All hail the microbe: Things Pile Up

Lavinia Greenlaw, 18 June 2020

As a concept, ‘future fossils’ seems a bit reductive, too slickly oppositional, when put to work in such open terrain. What we’re really talking about is stuff. From plastic teaspoons...

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Drain the Swamps

Steven Shapin, 4 June 2020

It​ starts 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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Not in Spanish: Bilingualism

Michael Hofmann, 21 May 2020

The author is obviously in love with his subject, taking it everywhere with him, seeing it wherever he goes. ‘Most of the people I know are bilingual’ is his delightful shrug.

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Consider the Greenland Shark

Katherine Rundell, 7 May 2020

I am glad not to be a Greenland shark; I don’t have enough thoughts to fill five hundred years. But I find the very idea of them hopeful. They will see us pass through our current spinning apocalypse,...

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The government is now keen to claim it was never prepared to tolerate high levels of infection in order to achieve herd immunity, but while it was defending the mitigation strategy it was prepared to argue...

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Short Cuts: Internet Speak

Lauren Oyler, 7 May 2020

The tone of my correspondence veers from ebullient to combative to conspiratorial to semi-ironically frustrated, outraged, mournful. A message that follows spelling and grammar conventions is rare; it’s...

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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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Quaresima: 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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Hell Pigs: Before there was Europe

Francis Gooding, 2 January 2020

Sixty-five million years ago, after an asteroid struck the Earth, Europe’s little dinosaurs were obliterated along with all the others – all the others that weren’t birds, anyway –...

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The Unpredictable Cactus: 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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Throw your testicles: Medieval Bestiaries

Tom Shippey, 19 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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Flight to the Forest: 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

The Ebers Papyrus, dating from around 1550 bce, suggested that an amulet in the shape of a hedgehog would stop hair thinning. Its skin and spines have been thought to help with toothache, kidney stones,...

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