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Writing Worth Reading

The Writer And The Valet

Beautifully written, enthrallingly told account of the publication of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. Pasternak gave a manuscript to Isaiah Berlin in 1956. Did Berlin smuggle it out of Russia himself — or did he give it to the British ambassador for the diplomatic bag? If the latter: “This might explain how the Foreign Office was able to copy the typescript onto two rolls of microfilm and hand it over to MI6, which in turn 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)

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)

A Bridge Too Far

Another fine discussion of Rick Perlstein’s book Invisible Bridge, coupling the fall of Richard Nixon with the rise of Ronald Reagan. “Most historians view the Nixon-Reagan transition as a break in the ideological continuum. Perlstein, by contrast, sees the move from Nixon to Reagan as continuity: Both men tried to reverse what the 1960s were doing to the country. But where Nixon failed in his rearguard action, Reagan succeeded” (2,580 words)

The Great Anthropologists: Margaret Mead

Engaging short account of Mead’s life and work. “Mead’s conclusion was that culture determined personality far more than people had previously expected. It was not sex that made women curl their hair or ‘race’ that made some nations attack their neighbours. Rather, it was social expectations and norms developed slowly for centuries, which laid the groundwork for each individual’s psychological makeup” (2,480 words)

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