LRB Readings

Listen to LRB essays and reviews in full, either read by the author or produced by our audio partner, Audm.

United States of Amnesia

Eric Foner, 9 September 2021

9 September 2021 · 21mins

One might think it impossible to erase an event of this magnitude from historical memory. But Tulsa tried its best. Scott Ellsworth discovered that police reports and National Guard records had been systematically destroyed; other documents were removed from the state archives. News articles were cut out of surviving copies of local newspapers in the University of Tulsa library.

12 August 2021 · 25mins

Neither Trump nor the people around him were part of a sinister plot to subvert and ultimately take over the democratic institutions of the United States. They didn’t possess even the minimum competence for that. Trump’s presidency was a kind of vacuum of seriousness: the relationship between means and ends was practically non-existent.

Pull off my head: What a Bear Wants

Patricia Lockwood, 12 August 2021

12 August 2021 · 36mins

Here is what it is: no force on earth will keep a writer’s preoccupations out of their fiction. You are not necessarily looking for them, but you find them every time. There you are in your octagon, holding a glass of whisky in one hand and working one foot into the fur of a bear, when the fire lights up the primal line.

29 July 2021 · 15mins

And where is Katharina? At her trial, the prosecution argues that there are evils and evils: complicated, faraway evils, such as war, which no municipal ruling can fix, and local, finite evils, such as the malevolent acts of a witch, that can and should be dealt with. But context, especially in a novel, doesn’t work like that, and Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch is a superb study of context.

15 July 2021 · 1hr 23mins

It shouldn’t be more important that the North Sea wind farms get built than that some of their towers are made by low-paid labourers working twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week; and yet the immense utopian project to decarbonise human activity forges ahead, while the equally utopian project to end the setting of ‘low income country’ worker against ‘high income country’ worker barely exists.

Seven Centuries Too Late: Popes in Hell

Barbara Newman, 15 July 2021

15 July 2021 · 35mins

It would be a pusillanimous reader who could not respond to the appeal of a cosmos so complete in every detail, arrayed in such minute and magnificent order, and peopled with such wondrous creatures, from the sweet-faced, scorpion-tailed monster of fraud to the angels who fly like honeybees through the celestial rose. The divine, ordering principle of the whole is love, and in that Dante is thoroughly medieval.

1 July 2021 · 39mins

I am struck by her loneliness. She wanted to merge with the masses, to be anonymous and unobtrusive – a worker, a farmhand, a trade unionist, a soldier – one among many, working and fighting alongside others. Yet she found true solidarity hard to come by. Everywhere she went, she stood out. She was often the only woman; she was always different.

Winged Words: On Muhammad

Tariq Ali, 17 June 2021

17 June 2021 · 28mins

Muhammad never claimed to be anything other than a human being: he was a Messenger of God, not the son of Allah, and not in direct communication with him. The visions were mainly aural: the Prophet heard the voice of Gabriel, who dictated the Quran on behalf of Allah. In a largely illiterate world, in which storytelling was rife and memories strong, history was transmitted orally.

Ghosts in the Land

Adam Shatz, 3 June 2021

22 May 2021 · 18mins

The violence that broke out inside Israel was ugly, a chaotic mixture of pogroms and score-settling; it is a threat to the delicate fabric of Arab-Jewish relations that no politician in Israel can afford to ignore. But the violence grew out of conditions that Israel itself has created: the power and arrogance of the settler movement, and the alienation and rage of young Palestinian citizens who, like all Palestinians, simply want to be free.

6 May 2021 · 44mins

Boris Johnson’s japes are comparable in neutralising effect to the softening charm of Tony Blair. How can such a matey, blokey person, ‘someone you could have a pint with’, possess darker, colder qualities, be flawed not merely by an indifference to the truth, but an indifference to the wellbeing of other people, including his wives, lovers and closest colleagues?

At the House of Mr Frog: Puritanism

Malcolm Gaskill, 18 March 2021

18 March 2021 · 29mins

No one wants to be ‘puritanical’: better to be thought fun-loving, broadminded, easygoing, even (perhaps especially) if we’re not. Puritans hold a mirror to the anxious self-image of individuals and societies, reflecting both intolerance and a hatred of intolerance, a fear of corruption in perfection, of dystopia seeded in utopia. They have never been more useful.

4 March 2021 · 38mins

I would like to read a different biography of Sylvia Pankhurst, one that is less hagiographic but more humane. Surely it is possible to acknowledge this remarkable woman’s foresight, determination, convictions and courage without shying away, as Holmes does, from addressing how her culture and upbringing could drive her to assert authority through self-sacrifice, almost as if she believed that whoever suffers the most, wins.