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Cecily Cecily

Writing Worth Reading

Politics Or Technology – Which Will Save The World?

Neither; but as to which will change the world, technology is way ahead. “China hasn’t changed much politically since 4th June 1989 when the massacre in Tiananmen Square snuffed out a would-be revolution. But China itself has been totally altered. A country of more than a billion people has been transformed by the mobile phone. Who needs a political revolution when you’ve got a technological one?” (5,000 words)

The Stuntman

Review of Tom Bower’s biography, Branson: Behind the Mask. Richard Branson “pretends to be much richer than he really is”. His business strategy is “to get as close as possible to the people with power and then exploit the connection for all it’s worth”. His Virgin empire is “a brilliant smoke-and-mirrors operation, driven by the undeniable charm of the man himself, along with his occasionally breathtaking shamelessness” (4,500 words)

Fergie Time

Shrewd, illuminating review of My Autobiography by Alex Ferguson. “It is a hectoring, petty, repetitive book. Ferguson returns again and again to the things that nag him. It’s ugly, it’s grinding, but it gives you the flavour of the man. The only other autobiography I’ve read recently that comes across like this is Tony Blair’s, which was also so disconnected, erratic and self-referential that it had the unmistakeable ring of authenticity” (3,890 words)

The Trouble With Democracy

A bad couple of months for Western democracy: NSA scandal, US government shutdown, Syrian fiasco. Are these structural problems, and are they getting worse? Yes and no. “The pattern of democratic life is to drift into impending disaster and then to stumble out of it. What is hard for any democracy is to exert the constant, vigilant pressure needed to rein in the forces that produce the crises. It is so much easier to wait for the crisis to reveal itself” (3,900 words)

The Camelot Delusion: John F. Kennedy’s Legacy

Review of new books on Kennedy by Jeffrey Sachs and Thurston Clarke. “The luckiest president of the past century has been Lyndon Johnson, the subject of a monumental, multivolume labour of love by the pre-eminent political biographer Robert Caro that has redeemed the ex-president’s reputation. As LBJ’s stock has risen, that of his predecessor has fallen. John F. Kennedy has become the man who merely talked” (2,100 words)

Not For Turning

Review of Charles Moore’s biography, Margaret Thatcher. “The person on display here is not more intelligent than her rivals, or more principled. She chops and changes as much as they do. But she is a lot more relentless: if anything, she keeps chopping and changing long after they have gone home. She didn’t outsmart or outperform her enemies. She outstayed them. Her modus operandi, in private life as in public, was to go on and on and on” (9,050 words)

‘Antifragile’, By Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Glib and unconvincing… Pretentious and the banal… Solipsistic and ultimately dispiriting… Reading this book is the intellectual equivalent of having to sit patiently while someone shows you their holiday snaps”

Everybody Gets Popped

“When it comes to drugs in sport, what matters is how the incentives are aligned: The incentives of the people who might take them and the incentives of the people who might stop them.” Look at the Lance Armstrong era of cycling now

Stiffed

Critical review of “The Occupy Handbook”. “How were we duped? Mainly by not paying attention. The 1 per cent didn’t conspire to rip everyone else off. They got their way by walking through the door we left open for them”

What If He’d Made It Earlier?

Volume four of Robert Caro’s monumental LBJ biography has already been widely reviewed, but this late addition to the ranks is a hugely satisfying, informative and enjoyable read. The story begins with the presidential race of 1960

Will We Be All Right In The End?

Democracy is being tested severely in Europe. It’s not looking that healthy in America. “The fear is that the political system we’ve relied on in the past might not be up to the task at hand, but it’s the only one we’ve got”

Swing For The Fences

Review of “Scorecasting”, by Tobias Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim. A “Freakonomics” for sports fans. Among the puzzles solved: Why home teams have such an advantage. It’s not the travel, or the local knowledge. It’s the refereeing

Didn’t They Notice?

“Discursive” would be a polite word for this essay on tax havens and state capture. It’s all over the place, but interesting throughout. The more respectable you look, the easier it is to lie and cheat. “The theatre of probity”

Preacher On A Tank

Superb essay on Tony Blair’s record in office, through the prism of his memoirs. Too rich to summarise adequately. Main thread of argument is that Blair was great at quick fixes, bad at big, messy calculations

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