El Bulli For All

Lanchester samples Ferran Adria’s free online Harvard course, Science & Cooking, and pronounces it excellent. “Homework involves an experiment to calibrate the accuracy of your oven, and calculations to ascertain the number of molecules in aubergine with buttermilk sauce … It teaches the mystery of how mathematics penetrates into matter. The course is more rigorous, and more educational, than I’d thought it would be” (1,520 words)

The Snowden Files

John Lanchester reads the files, and renders a citizen’s verdict: “We are on the verge of being an entirely new kind of human society, one involving unprecedented penetration by the state into areas which have always been regarded as private. Do we agree to that? If we don’t, this is the last chance to stop it. Our rulers will say what all rulers everywhere have always said: that their intentions are good, and we can trust them” (5,800 words)

What Is To Be Done About The Banks?

Lanchester’s capacity to render plainly and relatively calmly the monstrosities of the banking system during and since the 2008 crisis make him the most reliable and, by the same token, the most terrifying financial commentator for the intelligent general reader, Matt Taibbi notwithstanding. “In their current condition our banks are an existential threat to British democracy, a more serious one than terrorism, either external or internal” (6,900 words)

Banks’ Barely Believable Behaviour

Short history of scandals in the British banking industry since the 2008 crash. Short in proportion to the scandals, that is, which were many and colossal, most recently the mass selling of insurance to people who couldn’t claim on it. As Lanchester says, it may be fortunate for the banks that so many scandals came in such a short period, defying attempts to grasp the scale and folly of any one of them individually. Read this and weep (6,700 words)

Google Glass

Introduction to Glass for non-tech readers. It’s likely to be a monster hit, because it’s full of useful and attractive features. But it comes with big downsides. It turns users in on themselves even more than cellphones already do; and it makes covert recording too easy. “Technology and privacy have had many skirmishes in the past, but the coming generation of wearable computing has the potential to escalate the conflict to all-out war” (1,640 words)

When Did You Get Hooked?

Essay. Appreciation of Game Of Thrones, books and films. Rare breakout from fantasy genre. Fantasy and sci-fi books may sell millions of copies, but general readers of literary usually won’t touch them. Why is Game different? Because it is brilliantly plotted, television has delivered it to a wider audience, it captures our present public mood of uncertainty and anxiety, and it doesn’t rely on magic (though magic is there). It’s addictive. Hence the worry over whether George Martin will ever finish it (4,617 words)

Riding The London Underground

On the sociology and psychology of commuting. “I’ve never seen a film or television programme about the importance of commuting in Londoners’ lives; come to that, I’ve never read a novel that captures it either. The centrality of London’s underground to Londoners is strangely underrepresented in fiction about the city, and especially in drama”

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