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Book extract. We have passed a tipping-point in the automation of our lives. “As we grow more reliant on applications and algorithms, we become less capable of acting without their aid. That makes the software more indispensable still. Automation breeds automation”. We lose our skills. We surrender our agency. “When we launch an app, we ask to be guided. We place ourselves in the machine’s care” (3,800 words)

My Jewish Feminism: A Memoir

On growing up as a Jewish feminist in post-war New York. It was an uphill struggle on both fronts. But then came the 1970s, when the social order broke loose: “The times felt glorious, and the fights were exhilarating. Women could be lawyers and doctors and professors. Most of the feminists I knew were Jewish but not religious. The synagogue had been left behind with the prom dress and the girdle” (6,570 words)

The Football That Follows The President

The American president’s “football” — the briefcase containing the codes needed for the president to launch an immediate nuclear strike — was first used by John F. Kennedy in 1963. Made by Zero-Halliburton, it weighs 45 pounds loaded, because it contains reams of documentation as well as the laminated card with the codes themselves — a card which Bill Clinton once “mislaid” for several months (900 words)

How Aristotle Invented Science

Aristotle towers over philosophy ancient and modern; but his work on animal anatomy — nine titles — has been “largely forgotten in modern times”. He was the greatest biologist before Darwin. His Historia animalium, 350 BCE, a “biology compendium packed with fauna details”, is arguably his masterpiece. With it, “not only did Aristotle invent biology, he invented the scientific method itself” (900 words)

Great Eastern Philosophers: Sen No Rikyu

Western philosophers write difficult books, use long words, and give lectures. Japanese philosophers write poems, rake gravel, and chant. Sen no Rikyū, “one of the very greatest Zen thinkers”, acquired his greatness in the 16th century by “teaching people how to drink tea in consoling and therapeutic ways”. He imbued the Japanese tea ceremony with “a solemnity and depth of meaning akin to a Catholic Mass” (940 words)

Bricklayer Bill’s Ultra-Marathon Of A Life

A great American life. Bricklayer Bill Kennedy was “the gutsiest journeyman athlete of the early twentieth century”. A prizefighter and a hobo in his teenage years, he settled on running after beating a horse in a ten-mile race in Arkansas in 1908. He survived typhoid, made his home in St Louis, built the Des Moines Coliseum, and won the 1917 Boston Marathon before joining the army and going to war (4,492 words)

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