LRB Readings

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

Magic Beans, Baby

David Runciman, 7 January 2021

7 January 2021 · 40mins

Like Jerry Seinfeld and LeBron James, Obama exemplifies what can be done by super-talented individuals in a winner-take-all world. He won and did indeed take it all, including the $65 million he and Michelle received in a package deal that has produced A Promised Land. More power to him. But his example is not a recipe for structural change. Quite the contrary.

Who Betrayed Us? The November Revolution

Neal Ascherson, 17 December 2020

17 December 2020 · 36mins

What would the history of Germany have been if the SPD leaders had let the revolution take its course? Perhaps a radical but generous and democratic socialism, Marxist but not Leninist or Stalinist in its treatment of dissent. Perhaps – but would such a socialist state have been able to resist the vengeance of those who had lost power?

Twenty Types of Human: Among the Neanderthals

John Lanchester, 17 December 2020

John Lanchester, read by the author

17 December 2020 · 34mins

That feeling of similar-but-not-quite is present all through the history of our engagement with the Neanderthals: when we look at them we are looking at a distorted reflection in a mirror. As with a mirror-gazer, we have a tendency to want everything to be about us. The reflection is fascinating, unsettling, and it’s not quite clear what we want it to tell us.

To Die One’s Own Death

Jacqueline Rose, 19 November 2020

19 November 2020 · 51mins

Freud is offering a philosophy of grief. He helps us understand why what is happening among us now can feel as much an internal as an external catastrophe. Death in a pandemic is no way to die.

Why go high?

Adam Shatz, 19 November 2020

6 November 2020 · 16mins

Trump will cast a long shadow, especially overseas, where America’s image has suffered a calamitous blow. Every country is at times reduced to playing a crude caricature of itself, exhibiting its ugliest attributes. The question now is whether the US can move beyond its worst expression. We have a long way to go before America becomes, at last, what James Baldwin called ‘another country’.

They saw him coming: The Lockhart Plot

Neal Ascherson, 5 November 2020

5 November 2020 · 28mins

Secret emissaries promise that a certain army general will bring ten thousand soldiers across to you. Émigré ‘experts’ assure you that the peasantry of a certain province is itching to rise in arms as soon as you land and raise the rebel standard. How confident are you that any of this is true – or is it at best greedy con-men’s patter, at worst a trap?

Ah, how miserable! Three New Oresteias

Emily Wilson, 8 October 2020

8 October 2020 · 39mins

Misogynist tropes often involve present­ing women as interesting in precisely the ways that Aeschylus’ female characters are interesting: charming, articulate, danger­ous, deceitful, too clever by half, lustful, angry, violent, and consumed by excessive emotion.

Strange Apprentice

T.J. Clark, 8 October 2020

8 October 2020 · 58mins

The coming together of Cézanne and Pissarro – their common cause, their peaceful co­existence, their rivalry, their contrariety – is a mystery. For me it is the deepest mystery of the 19th century; and I cannot escape the feeling that if we could unravel it we would have in our hands the key to French painting, in much the same way as the relation of Plato to Socrates, for ex­ample, still seems the key to ‘philosophy’.

In America’s Blood

Deborah Friedell, 24 September 2020

24 September 2020 · 26mins

Twenty years ago, the National Rifle Association didn’t know what to do after a mass shooting. But it now has the protocol down: it’s had, after all, plenty of practice.

I need money: Biden Tries Again

Christian Lorentzen, 10 September 2020

10 September 2020 · 34mins

Joe Biden seems to have got into politics simply because he could: for the fuck of it, not out of any ethical commitment or bracing ambition. Unlike most recent Democrat and Republican nominees for president he isn’t a meritocrat (Dukakis, the Clintons, Obama) or an aristocrat (the Bushes, Gore, Kerry), or the son of a powerful father (McCain, Romney, Trump). Not being an egghead is his biggest asset in the fight v. Trump.

How to Read Aloud

Irina Dumitrescu, 10 September 2020

10 September 2020 · 21mins

It is easy to overlook how loud pre­-modern education was. Most of our evidence for more than a thousand years of teaching consists of books, and, to the modern way of thinking, books are objects used silently. That this was not the usual way of doing things for much of Western history is now better known, though still difficult fully to understand.