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Lse review of books, the latest social science books reviewed by academics and experts, latest posts, is artificial intelligence racist the ethics of ai and the future of humanity – review, february 14th, 2024.
Q and A with Caroline Derry on Agatha Christie, lesbians and criminal courts
February 13th, 2024.
The Infrastructural South: Techno-Environments of the Third Wave of Urbanization – review
February 12th, 2024.
Limitarianism: The Case Against Extreme Wealth – review
February 8th, 2024.
Seven recommended reads for LGBT+ History Month 2024
February 5th, 2024.
Incomplete Conquests: The Limits of Spanish Empire in the Seventeenth-Century Philippines – review
January 31st, 2024.
Language and the Rise of the Algorithm – review
January 16th, 2024.
Understanding Humans: How Social Science Can Help Solve Our Problems – review
January 30th, 2024.
A Theory of Everyone: Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We’re Going – review
January 29th, 2024, climate crisis.
A Just Energy Transition: Getting Decarbonisation Right in a Time of Crisis – review
February 6th, 2024.
Escape from Model Land: How Mathematical Models Can Lead Us Astray and What We Can Do about It – review
November 30th, 2023.
Q and A with Jonathan White on In the Long Run: The Future as a Political Idea
January 24th, 2024, gender and sexuality.
Care Without Pathology: How Trans- Health Activists Are Changing Medicine – review
February 1st, 2024, science and tech.
The Quickest Revolution: An Insider’s Guide to Sweeping Technological Change, and Its Largest Threats – review
January 25th, 2024.
Global Language Justice – review
January 23rd, 2024.
The best bookshops in the Dodecanese Islands, Greece
November 23rd, 2023.
The best bookshops in Montreal, Canada
October 16th, 2023.
The best bookshops in Dublin, Ireland
September 6th, 2023, author interviews.
Five years of LSE Press: Q and A with Patrick Dunleavy and Sarah Worthington
November 1st, 2023.
Q and A with Matilde Rosina on The Criminalisation of Irregular Migration in Europe: Globalisation, Deterrence, and Vicious Cycles
October 4th, 2023, reading lists.
Eight of the best books of 2023, recommended by LSE blog editors
December 20th, 2023.
LSE RB year in review: The 12 most-read posts of 2023
December 19th, 2023, subscribe to our newsletter.
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What now for Ukraine?
W hen General Valery Zaluzhny, then Ukraine’s senior military commander, spoke in November of a stalemate, it was widely taken in the West as a signal that the war was frozen in all but name: that Ukraine and Russia had reached their fighting limits, that Russia could invade no further and Ukraine could liberate no more. Ukraine’s southern summer counteroffensive had fallen far...
The intermittence of Western arms money is not the Ukrainian military’s only problem as it organises to do three things: hold Russia at bay this year, push it back in the medium term, and create an impregnable defence for an indefinite future truce. Alongside the lack of money to fund weapons is the lack of weapons to buy.
T he legend goes like this. In the spring of 1562, the 16-year-old prince Don Carlos of Asturias, grandson of the Holy Roman Emperor and heir to the Castilian throne, lay dying. The prince had been chasing a maid down a flight of stairs when he fell and hit the back of his head. He was taken to bed, weak and feverish, and his condition quickly deteriorated. His wound became infected, his...
Artificial life could be both mechanical and magical. The term ‘automaton’, referring to a self-moving machine, was first used in Europe in 1531 in a catalogue of magic, De Occulta Philosophia . Automata are listed as a type of ‘celestial magic’, a category which includes maths, music, astronomy and mechanics.
In the 1980s, Alex Comfort said that anarchism had been the ‘background to all my thinking’; but although The Joy of Sex , his most influential work by far, centred the individual and individuals’ responsibility to one another, it did little to seed anarchist ideas. Perhaps if it had been more radical it wouldn’t have sold more than twelve million copies.
Alex Comfort became best known for The Joy of Se x (1972). This annoyed him. It was his 31st book. As well as a sexologist, he was a poet, novelist, doctor, biologist, gerontologist, anarchist, scientific humanist, public intellectual, and activist in the pacifist and anti-nuclear movements. Even as a child, Comfort was a polymath.
Red Sea Attacks
O n 19 November , a helicopter operated by the Houthi-controlled Yemeni navy hovered over the vehicle carrier Galaxy Leader , which was passing through the Red Sea south of Jeddah. Masked and armed men rappelled down to the deck, raised Yemeni and Palestinian flags, and directed the ship to the nearby port of Hodeida. Galaxy Leader has remained there ever since, becoming a selfie hotspot and a...
Maritime insurance companies have increased the war risk premium on ships travelling through the Red Sea from $10,000 for a $100 million cargo ship in early September to $1 million by mid-January. The volume of cargo passing through the Suez Canal has fallen by 45 per cent.
Hegel gets real
Hegel’s dissatisfaction with the revolutions he surveys comes down in almost every instance to their otherworldliness or estrangement from reality, whether we are speaking of Jesus or Robespierre, ancient Athenian philosophers or modern Kantians.
For Hegel, the actual contains the possible, so that you can plunge into it with no fear of losing sight of a desirable alternative. You don’t need to tack some arbitrary utopian dimension onto what exists, since what exists already secretes within itself the seeds of what ought to be.
On Mary Magdalene
A lmost every woman in the story of Jesus is called Mary. Sometimes the writers of the gospels got round this by adding a patronymic or a husband (Mary Salome, Mary of Cleophas, Mary Jacobi). The Virgin Mary has a stable identity as the mother of Jesus, but at least one document (attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem) bundled all the Marys into one. More commonly, the Marys have combined and then...
