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Writing Worth Reading

Scalpers, Inc

Review of Michael Lewis’s “Flash Boys”, about high-frequency trading, which has made stock markets “secret and mysterious” to outsiders. “The principle on which much market legislation rests is that it’s illegal to trade on the basis of information that is not publicly available. The fact that the apparent price is not the actual price: does that fit the legal definition of non-public information? I’d have thought it does” (4,000 words)

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”

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”

Marx At 193

Fine essay examines our modern capitalist society through the lens of Marx. “If you look at a large picture of the world, much of what he predicted has come true.” But there are some key areas where his thinking went awry

Show Me The Money

Author explains why we don’t have more good novels about money. World of finance changes quickly and often. What goes on there is intrinsically complicated. Snobbish writers think commerce isn’t an appropriate subject for art

How We Were All Misled

Enjoyable, if chastening, canter through boom and bust, framed around review of Michael Lewis’s latest book, Boomerang. Lanchester’s benchmark for excess was the Reykjavik waitress who’d fly to Milan for a weekend’s shopping

Short Cuts

Convincing denunciation of English premiership football – that is the commodification of fans, indulgence of spoiled, wealthy players, and “simulation”. Compare and contrast with rugby, and its different conventions for cheating

Euro Science

Fine report on origins of Europe’s debt crisis. A collapse of the European Union is now a possibility. And one which “would cause a financial convulsion that would make the collapse of Lehman Brothers seem like a theme-park ride”

Bravo L’Artiste

The man, the family, the business, the influence. And the shamelessness. Don’t forget the shamelessness. Superb 2004 profile of Rupert Murdoch, the media magnate we deserve

Once Greece Goes…

Excellent read on the EU, eurozone crisis, and coming default(s). Focuses on Greece, of course, but also interesting on Germany and reasons for the divide between politicians and public opinion in both those countries

Incredible Edibles

Inside Nathan Myhrvold’s 2,438-page “Modernist Cuisine”. Not so much a cookbook, more a major reference work. Kitchen basics, advanced physics, handy tips. Try “hyper-decanting” tough red wine by giving it a minute in a blender

Let Us Pay

London Times paywall was a disaster, Evening Standard worth more now it’s free. But there has been a shift in mood from ‘We’re doomed!’, to ‘Quick, what’s the plan?

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