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Greater Minds: Hilary Mantel on the life and project

Shortly before her death, Susan Sontag said ‘that somewhere along the line, one has to choose between the Life and the Project’. Hilary Mantel quoted her in the third of this year’s Reith lectures, while she was talking about the

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Posted in Greater minds, Wednesday Pontification

Greater Minds: Hilary Mantel on adapting the past

The Reith Lectures are an annual pleasure from the BBC to the world. Every year, a prominent speaker gives a series of lectures on a subject close to their heart, followed by questions from an audience that usually includes some

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Posted in Greater minds, Wednesday Pontification

Non-fiction Review: The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf

Long before I knew who he was, Alexander von Humboldt had exercised a major influence over me. I first encountered his name in an undergraduate oceanography lecture, when I learned about the Humboldt current that flows northward along the Pacific

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Posted in Book review: non-fiction, Wednesday Pontification

Inspirations: Living in a nuclear-armed world

There have been many false alarms that could have led to nuclear retaliation. A chance of large-scale disarmament was missed in the mid-1990s, when US-Russia relations were good. Former US Defence Secretary William J Perry thinks nuclear catastrophe is likelier

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Posted in Inspirations, Wednesday Pontification

Inspirations: The gendered war on coffee

In 1674, a ‘women’s petition’ denounced the craze for coffee in England. It claimed that it lured Englishmen away from ale and rendered them impotent and effeminate. The men’s response declared that Englishmen were so virile that they all had

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Posted in Inspirations, Wednesday Pontification

Non-fiction Review: The Pigeon Tunnel by John Le Carré

I discovered John Le Carré in Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market. I picked out a battered paperback Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy from a tiny used book stall. It looked as though it had been round Southeast Asia in a few backpacks, but

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Posted in Book review: non-fiction, Wednesday Pontification

Inspirations: Apocalypse at the touch of a button

Shuntaro Hida has been an anti-nuclear advocate since seeing Hiroshima destroyed. Modern nuclear weapons are orders of magnitude more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. Carl Sagan, Richard Turco and colleagues described nuclear winter in 1983. A small percentage of the

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Posted in Inspirations, Wednesday Pontification

Non-fiction Review: Wikileaks by David Leigh and Luke Harding

If his commanding officers had listened to Specialist Bradley Manning (as he still was at the time Wikileaks was published), it would never have happened. When he first arrived at Contingency Operating Station Hammer in Iraq, he reported the poor

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Posted in Book review: non-fiction, Wednesday Pontification

Non-fiction Review: The Snowden Files by Luke Harding

This book should be subtitled The Paranoia Manual. But is it paranoia if they really are listening to every word? As you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t reasonably familiar with the internet superstate, you’ll already have heard of

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Posted in Book review: non-fiction, Wednesday Pontification

Inspirations: Can we bomb our readers into euphoria?

We use horror and suspense in fiction because people love to be afraid. JT MacCurdy described psychological responses to being bombed during World War Two. ‘Near misses’ were emotionally devastating, but ‘remote misses’ made people feel invincible. Does reading or

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Posted in Inspirations, Wednesday Pontification, Writing
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