Devotees often exult in the stripping of her beauty and her wealth; she is imagined as a woman of substance, who owned property in Magdala (hence her name), and when she repents and gives all this up, her reduction becomes the source of great satisfaction to the worthy men who love her in spite of – or because of – their general suspicion of and contempt for women.
In the latest issue
22 february 2024.
- Marina Warner: On Mary Magdalene
- Terry Eagleton: Hegel gets real
- James Meek: What now for Ukraine?
- Aziz Huq: Short Cuts
- Mark Ford: ‘Lunar Solo’
- Barbara Everett: Henry and Hamlet
- Diarmaid MacCulloch: Jesuit Methods
- Laleh Khalili: Red Sea Attacks
- James Vincent: Automata
- Ben Walker: On VAR
- Ferdinand Mount: Fans and Un-Fans
- Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite: Mr Sex
- Francis Gooding: At the Imperial War Museum
- Lorraine Daston: Linnaeus makes the rules
- Colin Kidd: Constitutional Dramas
- Michael Wood: At the Movies
- Lola Seaton: On A.K. Blakemore
- Keiron Pim: Diary
Subscribe to the LRB – perfect for anyone with an interest in history, politics, literature and the arts.
‘The Zone of Interest’
J onathan Glazer’s Zone of Interest seems stately at first, even stolid, and a bit too restrained to raise real questions. Once it’s over we realise that its discretion is part of a careful, risky plan. ‘Based on the novel by Martin Amis’, as a credit line says, the film converts a cruel virtuoso performance of literary voices into a sort of belated act of espionage....
It’s not that the locals are in denial about what is going on in the camp. Everyone seems to have incorporated the horrors as real but ignorable aspects of regular existence. Höss and Hedwig not only tolerate Auschwitz. It fails to touch their happiness in any way.
I n spring 2019 I stood in a meadow outside the small Ukrainian town of Mostyska, squinting at a transliteration of the Mourner’s Kaddish on my phone. A local farmer had directed my guide towards a couple of stubs of rock, the only remnants of dozens of gravestones that had long ago been removed for use as building materials. Brown hens pecked at the grass. It was impossible to tell...
It was impossible to tell where my ancestors were buried or the location of the mass grave containing five hundred of the town’s Jews, shot in 1942. But few descendants of the Ostjuden who visit Eastern Europe in search of their roots expect more than this; a good result is finding that a supermarket hasn’t been built on top of your relatives.
Losing San Francisco
S eeing cars with no human inside move through San Francisco’s streets is eerie enough as a pedestrian, but when I’m on my bicycle I often find myself riding alongside them, and from that vantage point you catch the ghostly spectacle of a steering wheel turning without a hand. Since August, driverless cars have been available as taxis hailed through apps but I more often see...
I don’t know whether these billionaires know what a city is, but I do know that they have laid their hands on the city that’s been my home since 1980 and used their wealth to undermine its diversity and affordability, demonise its poor, turn its politicians into puppets and push its politics to the right.
O n the baseball fields of America in the first half of the 20th century Bill Klem was the law. As an umpire between 1905 and 1941 he worked eighteen World Series. His nickname was the Old Arbitrator, and the decisions he made were absolute. He is said to have been the first umpire to communicate to the crowd in the stands as well as the players on the field. He didn’t just announce...
Despite the mistakes, video assistant refereeing works. A 2020 study showed that overall decision accuracy improved with the use of VAR from an already high 92.1 per cent to 98.3 per cent. So what’s all the fuss about? Part of the problem is that although the right decisions are being reached more often, it doesn’t feel like they are.
I n the 1920 US presidential election, Eugene Debs, or Convict 9653, won 913,693 votes while serving a ten-year sentence in a federal prison in Atlanta. ‘Under the influence of this unreasoning mob psychology,’ the editors of the New York Times complained, an ‘acknowledged criminal is nightly applauded as loudly as many of the candidates for the presidency who have won...
Trump’s misdeeds have been amply documented through two impeachment proceedings, extensive congressional investigations, Mueller’s final report and endless news coverage. Perhaps the liberal principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is at work. If so, it is having distinctly illiberal effects.
Linnaeus makes the rules
Linnaeus accepted the evidence of the astonishing specimens sent to him from far and wide as well as what the microscope revealed of the life teeming in a drop of water. The same Linnaeus who made short work of hydras and unicorns embroidered his own field notes with fanciful mythological references.
Linnaeus’s personal contradictions do not make him a historical chimera. If he sounds odd to those who hold a view of Enlightenment science as rational and orderly, perhaps that’s because real Enlightenment science was a great deal weirder than that.
At the Imperial War Museum
There is a great deal of modern British military history that the IWM simply cannot present to the public, except in adumbrated form. War might be hell, but with the exception of the Nazis, the people condemned to it are not to be held responsible for its horrors.
Gaza has been the deadliest conflict for the press on record. The IWM may have arrived at the conclusion that the journalist is a crucial figure for understanding conflict, but only some journalists are afforded that status in the field. Others are regarded as targets.
Fans and Un-Fans
C arefree: that must be the essence of the sporting idea, whether you are doing it with Amaryllis in the shade, or on the village green with your grandchild Wilhelmine. You are disported, carried off out of yourself. In botany, a ‘sport’ is the wayward offshoot of an otherwise predictable shrub. The definition of ‘a real sport’ is a girl like Catherine Morland, the...
In its modern incarnations, sport is a spontaneous thing, blowing wherever the fans fancy. Even the impulses that have transformed Britain into a nation of joggers and gym bunnies remain mysterious. They certainly do not spring from any Department of National Fitness.
