Book clinic: which books could improve my ability to adapt to a changing environment?


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Our expert picks titles that explore both family and societal transitions, from Jonathan Franzen to Cormac McCarthy

Q: Which books could improve my ability to adapt to a changing environment both at home and in the wider world?
Anonymous, 55, rural Greece

A: Andrew Anthony, Observer journalist and critic, writes:
The environment is always changing, but perhaps never before at the rate of pace that we’re currently living through. Fiction is good at enabling a greater understanding of family and societal mechanics.

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The Border by Diarmaid Ferriter review – the bloody road to the backstop


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A timely history shows how confusion and dispute plagued the Irish border long before Brexit

Numbering 208, there are more border crossings between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland than there are between the European Union and the countries to its east, which amount to a mere 137. That troubled border in the north-east of the island of Ireland runs for 310 miles along the middle of 11 roads, meets in the middle of at least three bridges and dissects two ferry crossings.

These facts come from a joint report between the Republic’s Department of Transport and the Northern Ireland Department for Infrastructure and are to be found in the Irish historian Diarmaid Ferriter’s richly detailed The Border: The Legacy of a Century of Anglo-Irish Politics.

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Sam Harris, the new atheist with a spiritual side


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The neuroscientist, controversial podcaster – and longtime exponent of meditation – talks about his new app and why he is definitely not an Islamophobe

Back in the middle of the first decade of this century, a new movement was heralded by the publication of several books on the same subject. The main four authors were Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris. And the movement was called the New Atheism.

At the time, Harris, who was actually the first to publish, with his book The End of Faith, was unquestionably the junior partner. The others had global reputations in their fields – Dawkins in evolutionary biology, Hitchens in journalism and public speaking, and Dennett in philosophy and cognitive science. All Harris had was his book and a BA in philosophy. The four, who would become known as the Four Horsemen, got together in 2007 at ...

Mark Galeotti: ‘We should laugh at Russia more’


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The Russian politics expert on why the west misreads Putin, Trump’s election, the Skripals and why he loathes Game of Thrones

Mark Galeotti is an expert on Russian politics and crime. He is a Jean Monnet fellow at the European University Institute, a non-resident fellow at the Institute of International Relations Prague and senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London. He has published extensively on Russia. Galeotti’s latest book, We Need to Talk About Putin, argues that the Russian leader is widely misunderstood.

What is the biggest popular misconception about Vladimir Putin?
I think it is precisely that he runs everything. There is still this notion that he is some kind of James Bond super-villain. First, that’s just not the way the world is; also, he could be considered something of a lazy autocrat who sits back and lets others come up with all kinds ...

Surveillance Valley by Yasha Levine – review


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A righteous polemic depicting the likes of Amazon as part of a military conspiracy just doesn’t hold water

Yasha Levine, an American investigative reporter of Russian extraction, was born in the Soviet Union. His background is in a certain kind of fashionable radicalism, set on exposing liberal hypocrisy from an anticapitalist perspective. One of his previous books was entitled The Corruption of Malcolm Gladwell, which portrayed the celebrated New Yorker writer as a shill for big pharma and the tobacco industry.

His polemical method is to assemble all the supporting evidence he can find for his thesis and skirt round or dismiss anything that gets in its way. His latest book targets the tech industry, which, let’s face it, is a massive and deserving target. But he’s less concerned about surveillance capitalism per se than what he sees as a weaponised front in the west’s battle for hegemony and ...

Fintan O’Toole: ‘Brexit is full of hysterical self-pity’


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The Irish journalist talks about his new book, which skewers the myths of English nationalism, and finding comfort in Beckett

Fintan O’Toole is one of the most respected columnists and literary journalists working in the English language. He writes for the Irish Times and is a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books. His latest book, Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain, is an excoriating cultural analysis of the political ideas behind Brexit.

You argue that English nationalism is the ghost in the Brexit machine. Why do you think that is?
From the turn of the century onwards, you have this extraordinary rise of the idea of England as a political community [ie, a popular desire for England-only legislation voted on by English-only politicians]. All the public opinion surveys show this. It’s very odd and I can’t think of any other parallels where it happens ...

American Overdose by Chris McGreal; Heartland by Sarah Smarsh – review


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Books examining the US’s opioid crisis and its neglect of so-called ‘white trash’ reveal the extent of class prejudice in an increasingly divided country

Our enduring fascination with America is born of a mixture of vanity and self-interest. As we turn up our noses at its vulgarities – the Louis Theroux world of guns, religious fundamentalism, and the mountebank President Trump – we also defer to its political and popular cultural might.

