The Dictator & the Bean Counters

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the military coup in Chile that brought down Salvador Allende’s left-wing government and ushered in its replacement by a junta led by General Augusto Pinochet. The junta remained in power for almost seventeen years, during which time its economic advisers, collectively known as the ‘Chicago Boys’ because of […]

Nasty, Brutish, and Now

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Readers who are anxious that the contents should match what is written on the tin will have much to complain about with John Gray’s new book. Little of it is literally about ‘new Leviathans’, the name Gray gives to modern states. Nor is it obviously full of thoughts that could only be had ‘after liberalism’. […]

Cyborgs Old & New

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Artificial intelligence, it is commonly acknowledged, will pose one of the gravest challenges to humanity in the coming years. In the minds of some, it is already the most urgent problem we face. While there are a number of possible dangers that might bring about the extinction of our species, AI confronts us with a particularly dire situation, because it may well be that we have only a brief amount of time – perhaps a generation

Gold, Frankincense & Mozzarella

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

If you were an important ruler, what gifts would you deem acceptable? A planetarium? Fifty blocks of cheese? A rhinoceros? A speck of moon rock? A whacking great scoop of diamonds? A fragment of the True Cross? I know what I’d like: a really good dinner service. The Duke of Wellington got four, three in […]

Brawls & Brexit

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Most political figures come and go. Nigel Farage, in contrast, seems always to be around, close to the centre of the political stage. Sometimes he is leading a political party. Occasionally he is setting up a new one. Between such roles he is on television. Currently, the former leader of UKIP and the Brexit Party hosts a nightly show on GB News. The consequences of Farage’s ubiquity have been seismic, reshaping the UK and the wider political landscape. He sought a referendum on Britain’s membership

The Constitution and Where to Find It

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The cure for admiring the British constitution (as Walter Bagehot once said of the House of Lords) is to go and look at it. That is no easy task, since a skilled guide is needed even to identify, let alone comprehend, the ever-changing tangle of statutes, judgments, nostrums and conventions of which it is comprised. […]

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Whither the Eurozone?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Helen Thompson appears quite frequently in the public prints, notably the New Statesman, and co-presents the Talking Politics podcast, where she comments sensibly and objectively on the passing scene. By which I mean, of course, that I tend to agree with her. Her day job is at Cambridge, where she is a professor of political […]

From Generation We to Generation Me

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Here are two books by social scientists who have very different views of the world but share a certain optimism and a belief that humanity can do better when we emerge from the pandemic. Of the two, Mariana Mazzucato’s Mission Economy is likely to be the more influential. She has, after all, an attractive ambition: […]

The Lies Have It

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

There are many journalists in Britain whose opinions one would not miss if they ceased to be published. Peter Oborne isn’t among them. He is a lucid and compelling writer, he knows the key personalities and has read some books, all of which means his work has a kind of easy gravity. Oborne is a […]

A Tale of Two Unions

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

These two books are part of a recognisable genre: a shelf of earlier examples looms over me as I write. They have been published at regular intervals over the past fifty or so years, at moments perceived to be crises of the British state: the Hamilton by-election of 1967, the devolution debates of the mid-1970s, […]

Where the Streets are Paved with Thulium

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Deny it. Bury you head. Stop your ears. It makes no odds: Armageddon is coming. We’re on the cusp. Just look around: melting icecaps, rising sea levels, denuded forests, plastic-choked oceans, a murderous pandemic… and, wrath of all wraths, inexorable climate change. Should we be afraid? Nah. Homo sapiens is an inventive species. The seas rise; we design buoyant

A Law unto Themselves?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Have judges overplayed their hand? Have they started illegitimately wading into political and social issues, forgetting their proper place? Speak to some commentators or read particular newspapers and you would certainly think so. When, during Gina Miller’s challenge to the government’s power to trigger Article 50, the Daily Mail branded judges ‘enemies of the people’, […]

Computer Says Ike

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In her instructions to Harvard’s young historians, called ‘How to Write a Paper for This Class’, Professor Jill Lepore advises, ‘Every argument worth making begins with a question.’ The question that runs through her riveting account of the developing links, in the second half of the last century, between computing technology and politics is ‘What […]

Beyond the Black Stuff

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Daniel Yergin is a highly regarded expert on the global oil industry who won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1991 book The Prize. His main claim to fame was dismissing the idea of peak oil, the notion that the black stuff would prove finite rather than harder to access. He is vice-chairman of the business […]

Bonfires of Reason

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Three infamous conflagrations illuminate the pages of Richard Ovenden’s fascinating new history, Burning the Books. The first is the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria, which, according to Ovenden, did not go up in a single blaze but was gradually destroyed by repeated acts of arson and plunder, until there was nothing left but a metaphor. The second is the burning of the US Library of Congress by the British in 1814, when soldiers’ faces were ‘illumined’ by the flames. ‘I do not recollect to have witnessed, at any period in my life,’ a British soldier said, ‘a scene more striking or sublime.’ The third burning is certainly the best known: the Nazi Bücherverbrennungen that followed Hitler’s rise to power. ‘The 10 May 1933 book-burning was merely the forerunner of arguably the most concerted and well-resourced eradication of books

Israel or Bust

Posted on by Tom Fleming

This is without doubt one of the best biographies to have been written about David Ben-Gurion, perhaps the most interesting Jew of the 20th century. The historian and journalist Tom Segev manages to hold the reader’s attention for almost seven hundred pages (not including the endnotes), despite the fact that the life of Israel’s founding […]

Sultan on Speed Dial

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Twenty years ago, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was serving time in Pınarhisar jail, west of Istanbul, imprisoned as a dangerous radical for publicly reciting a religious poem. Today he is a latter-day sultan, a man who regularly addresses million-strong crowds and commands a personality cult almost as powerful as that

The Greatest Game

Posted on by Tom Fleming

The great powers do not often appear to have a strategy. Caught out admitting that his administration had no strategy for Syria, Barack Obama came back a week later with a ‘game plan’. In her memoirs, his former secretary of state Hillary Clinton insisted that ‘great nations need an organising principle’. It wasn’t enough, she […]

Votes of No Consequence

Posted on by Tom Fleming

As a foreign correspondent, I saw plenty of dodgy elections. The worst, undoubtedly, were Nigeria’s state and federal elections in 2007. Moving around Abuja and assorted state capitals, I was privileged to witness the whole gamut of electoral shenanigans. There was plenty of cash being handed out, but that was small-bore stuff. In one place, […]

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