I n the mid-18th century an exceptionally adventurous European traveller might have got as far as a desert region in what is now Arizona, to be rewarded with hospitality from the presiding priest in the stately local mission church. There was likely to have been chocolate to drink, transported from Yucatán some two thousand miles to the south, served in Fr Philipp Segesser von...
What was this Society for which Pope Paul III provided a charter? It was not a religious order, though it is often styled as such. Its members were neither monks nor friars. Its self-descriptor as a Societas aligned it with the ‘companies’ or devotional confraternities of priests and laity in late medieval Italy.
From the blog
Think about the nation, skye arundhati thomas.
The Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut visited the Israeli embassy in Delhi at the end of October for a photo op. ‘Like we deserve a Bharat dedicated . . .
Necessity or Compulsion?
I have never owned a smartphone. The man in the shop couldn’t understand my refusal. ‘You get one free with your plan,’ he told me. I share . . .
On Friday morning, three dozen people gathered outside the Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development in Berlin to demand a permanent . . .
Eyes on Gaza
At the end of last month I went to an event at the Photographer’s Gallery, where the grandson (and namesake) of the Armenian Gazan photographer . . .
Sous la plage, les archives
Le Roy Ladurie’s fascination with what he referred to in his inaugural lecture at the Collège de France in 1973 as the ‘immobile’ history . . .
I had the feeling, sitting down to my marking after the Christmas break, that I was an unwilling participant in a version of Turing’s game . . .
Ecuador’s Internal Armed Conflict
Considered since the 1980s to be a peaceful oasis compared to its neighbours Colombia and Peru – in part because of comprehensive land reform . . .
Why is the US in Jordan and Syria?
Rural fort soldiering is a classic imperial mode, so it isn’t unusual that the US does it in the Middle East, except that so many of the . . .
Protest, what is it good for?
James butler and thomas jones.
From the Egyptian Revolution to Extinction Rebellion, the 2010s were marked by a global wave of spontaneous and largely structureless mass protests. Despite overwhelming numbers and popular support, most of these movements failed to achieve their aims, and in many cases led to worse conditions. James Butler joins Tom to make sense of the ‘mass protest decade’, sharing historical...
From the Egyptian Revolution to Extinction Rebellion, the 2010s were marked by a global wave of spontaneous and largely structureless mass protests. Despite overwhelming numbers and popular...
Emily Wilson’s translation of the Odyssey, published in 2017, the first into English by a woman, was hailed as a ‘revelation’ by the New York Times and a ‘cultural landmark’ by the Guardian. With her translation of the Iliad, ten years in the making, she has given us a complete Homer for a new generation. In her hands, this thrilling, magical and often horrifying...
Emily Wilson’s translation of the Odyssey, published in 2017, the first into English by a woman, was hailed as a ‘revelation’ by the New York Times and a ‘cultural...
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I would read the London Review of Books from front to back. I had to read it all, from front to back. I couldn’t miss any part of what I then saw as the absolute requirement of reading the London Review of Books and absorbing all of the information contained in the London Review of Book s (excluding classifieds and incidental advertising about books, copywriters, book-based dating etc).
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This reading of each and every London Review of Books ended up making me very anxious ; or perhaps, my latent anxiety overwhelmed my joy of reading the London Review of Books . I couldn’t read fast enough to keep up with the bi-weekly production of these reviews of books.
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This year, after having said how I used to love and now hated the London Review of Books and couldn’t handle my subscription to it and would never want another one, my neighbour subscribed me behind my back and for free to the London Review of Books ; a free gift subscription . They were delivered to my home, now sealed in a paper envelope rather than the cellophane ( environmental responsibility ).
I opened the London Review of Books , the first I had opened for ten years , and prepared myself for a front to back read. I liked how folded it was , and how much better it was to read a fresh copy than the used (filthy) copies which had been pushed on me by friends who primarily wanted to indicate to me that they read the London Review of Books by offering their (used and filthy) copies — thinking that I respected the London Review of Books and its users.
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I considered: I had read the London Review of Books in order to belong to the LRB club and the knowledge I had wanted to acquire was wholly in order to become a member of this club. And the way the London Review of Books reviewers write — their style — is that of the self-assurance of a certain sort of group of people who are self-assured , or who want to write and be read among — and be among — those who are self-assured.
I reflected that England is one big private members club , and the LRB is just a part of this club (the letters “ LRB ” being a spoken code to enter that club). I discovered that this LRB club wasn’t in Bloomsbury, but in Hampstead , and I discovered that having been invited to play croquet on Hampstead Heath, in the Hampstead Heath Croquet Association, in which the words “elle are bee” occurred frequently.
I don’t want someone writing to me as if I were a member of their club , or want to be a member of their club. Everything in this country is a private members club, in which cordial agreement, shared references , and a shared picture of the world is required. A shared belief in what are the right views about the right subjects is required. These people — you? — know the facts and know how to pronounce the facts in the right way. Each article, each sentence of the LRB asks: are you a member of our club? aren’t you a member of our club? Club members look down from their vast knowledge, supported by the vast institutions of their education and the vast institutions of their working life. LRB is a performance of Englishness, just as much as the Hampstead Croquet Association is — often attracting performances by those most insecure in their Englishness.
I reject this LRB club and I will not become a member of it and nor will I cancel my free subscription to the London Review of Books .
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What you need to know for the 2024 tax-filing season
February 14, 2024
Canada Revenue Agency
Millions of Canadians file an income tax and benefit return every year. For the 2023 tax-filing season , Canadians filed more than 32 million tax returns, and more than 92% of them were filed electronically. There were also more than 18 million refunds processed, and Canadians who had a tax refund received an average of $2,262!
