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Beach at Cape May by Alfred Jacob Miller, with red overlay

Drain the Swamps

Steven Shapin

4 June 2020

Itstarts with bone-shivering chills, which give way to a high fever. The attacks last between six and twelve hours, and end in profuse sweating. When the chills and fever subside, they leave...

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Bilingualism

Michael Hofmann

21 May 2020

This​ is the first and only book on bilingualism I have read, but before coming to that there are two other things worthy of mention.* The first is the author’s biographical note. Albert Costa . . .

Susceptible, Infectious, Recovered

Paul Taylor

7 May 2020

The argument between mitigation and suppression now seems to have been settled in favour of the latter. But when the lockdown ends, a calculation will still have to be made about the relative merits of . . .

Consider the Greenland Shark

Katherine Rundell

7 May 2020

In​ 1606 a devastating pestilence swept through London; the dying were boarded up in their homes with their families, and a decree went out that the theatres, the bear-baiting yards and the brothels . . .

Internet Speak

Lauren Oyler

7 May 2020

Every day​ I write to friends, acquaintances, colleagues and strangers using most or all the following media: Gmail, Google Hangouts, Twitter, Instagram, iMessage and WhatsApp. A message sent through . . .

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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It Zucks!

John Lanchester, 16 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, 9 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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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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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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Short Cuts: Built from Light

Daniel Soar, 16 April 2020

The virtual part of virtual reality has been with us for ever – or at least since the 1790s, when Wordsworth complained that the crowds were too easily pleased by the room-sized illusions...

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The Arrestables

Jeremy Harding, 16 April 2020

Extinction Rebellion has come under fire for suggesting, as Roger Hallam has, that prison isn’t such a bad experience. Eda Seyhan, a lawyer and civil liberties campaigner, delivered a blistering...

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Indefinite Lent

Thomas Jones, 2 April 2020

The belief that ‘it won’t be like that here’ is strong: it was strong in Italy – it was strong in me – when the disease was concentrated in China. When I talk to friends and...

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Short Cuts: Wash Your Hands

Rupert Beale, 19 March 2020

Humanity will get through this fine, but be prepared for major changes in how we function and behave as a society.

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Consider the Hermit Crab

Katherine Rundell, 6 February 2020

They are not, in fact, hermitical: they’re sociable, often climbing on top of one another to sleep in great piles, and their group behaviour is so intricately ordered that they make the politics...

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Mescaline

Emily Witt, 2 January 2020

‘No mind-altering substance has been described more thoroughly and from such a variety of perspectives,’ Mike Jay writes in his new history, Mescaline.

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Before there was Europe

Francis Gooding, 2 January 2020

The dwarf elephant of Cyprus was only a metre high at the shoulder; the island was also home to a tiny, sheep-sized hippo. Minorca, meanwhile, had a giant rabbit as big as a medium-sized dog.

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Medieval Bestiaries

Tom Shippey, 9 December 2019

One can’t help wondering where the notion of the bonnacon came from. Surely no one in medieval Europe could have encountered a skunk?

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Diary: California Burns

Meehan Crist, 21 November 2019

As we glide along the path of our own destruction, this is how we normalise it – one tweet at a time.

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Diary: Bearness

David Trotter, 7 November 2019

Bears, we have been led to believe, are super-cuddly – right up until the moment when they rip your throat out.’

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Bruno Manser Vanishes

Richard Lloyd Parry, 24 October 2019

Manser, intriguingly described as a ‘Swiss cowherd’, spent years in Sarawak living among the Penan, one of the last populations of genuine nomads in the world. For six years, he wore a loincloth,...

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Consider the Hedgehog

Katherine Rundell, 24 October 2019

Pliny the Elder​ was not an easy man. He reprimanded his nephew, Pliny the Younger, for walking instead of letting himself be carried, thereby wasting hours when he could have been reading. But...

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The Stuff of Life

Rosemary Hill, 10 October 2019

My friend Katy​ used to be fat: not medically obese, but what our mothers would have called ‘pleasantly plump’ with a wink and a remark to the effect that ‘men like something...

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Short Cuts: The Amazon Burning

Benjamin Kunkel, 12 September 2019

He​ who laughs hasn’t heard the news, Brecht wrote, probably in 1939. Eighty years later, the words could serve as the motto of the eco-tourist, to be pronounced in sardonic tones of...

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The original Siamese twins

Lynne Vallone, 12 September 2019

In 1824, a Scottish merchant was sailing down the Mekong when he saw a ‘two-headed Hydra-like creature’ climbing into a dinghy. He had been on the lookout for new ways to make money in Siam;...

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Consider the Swift

Katherine Rundell, 15 August 2019

A common swift​, in its lifetime, flies about two million kilometres; enough to fly to the moon and back twice over, and then once more to the moon. Weighing less than a hen’s egg,...

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Apollo 11

Inigo Thomas, 15 August 2019

In​ Neil Armstrong’s photograph of Buzz Aldrin standing on the moon, taken with a camera strapped to his chest, Aldrin stands at ease, his right arm hanging loosely at his side, the left...

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Our Alien Planet

Francis Gooding, 1 August 2019

‘We have already exited the state of environmental conditions that allowed the human animal to evolve in the first place,’ David Wallace-Wells writes, ‘in an unsure and unplanned bet...

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