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Writing Worth Reading

How Gangs Took Over Prisons Pick of the day

Jaw-dropping throughout. The political economy of American prison gangs, explained with the help of sociologist David Skarbek, who is rightly described here as “a treasury of horrifying anecdotes about human depravity and ingenuity”. The gangs “impose responsibility on everyone”. They discipline their members. They keep one another in check. “There’s like 30 knives out there right now. Hidden up their rectums” (5,190 words)

Their Methods Were Not Gentle

Diary of a visit to Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, a French invention racked for the past year by ethnic and religious civil war. “In the deserted VIP lounge perched above Bangui M’Poko International Airport’s lone runway, the clock is dead at twenty past two, the bottles are covered in dust, there’s no one present but me and my travel companion and a man behind the bar who stirs up Nescafe” (1,580 words)

The Writer And The Valet

Beautifully written, thrilling account of the publication of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. Pasternak gave a manuscript to Isaiah Berlin. Did Berlin smuggle it out of Russia himself — or give it to the British ambassador for the diplomatic bag? The latter would explain “how the Foreign Office was able to copy the typescript and hand it over to MI6, which delivered it to the CIA, with dreadful consequences for Pasternak” (5,940 words)

Translating A Novel Of Sadism

Alain Robbe-Grillet’s last work, A Sentimental Novel, was a catalogue of “sadistic fantasies” about “the sexual initiation of a fourteen-year-old girl”, so unusually shocking that for five years it failed to find an English translator and an American publisher. The eventual translator used the pseudonym “D.E. Moore”. But why translate such a thing at all? In this short interview “Moore” mounts a surprisingly strong defence (1,670 words)

Friday Night Lights

You want a classic? Here’s a classic. Buzz Bissinger’s story of high-school football in the West Texas city of Odessa, later a film. James (Boobie) Miles was a fullback destined for professional stardom. One night he “planted his left leg to stiff-arm a tackler”, and fell awkwardly. In that moment his life was ruined. “It’s hard when you have greatness and it’s taken from you and you just can’t get it back in your hands” (6,000 words)

Our Greatest Danger Is Russia

“Western policy makers seem to believe Isis is the greater danger. But Russia is the nuclear-armed rump of a former superpower and, ruled by an amoral autocrat, it frightens me even more … The west has to start from an honest reckoning of the Russia it now has to live with. Today’s Russia feels it is the victim of a historic injustice and rejects core western values. It also feels strong enough to act. Russia is a perilous neighbour” (1,150 words)

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