To simplify your tax-filing experience, we've compiled what you need to know for this tax-filing season. This includes what’s new on the income tax and benefit return and with the Canada Revenue Agency's (CRA) services. We hope this information helps you file your tax return, so you can receive the benefit and credit payments you may be entitled to.
- February 19, 2024 – This is the first day you can start filing your 2023 tax return online . If you file on paper , you should receive your income tax package in the mail by this date.
- April 30, 2024 – This is the deadline for most Canadians to file a tax return. By filing your tax return on time, you’ll avoid delays to any refund, benefit, or credit payments you may be entitled to. If you owe money to the CRA, this is also the payment deadline. You’ll avoid late-filing penalties and interest by filing and paying on time.
- June 15, 2024 – If you or your spouse or common-law partner are self-employed, this is the deadline to file your tax returns. As this date falls on a Saturday, your return will be considered filed on time if the CRA receives it or it is postmarked on or before June 17, 2024 . If you owe money to the CRA, you'll still need to pay by April 30, 2024 , to avoid interest.
What’s new with our services
Digital Disability Tax Credit (DTC) application form – The CRA has made it faster and easier than ever for persons with disabilities and their medical practitioners to complete the DTC application form, by introducing a new fully digital application process. Applicants can now complete Part A of the application form online in My Account or by phone. This means that they no longer need to print and complete the form by hand, and take it to their medical practitioner. To further simplify the process, the applicant’s portion of the form will be prepopulated with information already on file at the CRA. Once completed, the applicant will receive a reference number to give to their medical practitioner who will use it to complete Part B of the form.
Changes to the T1 notice of assessment – The CRA has made changes to the T1 notice of assessment and notice of reassessment to provide more complete information that is easier to understand. The CRA recently released an updated version of the Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) table. Due to changes in the production of the cheque notice, if you are expecting a refund and you are not signed up for direct deposit, you will receive a paper T1 notice of assessment and cheque separately . Sign up for direct deposit to avoid waiting for a cheque in the mail.
What’s new on the income tax and benefit return
Income tax package is thinner than usual – Starting in 2024, the CRA will no longer print line-by-line instructions in the paper package. The CRA made this change after hearing feedback from individuals who file on paper. The majority of these individuals confirmed that they rarely use the line-by-line instructions when filing. Instead, they indicated that they rely on information from prior year returns and the “What’s New” section of the income tax package. By making this change, the CRA will reduce each paper package by approximately 30 pages, or about 20%. This also supports the CRA’s commitment to sustainable development and the government's efforts to go green.
Advanced Canada workers benefit – Advanced payments of the Canada workers benefit are now issued automatically under the new Advanced Canada workers benefit to those who received the benefit in the previous tax year. As a result, Form RC201, Canada Workers Benefit Advance Payment Application, was discontinued last year.
Deduction for tools (tradespersons and apprentice mechanics) – Starting in 2023, the maximum employment deduction for tradespersons’ eligible tools has increased from $500 to $1,000. As a result, the threshold for expenses eligible for the apprentice mechanics tools deduction has also changed.
Federal, provincial, and territorial COVID-19 benefit repayments – Federal, provincial, and territorial COVID-19 benefit repayments made in 2023, can be claimed as a deduction on line 23200 of your 2023 return.
First Home Saving Account (FHSA) – The FHSA is a new registered plan to help qualified individuals to save to buy or build a qualifying home. Starting April 1, 2023 , contributions to an FHSA are generally deductible and qualifying withdrawals made from an FHSA to buy or build a qualifying home are tax-free. Notices of assessment will also include a table similar to the RRSP table for the FHSA balances where applicable.
Multigenerational home renovation tax credit (MHRTC) – The MHRTC is a new refundable tax credit that allows an eligible individual to claim certain renovation costs to create a secondary unit within an eligible dwelling so that a qualifying individual (a senior or an adult who is eligible for the disability tax credit) can reside with their qualifying relation. If eligible, you can claim up to $50,000 in qualifying expenditures for each qualifying renovation completed, up to a maximum credit of $7,500 for each claim you are eligible to make.
Home office expenses for employees – The temporary flat rate method used to claim a deduction for home office expenses does not apply to 2023. Therefore, eligible employees looking to claim a deduction for home office expenses for 2023 will be required to use the detailed method and get a completed Form T2200, Declaration of Conditions of Employment , signed by their employer.
Residential Property Flipping Rule – Starting January 1, 2023 , any gain from the disposition of a housing unit (including a rental property) located in Canada, or a right to acquire a housing unit located in Canada, that you owned or held for less than 365 consecutive days before its disposition is deemed to be business income and not a capital gain, unless the property was already considered inventory of the taxpayer or the disposition occurred due to, or in anticipation of, certain life events.
Return of fuel charge proceeds to farmers tax credit – The Return of fuel charge proceeds to farmers tax credit is now available to self-employed farmers, or to individuals who are members of a partnership operating a farming business with one or more permanent establishments in Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, or Saskatchewan.
Are you a podcast person?
You can check out our new podcast: Taxology . We simplify the world of taxes, since it can be confusing!
We’ll help you understand Canadian taxes, including how to prepare for tax season, explain different savings accounts to help kick-start your savings, and introduce you to the platform economy.
Learn more about the Canadian tax system
We have a free online learning tool to help you understand what taxes are, how to do them, and what’s in it for you. We want to empower people to do their own taxes and to make sure they know about the benefit and credit payments they could be eligible for. We have 5-minute lessons, fun quizzes, and quick videos on everything you need to know.
Take advantage of digital services and online filing
Registering for My Account and having full access lets you manage your tax affairs online. This includes updating personal information, including your address, marital status, and phone number. You don't need to call the CRA to make these changes.
