The Unpredictable Cactus: Mescaline

Emily Witt, 2 January 2020

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

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Throw your testicles: Medieval Bestiaries

Tom Shippey, 19 December 2019

One can’t help wondering where the notion of the bonnacon came from. Surely no one in medieval Europe could have encountered a skunk?

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Diary: California Burns

Meehan Crist, 21 November 2019

As we glide along the path of our own destruction, this is how we normalise it – one tweet at a time.

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Diary: Bearness

David Trotter, 7 November 2019

Bears, we have been led to believe, are super-cuddly – right up until the moment when they rip your throat out.’

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Flight to the Forest: Bruno Manser Vanishes

Richard Lloyd Parry, 24 October 2019

Manser, intriguingly described as a ‘Swiss cowherd’, spent years in Sarawak living among the Penan, one of the last populations of genuine nomads in the world. For six years, he wore a loincloth,...

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Consider the Hedgehog

Katherine Rundell, 24 October 2019

The Ebers Papyrus, dating from around 1550 bce, suggested that an amulet in the shape of a hedgehog would stop hair thinning. Its skin and spines have been thought to help with toothache, kidney stones,...

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Was Plato too fat? The Stuff of Life

Rosemary Hill, 10 October 2019

My friend Katy​ used to be fat: not medically obese, but what our mothers would have called ‘pleasantly plump’ with a wink and a remark to the effect that ‘men like something...

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Short Cuts: The Amazon Burning

Benjamin Kunkel, 12 September 2019

He​ who laughs hasn’t heard the news, Brecht wrote, probably in 1939. Eighty years later, the words could serve as the motto of the eco-tourist, to be pronounced in sardonic tones of...

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In 1824, a Scottish merchant was sailing down the Mekong when he saw a ‘two-headed Hydra-like creature’ climbing into a dinghy. He had been on the lookout for new ways to make money in Siam;...

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Consider the Swift

Katherine Rundell, 15 August 2019

A common swift​, in its lifetime, flies about two million kilometres; enough to fly to the moon and back twice over, and then once more to the moon. Weighing less than a hen’s egg,...

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The Most Beautiful Icicle: Apollo 11

Inigo Thomas, 15 August 2019

In​ Neil Armstrong’s photograph of Buzz Aldrin standing on the moon, taken with a camera strapped to his chest, Aldrin stands at ease, his right arm hanging loosely at his side, the left...

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All the News Is Bad: Our Alien Planet

Francis Gooding, 1 August 2019

‘We have already exited the state of environmental conditions that allowed the human animal to evolve in the first place,’ David Wallace-Wells writes, ‘in an unsure and unplanned bet...

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As​ a young researcher applying for a US visa to go to a conference in the mid-1960s, I presented myself at the fortress-like embassy in Grosvenor Square and ticked the boxes affirming that I...

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As we grind up against the absolute limits of humanity’s use and misuse of our environment, it’s tempting to look to Silent Spring and ask why it had such a profound impact.

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Consider the Golden Mole

Katherine Rundell, 18 April 2019

The word​ iridescent comes from the Greek for ‘rainbow’, iris, and the Latin suffix, escent, ‘having a tendency towards’. Iridescence turns up in many insects,...

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There are​ 290 species of pigeon in the world, but only one has adapted to live in cities. Feral pigeons are synanthropes: they thrive in human environments where they can skim a living off our...

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On 21 December​ 1859 John Tyndall, a professor of natural philosophy at the Royal Institution, set out to measure the structure and movements of the Mer de Glace, a glacier above Chamonix. In...

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Nice Thoughts: Beaks and Talons

Francis Gooding, 21 February 2019

If​ you are at all familiar with bird guides, examining a first edition of The Ornithology of Francis Willughby is a strange experience. Despite its great age and large size, the many defunct...

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