LRB Readings

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

The BBC on the Rack

James Butler, 19 March 2020

7 March 2020 · 30mins

A post-broadcast era need not be a post-democratic one; an increasingly plural public sphere could be a resource as much as a threat. The BBC’s hegemony in Britain affords it opportunities to defend its own role and the role of public service broadcasting generally. It is a commonplace that it has many admirers but few friends. Now it is under naked attack by the government, it may find it has more than it thought.

The Word from Wuhan

Wang Xiuying, 5 March 2020

22 February 2020 · 20mins

People on the left call for a united front against the virus. Liberals are determined to hold the government to account for everything that has gone wrong. In the West, panda-huggers say no other government would be doing better under the circumstances; dragon-slayers are cheerleading for the end of communist rule, as they do every time there is trouble in China. Whatever happens, those arguments won’t change.

Fiction and the Age of Lies

Colin Burrow, 20 February 2020

Colin Burrow, read by the author

9 February 2020 · 1hr 08mins

Colin Burrow ranges from Homer to Ian McEwan in his search for the truth about the relationship between lies and fiction, in this LRB Winter Lecture.

In Quarantine

Erin Maglaque, 20 February 2020

9 February 2020 · 22mins

In​ the cold autumn of 1629, the plague came to Italy. It arrived with the German mercenaries (and their fleas) who marched through the Piedmont countryside. The epidemic raged through the north, only slowing when it reached the natural barrier of the Apennines. On the other side of the mountains, Florence braced itself.

Après Brexit

Ferdinand Mount, 20 February 2020

9 February 2020 · 33mins

So far, in the first few days of actual Brexit, the Johnson government has ganged up with the EU on the three hottest issues of the day. And there is plenty more to come.

Richard Holbrooke

Samuel Moyn, 6 February 2020

27 January 2020 · 23mins

Richard​ Holbrooke is the only American diplomat since the Vietnam War to have become a full-throttle celebrity, as likely to appear in the tabloids clutching a woman as putting forward a policy proposal in Foreign Affairs.

Autopsy of an Election

James Butler, 6 February 2020

27 January 2020 · 34mins

Despite abundant evidence from around the world, many people still find it hard to accept that flagrant lying is no longer a disqualification in public life, and that it might in fact be an attraction.

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler, 23 January 2020

13 January 2020 · 35mins

I get the sense that Jia Tolentino must feel overwhelming pity for ugly women, if she has ever met one.


Jenny Turner, 23 January 2020

13 January 2020 · 26mins

Who are these women who work as surrogates, where do they do it, and how and why? What does it mean for sex and gender, race and genetics, nations and borders, binary sexuation, the existence and structure of the family itself?


Emily Witt, 2 January 2020

22 December 2019 · 25mins

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

Thatcher Undone

David Runciman, 2 January 2020

22 December 2019 · 38mins

Her vision of Britain as a Singapore off the coast of Europe no longer has to be hidden. Some, indeed, hope it will soon become official government policy. Yet anyone who wants to see the coming Johnson administration as continuity Thatcherism should bear in mind that what is being channelled today is not Thatcher’s own record in office, but her views after she stepped down, which were different and much more uncompromising.

A Key to Brando

David Thomson, 25 November 2019

25 November 2019 · 26mins

It’s a regret that no one ever found a way to harness his wild comic impulse. He was taken so seriously. He became a Hollywood actor, without ever trusting that system, or forgiving it for his weakness in succumbing to its temptations.

After al-Baghdadi

Patrick Cockburn, 19 November 2019

19 November 2019 · 27mins

For much of this year, chaos seemed to be on the way out, as normal life gradually returned to former battle zones in both Syria and Iraq – unpropitious conditions for IS. But in October the situation changed.

The Party Paradox

Jonathan Parry, 19 November 2019

19 November 2019 · 31mins

It is the unheroic imperfection of the party system that makes it invaluable and normally invulnerable to anti­democratic demands for something purer and more disciplined.