It’s to America that academics and pundits look for news from the future. But it’s not the first place that jumps to mind when we think about the working class. That’s changed a bit in the Trump era, with many blue-collar voters rallying to his cause. But the conditions of the working poor are not widely understood or appreciated

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How to Be Right by James O’Brien review – dial M for the moral high ground


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LBC phone-in host James O’Brien wants to raise the level of public debate, but he can seem a bit of a show-off

Here’s a question. How often have you come away from listening to a radio phone-in feeling educationally enriched or intellectually stimulated? Here’s another: did you notice how loaded that question was?

The loaded question is the preferred mode of expression of the radio talk show. It’s a variation on the prosecutorial “When did you stop beating your wife?” of legal legend. And James O’Brien, the LBC presenter, is something of a master of the form. He’s forever asking questions aimed at uncovering a caller’s underlying prejudice, the better to put them right.

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Lindsey Hilsum: ‘I got to know Marie Colvin better in death than in life’


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The Channel 4 foreign correspondent talks about her new biography of the Sunday Times war reporter killed in Syria

Lindsey Hilsum is Channel 4’s international editor. She has covered many foreign conflicts, including Syria, Ukraine and the Arab spring. She was a friend of, and sometimes worked with, Marie Colvin, the Sunday Times foreign correspondent who was killed in Homs, Syria, in 2012. Hilsum’s new biography of Colvin is called In Extremis.

How difficult was it to write about a friend, especially one with a complicated private and professional life?
I suppose I felt compelled to do it, so in that sense it wasn’t difficult. After Marie was killed, I was grieving, but her ghost never went away. She had 300 notebooks and diaries, some of them ordinary notebooks that a journalist keeps, but then there were all these very intimate personal diaries. I would never have read Marie’s ...

The End by Karl Ove Knausgaard review – bolder if not wiser


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Concluding a monumental literary journey, the Norwegian author’s soul-searching comes full circle

And so seven years after its publication in Norway, the sixth and final part of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series finally reaches British bookshops. Why it’s taken this long is unclear, though the fact that the 1,168-page tome has an additional translator (Martin Aitken) alongside Don Bartlett, who worked on the previous five alone, may just have something to do with it.

In any case, the fittingly titled The End is worth the wait. Reimmersing myself in Knausgaard’s distinctive preoccupations, I wondered at first if I had lost the magnetic thread, that strange compulsion in the Norwegian’s sprawling prose that pulls the reader through epic sprees of navel-gazing. What more could he say about himself and his literary anxieties? With how many more cigarettes and cups of coffee could he fill his descriptions of quotidian life?

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Yuval Noah Harari: ‘The idea of free information is extremely dangerous’


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As his new book is published, the bestselling author talks fake news, meditation and appearing with Natalie Portman

• Read an extract from 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

Yuval Noah Harari is an Israeli historian who has written two bestsellers: Sapiens, which examined the course of early human history, and Homo Deus, which speculated on where we might be heading as a post-human species. His new book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, is an exploration of the difficulties that confront us at the present.

You are now a highly successful public intellectual. In what ways has international recognition changed you?
Well I have much less time. I find myself travelling around the world and going to conferences and giving interviews, basically repeating what I think I already know, and having less and less time to research new stuff. Just a few years ago I was ...

Summer by Karl Ove Knausgaard – review


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The last volume of the Norwegian author’s Seasons quartet will keep his fans occupied, if not entirely satisfied

It’s a slightly confusing situation for Karl Ove Knausgaard fans that while the sixth and final part of the My Struggle series has still to be published in English (due later this year), a whole different cycle – the Seasons quartet – has filled the intervening lull.

The fourth book of that quartet is Summer, which again mixes diary entries and a selection of personal encyclopaedia entries ostensibly addressed to his youngest daughter, along with a piece of fiction set during the second world war and based on a story his grandfather told him, which he drops tantalisingly into his writing almost like an actor suddenly changing character.

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Is rising inequality responsible for greater stress, anxiety and mental illness?


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That’s the claim made by the authors of The Inner Level, which furthers arguments first laid out in their 2009 work, The Spirit Level. They reveal the bleak truth about uneven societies

In 2009, when the world was still absorbing the shock of the previous year’s financial crisis, a book called The Spirit Level was published. Written by a couple of social epidemiologists, it argued that a whole raft of data conclusively showed that societies with greater inequality also had a range of more pronounced social problems, including higher rates of violence, murder, drug abuse, imprisonment, obesity and teenage pregnancies.

Given that naked profit motive had just taken the world to the brink of economic collapse, it was a good moment to take stock and reflect on where rising inequality was leading us. For the previous 30 years a broad consensus had operated in politics, particularly in the US and ...

Bullshit Jobs: A Theory review – laboured rant about the world of work


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David Graeber’s snarky study of the meaningless nature of modern employment adds little to our understanding of it

Five years ago, the LSE anthropologist David Graeber wrote an essay for a radical magazine called Strike!. Its title was On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs. It argued that by now we should, as the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted in 1930, be living in a world of a 15-hour working week. Technology was sufficiently advanced that most of the labour of Keynes’s day could be done by machines and the rest could be distributed across a large workforce, leaving greatly increased leisure time for all of us.