When it comes to filing your tax return, online filing is a great option. To file online, the CRA has a list of NETFILE-certified tax software products that are easy to use, fast, and secure, some of which are free!
When you have full access to My Account and file online with NETFILE-certified software, you’ll be able to use the following services:
- Auto-fill my return which allows you to automatically fill in parts of your income tax and benefit return with information that the CRA has available at the time of the request. This service can retrieve information from the current year and seven years prior.
- Express NOA which allows you to view your notice of assessment (NOA) in your certified tax software and in My Account, immediately after the CRA receives and processes your return.
If you combine online filing with direct deposit , you could get any refund you’re owed in as little as eight business days. Paper returns aren’t as fast, and it could take up to eight weeks to process them.
There are services available that can provide you with support, and help you file your tax return and understand your tax obligations, including:
- Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP) – If you have a modest income, a simple tax situation, and require assistance, a CVITP volunteer may be able to do your taxes for free. To find a clinic, please visit our Free tax clinics page. If you live in Quebec, please visit the Income Tax Assistance – Volunteer Program page for more information.
- Liaison Officer Service – If you are self-employed or own a small business, you can learn more about your tax obligations by booking a meeting with a liaison officer . This service is free and 100% confidential.
Keeping your information safe and secure
There are ways to protect yourself from scams and fraud. One way is by knowing how the CRA might contact you. Take a moment to visit our Scams and fraud page, where you will find information to help you recognize the signs of a scam and learn about the ways the CRA may contact you, including by phone or mail.
- Need help getting started? Go to Get ready to do your taxes for a list of what you need to know before you file your taxes.
- The Taxes and benefits for Indigenous peoples page offers information about tax filing, as well as benefits and credits for Indigenous Peoples. Visit this webpage for helpful tips, resources and guides to help answer your questions about First Nations, Inuit and Métis taxes.
- For answers to frequently asked questions about filing a tax return, go to Questions and answers about filing your taxes .
- Charlie the chatbot is also available on the CRA homepage and many of our other webpages on Canada.ca.
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Is the LRB the best magazine in the world?
T he offices of the London Review of Books are situated on the top two floors of a Georgian townhouse in the shadow of the British Museum. To reach them, you either brave the claustrophobically small lift or walk up five flights of brown-carpeted stairs, before emerging in a light-filled room containing a scattering of terrifically bright people sitting at computers, surrounded by piles of books and an air of quiet industry.
The windows on one side of the large open-plan room overlook the nurses' accommodation for the nearby University College Hospital, where someone has left a carton of orange juice to chill on a window ledge. The LRB 's editor, Mary-Kay Wilmers, likes this view. She enjoys "seeing what the nurses get up to". On the other side, the windows overlook a fine Hawksmoor church spire, with carved heraldic symbols of a lion and a unicorn at its base. Wilmers doesn't have as much time for this. Most people would proffer some admiring blandishment about architectural style – but not Wilmers. "They're too fat," she sniffs at the stonework animals. And looking at them, it's hard not to concede that they are, indeed, a bit flabby.
The opposing London vistas, and Wilmers' reaction to them, seem to sum up her approach to editing what is now deemed to be the most successful literary publication in Europe. At 75, Wilmers retains both an insatiable curiosity about people (the nurses) and a healthy disregard for received opinion (the church). Both qualities course through the pages of the London Review of Books which, under her 22-year editorship, has become a highly regarded publication with an influence that extends far beyond the rarefied world of small-circulation literary magazines.
Founded in 1979, after the Times Literary Supplement was closed by a year-long industrial dispute, the LRB has a circulation of 64,038 (by comparison, according to 2013 Audit Bureau of Circulations figures, the Spectator has a circulation of 62,581 and the New Statesman of 28,495). The website attracts 575,000 visitors a month and there are a further 2,000 Kindle subscribers. At a time when most print publications are losing readers, the LRB 's circulation is going up.
Partly, this is to do with the commissions. Alongside the usual run of densely typed book reviews, arts criticism, authors' diaries and classified advertisements offering writers' retreats in the Peloponnese, Wilmers has made a feature of the long-form essay. The essay, usually penned by a leading author and often running to well over 10,000 words, with barely a concession to the fanciful modern desire for accompanying photographs or illustration, has become the LRB 's forte. These are the pieces that consistently challenge orthodoxy and take delight in a well-constructed argument; that dare to say things the rest of us might be thinking or that simply reveal something interesting or curious.
One of her recent favourites, says Wilmers, was a piece on "the language of bribery". At its best, the LRB long-form essay is clever, mischievous, fascinating and fluent. At its worst, it might go on a bit.
"I think there's an awful lot of short opinion around," says Wilmers, "and it's quite nice to find an argument in a piece that isn't just stated."
She is sitting in a small corner room on a sofa upholstered in countrified pale-green and red stripes. For unexplained reasons, there is an abandoned iron and an Anglepoise lamp on the floor that Wilmers had to step over, somewhat shakily in ballet pumps, to get to her seat. She is a small woman with a striking face and shrewd eyes. Her physical appearance is elegant but economical, crafted with the same precision as a judiciously edited sentence.
Does she think, in a modern, media-driven world where opinions are increasingly reduced to soundbites of 140 characters or fewer, that there is a thirst for longer-form writing?
"I think that must, to some extent, be the case because otherwise, why would we be doing so much better than other papers?" And it is true that, over the past year, the London Review of Books has found itself in the unusual position of being the centre of rather a lot of attention. There was a recent public spat concerning the lack of female reviewers in its pages , but much of the interest has been generated by the introduction of a Winter Lecture series – speeches delivered by writers in person on a particular topic and then printed at full-length as an essay in the magazine.
