Dying to Breathe

David Wallace-Wells

Wherever you look, the earth is in flames. The residue is carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, black carbon, sulphur dioxide, and the particularly toxic grouping of small particulate matter known as PM2.5. Everything we burn, we breathe. Hundreds of millions of people live and breathe in cities permanently clouded by airborne toxic events. In November, the authorities in Delhi closed schools and colleges indefinitely, suspended construction work, and shuttered half of the local coal plants after an episode of ‘toxic smog’ and an order from the Indian Supreme Court to institute emergency measures to combat it. The smog wasn’t new; the response was. Throughout the city, particulate matter hangs around in offices, lobbies and private homes, even those with air purifiers. It often gets so thick that it interferes with air travel. More remarkably, it has interrupted train travel, the smog making it impossible for drivers to see the tracks. Taxi drivers have filtration systems to process the particulates that sneak in. 

 

Catullus Bound

Colin Burrow

Catullus was a master of many kinds of oral delight. The real challenge in translating him is to capture the pleasure and the delicacy that exists alongside the frank and direct filth.

 

The Stan Lee Era

Christopher Tayler

In​ 1942, Ralph Ellison had a meeting with Fredric Wertham, the director of psychiatric services at Queens General Hospital in New York. Ellison, who was eligible for the draft, didn’t want to join a segregated army. A friend had suggested that Wertham might find a way to get him a psychiatric deferment. Wertham, a German Jewish emigrant, sympathised, and though a deferment...

 

Mario Vargas Llosa

Rachel Nolan

The coup​ is almost funny, if you squint. The year was 1954, and the CIA, still young and enthusiastic, had decided to overthrow the democratically elected president of Guatemala. Washington was convinced that the tiny republic was a threat, a reflection of growing anti-communist paranoia, and – in particular – of the ministrations of Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays,...

 

Soviet Nationhood

Sheila Fitzpatrick

It’s​ a puzzle to know how to think about the Soviet Union, now that it is gone. Was it a Russian empire in disguise, which broke apart when its oppressed colonies finally liberated themselves? Was it a benevolent federation in which the Russian big brother generously subsidised its younger siblings and paid for their education? Or was it, perhaps, a multinational state in which the...

It’s thought that counts

It’s thought that counts

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Peace without Empire

Perry Anderson

Financial instability, immigrant pressure and proximate war are not the only subterranean shocks to unsettle the European Union. There are two others, of potentially comparable magnitude. One is the deep change that the passage of generations is likely to bring, as a youth no longer haunted by memories of the Cold War, or buoyed by the illusions that followed it, develops a new agenda of social equality and care for the natural environment. The other is the deterioration of the physical climate that threatens life everywhere. The two intersect in a growing passion among the young for a cause that scarcely had any popular traction in the 20th century, the preservation of the planet. Gradual changes like these have already started to act as counterforces to the follies of unbridled speculation, fears of uncontrolled immigration and contagions of civil war. For Stella Ghervas, balance of power principles, and the needs of military defence, retain their validity against any would-be empire. But the gains of the lasting peace Europe has achieved should not be compromised by them.

 

Lydia Davis’s Lists

Ange Mlinko

Lydia Davis​ is big on lists. In her early short story ‘Break It Down’, the unnamed narrator attempts to balance financial and emotional ledgers in the aftermath of a love affair:

I’m breaking it all down. The ticket was $600 and then after that there was more for the hotel and food and so on, for just ten days. Say $80 a day, no, more like $100 a day. And we made love, say,...

 

Lab Leaks

Alex de Waal

Normalaccident theory, developed by the sociologist Charles Perrow in the 1980s, predicts that sooner or later there will be a devastating accident with a nuclear weapon. The list of near misses is terrifying. In Command and Control (2013), Eric Schlosser compiled a minute by minute account of an accident involving a Titan II nuclear missile based at Damascus, Arkansas in September 1980....

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