Lead book review

A born rebel

Running the entire course of the 20th century, Michael Tippett’s life (1905–1998) was devoted to innovation. He was an English composer who worked within established forms —symphonies, oratorios, string quartets, piano sonatas — to startlingly new effect. But his innovation was not just as a composer. He was also a political and social radical, embedded

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Pirates of the printing presses

Say what you like about the efficiency of the Kindle, one day we’re going to wake up and miss the lizards. Among the many lost methods of making an illuminated book in the pioneering days of Renaissance printing, the way we once obtained powdered gold may be the most lamented: ‘In a pot place nine

‘God has abandoned us’

At a dinner recently I was told the story of a Canadian billionaire (now defined in banking circles as someone withmore than $500 million in liquid assets) who is building an escape destination from the oncoming climate apocalypse: an ersatz Versailles, with two runways, deep in the thawing Canadian tundra. Four hundred years earlier, the

Cuckoo in the nest | 11 April 2019

What kind of loyalty do we owe a robot we’ve paid for — one who exhibits a convincingly human kind of consciousness? Less loyalty than we owe to our own children? But what about to someone else’s child? And do we commit murder if we destroy him? These are the questions facing Charlie when he

Twitting the twits

Titania McGrath is the alter ego of the schoolteacher Andrew Doyle. A perpetually enraged ‘activist, healer and radical intersectional poet’, her job was to lampoon the imbecilities of the achingly ‘woke’ middle class left, and expose the manifest contradictions in what they were spouting. Her forum for this was, of course, that vast lagoon of

Bagels, borscht and brisket

In matters of culture and ethnicity, I take my lead from my old friend and guide Sir Jonathan Miller. Like him, I count myself as Jew-ish, and, as every Jew-ish person knows, you are what you eat; these traits are expressed most poignantly in our food. Not in the ancient (and incoherent) Hebrew dietary laws,

Medieval girl power

Women who can — however tenuously — be described as ‘rebel girls’ are big in publishing now. Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls sold 3.5 million copies in hardback, reflecting a huge cultural push to discover and venerate women in history who kicked over the traces. To publishers, real-life rebel princesses have cool hard-cash value. In

A dead letter

When lists are compiled of our best and worst prime ministers (before the present incumbent), the two main protagonists of this book usually feature, holding the top and bottom positions. Attempts are periodically made to revise these verdicts, most recently in John McDonnell’s description of Churchill as a villain; and by Robert Harris’s sympathetic portrayal

Vital statistics

Scientists, it turns out, are really bad at statistics. Numerous studies show that a startling proportion of academics consistently misunderstand the statistics they’re using, and the conclusions that can be drawn from them. A computer algorithm that highlights basic statistical errors was recently set loose on a huge sample of published research papers in psychology