Hilary Mantel did one in February 2013, in which she called the Duchess of Cambridge "a shop-window mannequin" . The Daily Mail promptly featured the "attack" on its front page and David Cameron was moved to comment that Mantel was "completely misguided and completely wrong".
When James Meek analysed the housing market in the pages of the LRB in January ("A housing shortage that has been building up for the past 30 years is reaching the point of crisis"), it triggered a national debate. The current issue carries an extraordinary 26,000-word piece by Andrew O'Hagan on his failed attempt to ghost the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's memoir , which was trending on Twitter before copies even hit the news-stands. The next issue features classicist Mary Beard's lecture on "the public voice of women", which has already caused a splash following her assertion that women who speak up in the public sphere are "treated as freakish androgynes".
Does she enjoy the controversies generated by the magazine? Her lips twitch into an almost-smile. Her eyes, below the silver fringe of her bobbed hair, crinkle at the corners. "I don't un-enjoy it," she replies carefully. She says she "never, ever would have predicted" the fall-out generated by the Hilary Mantel piece. "If you read the whole thing, it's really not… there's not much of an issue there. She was feeling sorry for her [the Duchess of Cambridge] more than anything."
What about the piece written in 2007 by Booker-prize winner Anne Enright concerning the parents of Madeleine McCann ("I was angry at their failure to accept that their daughter was probably dead. I wanted them to grieve") or Mary Beard writing in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 that America "had it coming"?
"'People will say America had it coming' is what she said!" Wilmers corrects impatiently. "Well, everybody said we would have bombs put through our letterbox." And did they? "No. It just caught on and it obviously touched a nerve because there were people who presumably did think that."
This is, in many respects, a key part of the LRB 's ethos: it provides a space in which intelligent people can think differently; in which discomfiting thoughts can be voiced and provoking arguments can be aired with enough room to breathe.
The writer Marina Warner, who is one of the magazine's contributing editors, compares the LRB 's pages to "a lively discussion among engaged people… I like its range – and its boldness in allowing different views and strong opinions, and the length of the pieces allows for developing arguments and laying out evidence." Andrew O'Hagan agrees: "The paper is enquiring, funny, political, ambivalent, and filled with a sense of risk."
Wilmers sees the LRB as an antidote to the sameness of opinion in the rest of the media. "Newspapers say the same thing over and over again and we're all horrified and collectively up in arms and there's normally more than one side to something," she says. "So if you hear somebody saying something coherent and intelligent that's not totally out of order, it's interesting to read it."
Twitter, with its emphasis on instant reaction and opinion-forming cliques is, she thinks, part of the problem. "Why do people feel compelled to agree with everybody? It would be quite nice if there was slightly less outrage about the same things all the time."
Is Wilmers on Twitter? "No," she says and then immediately contradicts herself: "I mean, yes, I am. I've only ever been on once, when Jenny Diski asked me to do something."
Her Twitter avatar, rather confusingly, is the image of a fresh-faced young woman. "That's my god-daughter, Flora Neve," she says sternly. No further explanation is forthcoming and I suddenly feel rather foolish for asking.
For all its success, the London Review of Books struggles to make money. It owes its continued existence to the generosity of Wilmers herself, who regularly siphons in cash from a family trust fund. Her German father was the founder of a multinational utilities company and her ancestors on her mother's side were Russian Jews who included the psychoanalyst Max Eitingon and Leonid Eitingon, a Stalinist agent responsible for masterminding the assassination of Leon Trotsky. Wilmers was born in Chicago, raised in New York, then moved with her family to Brussels aged nine and was sent to boarding school in England.
Did she like boarding school?
[Deadpan] "It was better than Brussels."
Having grown up abroad, does she feel like an outsider?
"You mean, do I feel foreign?" A pause. "When it suits me."
The family money means the LRB never has to worry about paying back its loans – in January 2010, the magazine was estimated to be £27m in debt to the trust. And yet it still manages to pay its writers at a base-rate of 30p a word (rising by a considerable margin if the article is longer than average). The fee for O'Hagan's piece on Assange was rumoured to be in five figures. Marina Warner says that payment is always processed quickly "and generously, by comparison with other papers".
Is it sustainable, I ask the LRB 's publisher, Nicholas Spice? He looks vaguely shocked at the suggestion. "Oh no, it's not sustainable in financial terms," he says.
Spice has a pleasantly straightforward manner and a faintly military demeanour. He is the kind of man you suspect would be incapable of telling a lie, even though sometimes he probably should. "It loses a lot of money," he continues cheerfully. "The most important thing is that it has always had very generous support from its shareholders. And we've had the same shareholders since 1980, which is very unusual – I should think unprecedented – for a literary publication or arts organisation. The great thing is that we have been able to invest in creating a market for a very good editorial product."
The LRB has made inroads in other areas – there is a nearby London Review of Books bookshop, and a popular cake-shop that serves rosebud tea and gluten-free pistachio cakes – but even these, according to Spice, are only "near to breaking even".
"The great thing about the bookshop is it gives the magazine a location," Spice says, still looking on the brightest possible side, "and it's very good for our relations with publishers."
The seeming lack of financial constraint means that the LRB can be run in a charmingly old-fashioned, semi-shambolic manner. There is, admits Wilmers, "an element of whim" to each issue. Writers are not given much of a deadline – "we're not too fussy about time, then after a few months the piece comes in" – and the editors take a great deal of care over the copy. Every fact is checked and proofs are sent back to the writer with suggestions and queries and then, says Wilmers: "there's all that awful stuff about spacing and line-breaks, which I'm sure nobody notices, but we do".
