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The surreal and hyper-humane humour of “Lady Dynamite”

“IF I keep the ice-cube trays full, no one will die.” So goes the opening line of “Anxiety Song”, a bit from a stand-up routine by Maria Bamford. She stands behind the microphone, her usually quavering voice oddly steady as she sings in monotone: “As long as I clench my …

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What is it about “Cat Person”?

SHORT stories are uniquely unpopular sources of entertainment. Book publishers avoid them, as fiction buyers prefer novels. Magazines have largely cut them from their pages (perhaps because truth lately has become stranger than fiction). So it is odd, to say the least, for a short story to suddenly trend on Twitter. …

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A gripping history of New York

Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919. By Mike Wallace. Oxford University Press; 1,196 pages; $45 and £35. NEW YORK has never been a city to do things by halves. And so it is perhaps not surprising that on New Year’s Eve, 1897, the metropolis …

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The importance of pauses in conversation

MARGARET THATCHER was known for a voice that brooked no disagreement. While still in opposition, she had taken elocution lessons to sound more forceful. Despite this, she was often interrupted in interviews as prime minister, and in 1982, three researchers set out to understand why. They played clips from one …

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The problem with prisons in America

Layers of uniformity Blind Injustice: A Former Prosecutor Exposes the Psychology and Politics of Wrongful Convictions. By Mark Godsey. University of California Press; 264 pages; $29.95 and £24.95. Inside Private Prisons: An American Dilemma in the Age of Mass Incarceration. By Lauren-Brooke Eisen. Columbia University Press; 336 pages; $32. To …

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Businesses’ investment decisions can have unexpected consequences

Capitalism without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy. By Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake. Princeton University Press; 278 pages; $29.95 and £24.95. RICH economies are full of puzzles. What has caused them to become so unequal? Why is their rate of business investment so low? When will real wages …

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How fishing fed the world

Fishing: How the Sea Fed Civilisation. By Brian Fagan. Yale University Press; 368 pages, $30 and £25. THROUGHOUT history, often for religious reasons, humans have tended to believe the oceans are inexhaustible. An Egyptian pharaoh was assured by his father in about 2010BC that the gods had made fish for …

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Lessons from ancient Greek coinage

THE Greek word for money, chrema, carries a significance its English translation cannot fully convey. “It means ‘to need’ and ‘to use’ together,” explains Nicholas Stampolidis, director of the Museum of Cycladic Art (MoCA) during a recent visit to the museum’s latest exhibition, “Money: Tangible Symbols in Ancient Greece.”  Today’s …

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Those seeking escapism in “The Crown” will find it all too real

FOR all the talk of change in season two of “The Crown”—and there is lots of it—everything feels uncannily familiar. Though things begin in the mid-1950s, there are already grimace-inducing references to the European Economic Community: one character wonders whether Britain should be “in or out”. Just weeks after real-life …

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Retelling the myth of Tonya Harding

THE story of Tonya Harding’s rise and fall is sporting legend. One of the top female figure skaters in America, her career and her reputation was destroyed when she was implicated in a plot to assault her rival, Nancy Kerrigan, shortly before the 1994 Winter Olympics. The attack—a police baton …