As you may have noticed, that isn’t how things have turned out. Instead, the working week remains stuck around the 40-hour mark and computer technology now means that work often extends into our free time. Why are we still filing into offices in our ...

Kudos by Rachel Cusk review – exquisite control


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With the final part in place, Cusk’s ‘Faye’ trilogy stands as a landmark of contemporary English literature

Outline, the first in what might be called Rachel Cusk’s “Faye” trilogy, was such a seamless union of form and ideas that it left this reader marvelling at its discreet charms and radical achievements. In the space of one perfectly weighted novel, Cusk’s measured self-effacement served to make so much literary fiction appear almost pestering in its attention-seeking.

Instead of brandishing an omniscient voice, her narrator – Faye, a middle-aged divorced writer – was astutely passive, emerging only as a kind of enigmatic reflection in the characters she met and the stories they eagerly told her. It was as if more conventional styles of narration had been suddenly exposed as dubious varieties of mansplaining.

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Kudos by Rachel Cusk review – exquisite control


This post is by Andrew Anthony from Books | The Guardian


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




With the final part in place, Cusk’s ‘Faye’ trilogy stands as a landmark of contemporary English literature

Outline, the first in what might be called Rachel Cusk’s “Faye” trilogy, was such a seamless union of form and ideas that it left this reader marvelling at its discreet charms and radical achievements. In the space of one perfectly weighted novel, Cusk’s measured self-effacement served to make so much literary fiction appear almost pestering in its attention-seeking.

Instead of brandishing an omniscient voice, her narrator – Faye, a middle-aged divorced writer – was astutely passive, emerging only as a kind of enigmatic reflection in the characters she met and the stories they eagerly told her. It was as if more conventional styles of narration had been suddenly exposed as dubious varieties of mansplaining.

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Political Tribes review – an unreliable guide to the American Dream


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Tiger mother Amy Chua is adept at spotting tribal behaviour, but less clear about what it all means

To most readers who recognise the name, Amy Chua is the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the bestselling memoir about bringing up children under a strictly traditional regime of Chinese parenting. The book seemed to repel and inspire in equal measure. But leaving aside its personal testimony, it was a work that dared to tread on disputed and dangerous terrain: the advantage of certain ethno-cultural traits.

It’s an issue that can be found to varying degrees in all five of Chua’s books, including her latest, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations. Chua, a professor of law at Yale Law School, believes that ethnic and tribal identity plays a more powerful role in national politics than has been previously acknowledged, at least by American foreign policy.

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Steven Pinker: ‘The way to deal with pollution is not to rail against consumption’


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The feather-ruffling Harvard psychologist’s new book, a defence of Enlightenment values, may be his most controversial yet

• Read an extract from Enlightenment Now here

Say the word “enlightenment” and it tends to conjure images of a certain kind of new-age spiritual “self-improvement”: meditation, candles, chakra lines. Add the definite article and a capital letter and the Enlightenment becomes something quite different: dead white men in wigs.

For many people, particularly in the west, reaching a state of mindful nirvana probably seems more relevant to their wellbeing than the writings of, say, Immanuel Kant and Adam Smith. But according to Enlightenment Now, a new book by the celebrated Harvard cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, this is precisely where we’re getting our priorities wrong.

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Adam Kay: ‘If I had kids I would put them off studying medicine’


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The comedian’s memoir about his gruelling years as a junior doctor has fired up public indignation over the NHS’s future. Even Jeremy Hunt has heard about it…

The morning I was due to interview Adam Kay I awoke with heavy flu symptoms and a painfully frozen neck and shoulder. I was in perspiring agony and, even before I got out of bed, utterly exhausted. But I thought: what would a junior doctor do? Of course, if he or she were suffering from flu, the correct answer would be: not go anywhere near a hospital. But that’s not the sense you get from Kay’s bestselling diary of his time as a doctor training in obstetrics and gynaecology – or, as it was referred to at his medical school, brats and twats.

In This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor, hospital doctors, and in particular the author, ...

Swearing Is Good for You by Emma Byrne; How to Swear by Stephen Wildish – review


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Two books on swearing explore the cathartic pleasures of the four-letter riposte

My earliest memory is of sitting on the pavement outside my childhood home while Tony Hilsden, the local juvenile delinquent, tutored me in the lexicon of profanity. “No, not ‘can’t’. It’s ‘cunt’.”

I was four years old and the reason it sticks in my mind is that my mother caught him doing it, sent him packing, and told me to forget everything I’d just learned. That, of course, became an impossibility the instant I realised its forbidden nature. So began my initiation into the social taboo of “bad” language.

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