Many of the writers have never met the staff and Wilmers herself has acquired a healthy degree of mystique.
"I've never met Mary-Kay Wilmers," says Adam Mars-Jones , a regular contributor, "and by the end of last year had come to think that was a good thing. If she liked my writing it seemed a bit rash to think she might like me as well."
The magazine goes to press on Friday night and the staff are often there into the early hours. Until recently, they ordered in supper from a local Indian restaurant much favoured by Wilmers. But she went on holiday a few weeks ago and returned to find that her staff had staged a silent coup and were getting their food from Ottolenghi instead. She doesn't like it as much. "Perhaps," she says, fiddling with the hem of her silk blouse, "it's just because I think, 'How dare they!'"
She's joking. I think.
One of the criticisms levelled at the LRB is that it can occasionally seem cosseted from the real world, run by an exclusive coterie of literary-minded north Londoners who don't have to worry about anything so vulgar as the bottom line. Wilmers is an established part of the liberal-leaning Primrose Hill intelligentsia: she was married to the film director Stephen Frears (the couple divorced in the 70s and have two sons, Sam and Will) and used to live next door to the biographer Claire Tomalin and her husband, the writer Michael Frayn. The playwright Jonathan Miller was down the road. Her best friend from Oxford (where she read modern languages) is Alan Bennett.
When I put this to her, Wilmers blinks. "Does everybody live in north London?" she asks herself, before going through a mental checklist of contributors and staff. "John Lanchester doesn't," she announces triumphantly. Spice says that most of their readers come from N and NW postcodes. Anywhere else?
"Clapham," he replies briskly.
But the LRB 's tendency to pluck writers from the same limited pool of contributors has a more serious knock-on effect: they have consistently struggled to publish as many women as men, for instance. In 2013, they used 43 female book reviewers compared to 195 male, according to figures compiled by the American literary organisation Vida . The Paris Review , by contrast, achieved a 50/50 parity of men and women, while the New York Times book review published 725 women and 894 men. It is not just the review pages: over its history, the LRB has published 82% of articles by men and just 18% by women.
The issue was recently aired in a discussion on Open Book on Radio 4. The LRB declined to participate and issued a rather imperious statement claiming that the inequality in their pages was regrettable but reflected a wider discrimination in an imperfect world. The statement included a quote from Wilmers, given in a 2001 interview on the same subject: "I think women find it difficult to do their jobs, look after their children, cook dinner and write pieces," Wilmers said at the time. "They just can't get it done. And men can… They're not so frightened of asserting themselves. And they're not so anxious to please."
Listeners were duly enraged by the intimation that female writers were too busy scrubbing dishes to use their critical faculties. When I ask Wilmers about the episode, she visibly braces. "Obviously, over the years I've been discriminated against plenty," she says. "It started when I finished university and was told to go and learn to write shorthand by the Oxford 'head of women's appointments'. So, obviously, I know what it's like. I know what the problem is. And all I can say is that we hope to do better, we hope to get more female reviewers, blah blah blah."
But how exactly do they hope to do better? "Well, we hope we will find more women writers. We will look for more women." She glances anxiously towards the closed door that leads into the office and starts mouthing to me that she's been told not to say anything by her colleagues and they don't want her stirring it all up again. And yet, being of a naturally honest disposition, Wilmers can't help herself.
Surely that comment about women being too busy doing the household chores to write was spectacularly misguided? "Yes," she concedes. "I think the situation has changed because, certainly, when I was married, I did the washing up, I did the cooking, I looked after the children… I think that's much less the case now. Men do much more so women have less to do. So I think there has been a change but I do think men are more inclined to say 'Oh fuck it. I'll do whatever I want to do now. My career matters. I'll go and write a novel', whereas women are a bit more ho-hummy about their careers.
"All that has really changed since I've been working. When I was at Oxford, there was one woman for every 10 men. Imagine that. I mean, that's quite a statistic. So yes, it's changed a lot and there are many more women writers now in the LRB than there were 40, 50 years ago."
The irony is that Wilmers did end up becoming a secretary. After peripatetic upbringing that took her from America to Portugal, Switzerland, Belgium and England, Wilmers read French and Russian at Oxford. She had ambitions to be a simultaneous interpreter but ended up as a secretary at the offices of Faber & Faber. At the time, T S Eliot was director. "I was quite disappointed with him," she says. "He'd thank people for their 'gracious' letter and I though 'Gosh, what a terrible word.'"
She left Faber and had spells at the Listener magazine and the Times Literary Supplement before co-founding the LRB in 1979, originally as an offshoot of the New York Review of Books .
And all the while, she was coping with single motherhood and the emotional grind of raising a sick child. Wilmers's youngest son, Sam, was born with Riley-Day syndrome, a rare condition that affects the development of the nervous system. Sam was subject to seizures, poor co-ordination, failing eyesight and breathing issues. Today, in his 40s, he is almost blind but "thriving" , Wilmers says fondly, "because he's got such a good character".
Her work, she says, was an integral part of keeping her sane. "I think I found it easier with the job than I would have without. I would have been that much more anxious about my son had I been at home watching him all the time."
She sees her role as editor in the same terms as the simultaneous interpreter she once wanted to be; they are both, she says, "ventriloquial occupations. It's speaking through other people. It's not that I'm not as egomaniacal as everyone else. It's just that I say a bit less."
She has written an acclaimed volume of family history, The Eitingons , but says she lacks the "inventiveness" to write a novel. I mention to her that I recently read Love, Nina , a delightful collection of letters written by Wilmers's former nanny, Nina Stibbe, while she was living with the family in the 80s. In it, Stibbe writes about Wilmers's habit of "piping up with a defining two words" while "everyone else [is] yakking and being boring and pointless".
