Richard Flanagan, Ayn Rand, Race & Obama, Islamic State, Immigration, A/B Testing

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Is His Name Alwyn?

Michael Hofmann | London Review Of Books | 9th December 2014

Thrillingly condescending review of Narrow Road To The Deep North, Richard Flanagan's prize-winning novel about Australian soldiers on the Burma Railway. "It is all bite, and no chew. The writing is overstuffed, and leaks sawdust. The book was described as having gone through many drafts, with Flanagan using those that didn’t make it to ‘light the barbie’. I can’t help thinking this wasn’t the right one to spare" (2,450 words)

Obituary: Nathaniel Branden

Telegraph | 11th December 2014 | Metered paywall

He was Ayn Rand's lover and chief disciple for 14 years, though they were far apart in age and both married to other people. Rand dedicated Atlas Shrugged to Branden, who was born Nathaniel Blumenthal, but changed his name to incorporate hers. "Their twice-weekly trysts took place at regular hours at her apartment"; Rand's husband was "dispatched to the local cinema to wait out the assignation" (1,180 words)

Racists In The Age Of Obama

Norm Ornstein | Atlantic | 11th December 2014

Barack Obama's election capped half a century of "remarkable progress" in reducing white prejudice against African-Americans. But it also brought racism back into the open. Racists felt "they could be more blunt in expressing their views. After all, who could now say that America was racist?" Politics has since divided increasingly along racial lines: "It is possible to see a future where the GOP is clearly and distinctly a white party" (1,750 words)

Isis: The Inside Story

Martin Chulov | Guardian | 11th December 2014

A "senior official" of Islamic State says the group came together ten years ago in Camp Bucca, an American prison in Iraq, where Abu Bakr Baghdadi and other radicals were being held. "Here, we were not only safe, but we were only a few hundred metres away from the entire al-Qaida leadership ... If there was no American prison in Iraq, there would be no IS now. Bucca was a factory. It made us all. It built our ideology” (5,000 words)

A New Deal On Immigration

Paul Collier | Spectator | 11th December 2014 | Metered paywall

Britain should aim to "stabilise immigration and the diversity it brings at around the present level". The rise of the UK Independence Party has brought anti-immigration sentiment into the open: "It’s clear that a majority in England is uncomfortable even with existing levels of diversity". There is no need for Britain to leave the European Union in order to control immigration; this can be done by changing the structure of benefits (1,640 words)

Lab Rats: Social Experiments

Clare Dwyer Hogg | The Long+Short | 9th December 2014

On the ethics of conducting experiments online to manipulate user sentiment and behaviour, as Facebook notoriously did two years ago. Such experiments are not fundamentally different to the A/B testing which advertisers and political campaigners have carried out for decades; but their sheer scale puts them in a more worrying category; they tell us how easily whole societies can be manipulated (3,300 words)

Video of the day: Channeling

What to expect: Indie-rock. Trippy, faintly Beatles-ish. Gorgeous cartoon visuals with cats (4'15")

Thought for the day

Autobiography is increasingly the only form in all the arts
Rachel Cusk (

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