroom Brain

Francis Gooding

20 May 2021

Fungal mycelium is very good at finding the most economical route between points of interest. The mycologist Lynne Boddy once made a scale model of Britain out of soil, placing blocks of fungus-colonised . . .

When was Hippocrates?

James Romm

22 April 2021

The doctor​ who first urged his colleagues to ‘do no harm’, and also instructed them, less memorably, to ‘observe all concretions of excreta’, was a pioneering Greek practitioner . . .

What is a brain?

Rivka Galchen

22 April 2021

We are nearing the point of really understanding the nervous system of the stomach of a crustacean – but we aren’t there yet. At the same time, technologies exist that allow paralysed patients . . .

Consider the Stork

Katherine Rundell

1 April 2021

It was wartime​, and propaganda fell from the sky like dishonest rain. Nazi planes dropped leaflets over British lines in Europe telling them that their wives were in bed with American soldiers . . .

The Sucker, the Sucker! What’s it like to be an octopus?

Amia Srinivasan, 7 September 2017

Their intelligence is like ours, and utterly unlike ours. Octopuses are the closest we can come, on earth, to knowing what it might be like to encounter intelligent aliens.

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You Are the Product: It Zucks!

John Lanchester, 17 August 2017

I am scared of Facebook. The company’s ambition, its ruthlessness, and its lack of a moral compass scare me.

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In Hyperspace

Fredric Jameson, 10 September 2015

Science fiction is not the only mass-cultural genre (or subgenre) whose relationship to ‘high literature’ and to modernism in particular presents problems.

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Ghosting: Julian Assange

Andrew O’Hagan, 6 March 2014

It was exciting to think that no novel had ever captured this new kind of history, where military lies on a global scale were revealed by a bunch of sleepy amateurs two foot from an Aga.

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Diary: After the Oil Spill

Rebecca Solnit, 5 August 2010

New Orleans’s Saint Charles Avenue is lined with oak trees whose broad branches drip Spanish moss and Mardi Gras beads from the pre-Lenten parades, and behind the oaks are beautiful old...

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Why does it take so long to mend an escalator?

Peter Campbell, 7 March 2002

The descent to the tunnels through which the deep lines run is a tax on the spirit that is paid willingly because it makes it easier to live in an old, tight-packed city. But when the system fails it is strongly resented.

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What’s left of Henrietta Lacks? HeLa

Anne Enright, 13 April 2000

I don’t know where I heard of her first: a woman whose cells are bred in culture dishes in labs all over the world; a woman whose cells were so prolific that there is more of her now, in...

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On the Darwinian View of Progress

Amartya Sen, 5 November 1992

It is now a century and a third, almost exactly, since the publication in 1859 of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. In this period the view of evolutionary progress introduced by Darwin...

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The man who mistook his wife for a hat

Oliver Sacks, 19 May 1983

The scientific study of the relationship between brain and mind began in 1861, when Broca, in France, found that specific difficulties in the expressive use of speech (aphasia) consistently...

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Cookies, Pixels and Fingerprints

Donald MacKenzie, 1 April 2021

There is something unsettling – especially in the midst of a pandemic that has forced so much of commerce and everyday life to move online – about being brought face to face with the extent...

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Your hat sucks: UbuWeb

Gill Partington, 1 April 2021

Perhaps the internet doesn’t so much reboot the avant-garde as make the whole concept obsolete: it has its own home-grown provocateurs in the form of trolls and shitposters and arguably its own culture,...

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Where are the space arks? Space Forces

Tom Stevenson, 4 March 2021

Where are the space arks in orbit? The exploration of exoplanets in the circumstellar habitable zone? Satellite wars over the tiny layer of space immediately above the atmosphere are evidence of a fear...

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Eeek!

Rupert Beale, 4 March 2021

What might the end of the pandemic look like? There are two main possibilities. The first, and most likely, is that Sars-CoV-2 becomes an endemic coronavirus that gives rise to large numbers of infections...

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Human Origami: Four-Dimensional Hinton

Adam Mars-Jones, 4 March 2021

In Hinton the non-appearance of a transcendent perspective does the book the great service of going against teleology, the sense of moving towards a predestined end that makes most historical novels so...

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The Ramsey Effect

Kieran Setiya, 18 February 2021

Picture,​ if you can, a single person with the talents of Keats, Schubert and Seurat: an inspired poet, a prodigious composer, a revolutionary painter, a figure of unlimited promise who died, like...

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In the late 1950s, the CIA’s schemes included using an aerosol to lace the air with LSD in the Havana studio where Fidel Castro made his radio broadcasts, sprinkl­ing Castro’s boots...

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A Pox on the Poor: The First Vaccine

Steven Shapin, 4 February 2021

Long before there was a science called immunology, the barrier between bodily self and non-­self was culturally electrified. Cowpox came from cattle, and vaccination was the introduction to your body...

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The Head in the Shed: Reading Bones

Gavin Francis, 21 January 2021

When the police bring Sue Black a bag of bones and ask what she makes of them she starts out with four questions: Are they human? Are they of forensic interest? Who was this person? Do they tell us anything...

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A com­puter can play chess to superhuman levels and yet have no concept of what chess is, what place chess has in the world, or even that there is a world. Does this mean that its behaviour isn’t...

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The violence and ecological collapse of the Anthropocene isn’t a wrong turn, a death spiral by which we have doomed life on Earth, but part of the evolution of Gaia. The next evolutionary stage awaits....

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Twenty Types of Human: Among the Neanderthals

John Lanchester, 17 December 2020

That feeling of similar-but-not-quite is present all through the history of our engagement with the Neanderthals: when we look at them we are looking at a distorted reflection in a mirror. As with a mirror-gazer,...

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Get the jab!

Rupert Beale, 17 December 2020

Until the vaccines arrive – like the cavalry, if you want – it makes sense to be extremely cautious and to suppress transmission of the virus as much as reasonably possible. More stringent...

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Blips on the Screen: Risk-Free Assassinations

Andrew Cockburn, 3 December 2020

The record of this year’s wars shows that although these weapons may not provide a decisive edge in combat they excel in self-advertisement, projecting an image of all-seeing omnipotence. Drones...

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Consider the Giraffe

Katherine Rundell, 19 November 2020

The world is a wild and unlikely place: the giraffe, stranger than the griffin, taller than a tall house, does us the incomparable gift of being proof of it.

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Flour Fixated

Bee Wilson, 24 September 2020

‘Wheat is in everything!’ a friend of mine exclaimed with fury after being diagnosed with coeliac disease. To those of us who live far from the land, wheat seems a changeless and universal...

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In the Lab

Rupert Beale, 13 August 2020

A substantially reduced chance of death for patients in intensive care is good news of a sort, but isn’t going to make the world normal again. You will still avoid hugging and kissing your nearest...

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Consider the Hare

Katherine Rundell, 2 July 2020

‘The cat of the wood,’ Heaney calls them. ‘The stag of the cabbages.’ If there is magic in this world, some part of it lies with them. So if you are reading this, my love, I don’t...

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