Does she recognise that in herself? "Yes!" she says. "It's not what I most like about myself but I have to say, yes I do. But… um… it's that I don't necessarily have all the interim sentences. Those words are the two words I have. It's a bit of a defect."
But her facility for distilling a sentence makes her, according to Andrew O'Hagan, one of the great editors. "She and Karl Miller have done more for the British essay than anyone in the past 150 years," he says. "Mary-Kay works harder than any editor I know. And if this were France, they'd be posting the Légion d'honneur through her door every morning."
I wonder whether, at the age of 75, having lived through an era of unequal pay and endemic discrimination, part of Wilmers's attitude to the lack of female reviewers in the LRB is explained by a belief that people should just get on and do things rather than waste time complaining about them? "Yes, absolutely." Her feminism is, she concedes, "old-fashioned… I tend to take exception to men in a big way, but that's a slightly outmoded form of feminism."
Men as a general concept or men as individuals? "Men as a general concept, and individual men when they're behaving like men."
Is that why her marriage failed? "No. I mean, it was probably a foolish idea in the first place. I don't feel antipathy [towards men], I just am inclined to think that…" She breaks off. "It happened earlier this morning. You're talking to a male colleague, trying to get your point of view across, and then another male colleague walks across and agrees sagaciously with what the other man is saying. That always happens."
Does she say anything?
I can't imagine, given her innate need to get on and do things, that she has altogether embraced the ageing process. "I feel appalled," she admits. "I keep thinking I'll wake up and find I'm not 75 any more." She has noticed a certain stickiness in the whirring of the mental cogs – when trying to convert dollars into sterling, for instance, or when she makes mistakes on the computer "and there's quite a lot of groaning" from her colleagues.
How will she give up this job, I wonder, when the time comes? "With difficulty," she says. "But the editor of the New York Review of Books is 10 years older than me. That's what I cling to."
The London Review of Books might not feature enough women in its pages. But there's no doubt that the one at its helm is pretty formidable.
- London Review of Books
- The Observer
- Julian Assange
- Hilary Mantel
- Anne Enright
The LRB is 40. We never thought it would last this long
Sam Miller: ‘What we had felt stronger than most father-son relationships’
WB Yeats, the art teacher and a night at the sexologist’s
Karl Miller: a man of distinction
Karl Miller, founding editor of London Review of Books, dies at 83
London Review of Books: all hail this splendid magazine that reveres the written word
Why the LRB should stop cooking up excuses over lack of women reviewers
Should we celebrate scathing book reviews?
Peter Campbell's London Review of Books covers
Peter Campbell obituary
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Jon mcnaught, vol. 44 no. 14 · 21 july 2022.
Browse other issues from this year
Jim Berrow , Charles Harris , Thomas Meaney , Rob Wills , Fara Dabhoiwala , Justin Horton , David Lonie , Jonathan Rée , Lawrence Duggan , Celina Fox
Barbara newman, uncertain refuge: sanctuary in the literature of medieval england by elizabeth allen. pennsylvania, 311 pp., £52, october 2021, 978 0 8122 5344 3, madeleine schwartz, trial’s end, after roe v. wade, elif batuman, edna bonhomme, hazel v. carby, linda colley, meehan crist, anne enright, lorna finlayson, lisa hallgarten, jayne kavanagh, sophie lewis, maureen n. mclane, erin maglaque, gazelle mba, azadeh moaveni, toril moi, joanne o’leary, niela orr, lauren oyler, susan pedersen, jacqueline rose, madeleine schwartz, arianne shahvisi, chaohua wang, marina warner, bee wilson, emily witt, david runciman, short cuts: at blair’s gathering, james butler, johnson’s downfall, abigail green, in the midst of civilised europe: the pogroms of 1918-21 and the onset of the holocaust by jeffrey veidlinger. picador, 480 pp., £30, november 2021, 978 1 5098 6744 8, the chinese question: the gold rushes and global politics by mae ngai. norton, 440 pp., £21.99, september 2021, 978 0 393 63416 7, michael ledger-lomas, the last emperor of mexico: a disaster in the new world by edward shawcross. faber, 336 pp., £20, january, 978 0 571 36057 4 king leopold’s ghostwriter: the creation of persons and states in the 19th century by andrew fitzmaurice. princeton, 592 pp., £35, february, 978 0 691 14869 4 the kaiser and the colonies: monarchy in the age of empire by matthew fitzpatrick. oxford, 416 pp., £90, february, 978 0 19 289703 9, michael wood, at the movies: ‘illusions perdues’, rye dag holmboe, speaking east: the strange and enchanted life of isidore isou by andrew hussey. reaktion, 328 pp., £20, september 2021, 978 1 78914 492 5, benjamin markovits, blood in the garden: the flagrant history of the 1990s new york knicks by chris herring. atria, 368 pp., £23.95, january, 978 1 9821 3211 8, thomas jones, the complete poetry of percy bysshe shelley: vol. vii edited by nora crook. johns hopkins, 931 pp., £103.50, may 2021, 978 1 4214 3783 5, anne wagner, at the pinault collection: charles ray, j. robert lennon, the anomaly by hervé le tellier, translated by adriana hunter. michael joseph, 327 pp., £14.99, january, 978 0 241 54048 0, robert crawford, poem: ‘tank’, michael hofmann, all my cats by bohumil hrabal, translated by paul wilson. penguin, 96 pp., £7.99, august 2020, 978 0 241 42219 9, diary: shanghai shelf life, download the lrb app.
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