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      Too early or too late?

      David Runciman

      Politics is never predictable. In this sense, everything is arbitrary. Politicians – armed with the full range of available data and the latest assessments of the risks of acting too soon, too late, too fast, too slow – are making judgments that will benefit some people and harm others. Even the strictest libertarians, who think we should leave these judgments to fate, are staking a claim to the exercise of arbitrary power, because what is fate if not arbitrary? There is a difference between a politician deciding your fate and its being left to impersonal chance. But it isn’t a difference that matters much when lives are on the line. When something has to be done – and something always has to be done, even if it’s nothing – then what matters is what it leads to. It makes no sense to criticise some people for wanting to take action for its own sake. Claiming to be taking the long view, to be holding fire, to be thinking about the second wave is no less arbitrary than rushing to judgment now. In a crisis we’re all rushing to judgment. And so, in a crisis, we’re all Keynesians in the end, even if we aren’t doing what Keynes would have wanted.

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      Loathed by Huysmans

      Julian Barnes

      Nineteenth-century​ French art, and French artists, were fortunate to have the backing of some of the best writers of the day. Stendhal, Baudelaire, Gautier, Goncourt, Zola, Maupassant, Huysmans and Mallarmé all doubled up as art critics. (The bullish Courbet took on both tasks: doing the work and the self-promotion.) It helped that there were extraordinary new artists to support, as...

       

      In 1348

      James Meek

      In​ the middle of February 1348, King Edward III held a royal tournament in Reading. He probably held another one that month in Bury St Edmunds. He held another on 20 April in Lincoln, and three more in May, in Lichfield, Windsor and Eltham. He liked a tournament. His victory over France at Crécy two years earlier and England’s seizure of Calais were still fresh memories for him...

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      Diary

      Where water used to be

      Rosa Lyster

      On​ the second to last day of last year, I got on a flight to Mexico City. Four hours in, we were told we needed to make an emergency landing in Houston. The captain had noticed an oil leak shortly after we left New York. The air hostess made her announcement first in English, then in Spanish, and told us that we shouldn’t be alarmed if we saw a lot of fire engines on the runway as we...

      Working from home:

      This issue is the first in the paper’s history to be produced outside the office. We hope to stick to our publication schedule, to the extent that we can, and that subscribers will continue to receive their copies. Should that become impossible, we have plans to make the paper available in other ways.

      Collection

      Diverted Traffic

      A new newsletter and online collection from the LRB, featuring just one piece from our archive per day, chosen for its compulsive, immersive and escapist qualities, and also for its total lack of references to plague, pandemics or quarantine.

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      Whitehall Spookery

      Neal Ascherson

      Like sturgeons​ and swans in medieval England, public information began as royal property. Today, we understand more vividly than ever before that information is also a commodity: I have it, you don’t; if you want it, you must pay me for it; if you don’t, I will use your lack of it to control you. Against this, and very reluctantly, a public ‘right to know’ has been...

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      Clarice Lispector

      Rivka Galchen

      Clarice Lispector​ was born in 1920 to Jewish parents, in the small town of Chechelnik in Ukraine. It was hoped that the pregnancy would cure her mother’s syphilis, contracted when she was raped by a gang of Russian soldiers. The attempted cure failed. In 1921, the family made their way to Romania and eventually to Brazil. There, her father pushed a cart through the poorest parts of...

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      LRB Collections numbers 1 to 7

      LRB Books: Collections and Selections

      Rediscover classic pieces, recurring themes, and the dash the London Review of Books has cut through the history of ideas, for the past 40 years, with LRB Collections and now LRB Selections: two new series of collectible books.

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      Jon McNaught illustration of person looking at phone on a bus

      What’s new?

      ‘The London Review of Books is something new,’ the LRB’s founding editor Karl Miller wrote in our first ever issue, 40 years ago. ‘This, for the first time, is it.’ Now, for the first time in a decade, the same can be said of our website.

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      Notice from Bury Place:

      Like most other businesses, we have taken the decision to close both the London Review Bookshop and the Cake Shop until further notice. All events and late shopping evenings due to be held in March and April have been postponed indefinitely. We will be announcing new bookselling and digital publishing initiatives to provide diversion in the coming months. Stay tuned, and thanks.

      Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

      Read More

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