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An engrossing account of the life of Karl Marx

COMMUNISM may be practically extinguished but the influence of Karl Marx lives on. Xi Jinping, the president of China, is “adapting Marxism to the Chinese context”, as the People’s Daily puts it. During the financial crisis of 2008-09 sales of “Capital”, Marx’s most significant work, soared; after Jeremy Corbyn’s election …

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The Human Library Organisation replaces pages with people

WHY do we read books? Harper Lee believed that reading was an existential matter, as important to life as breathing. Emily Dickinson claimed books were like vessels to far-off lands. Gustave Flaubert wrote that the only way to tolerate existence was to lose oneself in literature “as in a perpetual …

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Masha Gessen is wrong to call Russia a totalitarian state

Strutting his stuff The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. By Masha Gessen. Riverhead Books; 528 pages; $28. Granta; £20. HANNAH ARENDT, in “The Origins of Totalitarianism”, cautioned against the glib application of the T-word. The distinction between totalitarianism and authoritarianism in political theory is not one of degree—with …

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Javier Cercas probes Spain’s convoluted history

The Impostor. By Javier Cercas. Translated by Frank Wynne. MacLehose Press; 432 pages; £20. AS MINISTERS in Madrid and nationalists in Catalonia swap rival narratives, events in Spain confirm, as Javier Cercas writes, that “the past is merely a dimension of the present.” No Spanish writer has probed the unhealed …

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Neil MacGregor on living with gods

THE modern human is by turns intrigued, bewildered, horrified and enraptured by religion. In a world where many people look to science to decipher the universe, there is something fascinating, and a bit frightening, about spiritual systems and codes which have commanded passionate loyalty among millions of people for millennia, …

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The importance of proper and improper English

“LET’S talk properly.” Tom Sherrington had little reason to think that his blog post, so titled, would cause controversy. A British consultant and former head teacher, he had called on educators to work harder at getting their students to stop saying things like “We done lots of great activities” and …

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The making of the “Psycho” shower scene

THERE have been plenty of feature-length documentaries about the making of classic films, but “78/52” may be the first to focus on one classic scene. It could be the last, too—not because it isn’t bubbling with insights and information, but because there are so few scenes which merit such a …

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Rupi Kaur reinvents poetry for the social media generation

RUPI KAUR made her name on Instagram by attacking Instagram, a fitting ascent for the provocative 24-year-old poet who releases her short verses onto the slippery, reactive sphere of social media. In 2015, she uploaded a picture of herself lying in bed on sheets stained with menstrual blood. The post …

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Who can fill the role of Tom Lehrer today?

IT FEELS quaint now: a man with tidy hair and an elegant suit sits at a piano, his thick glasses sticking to his nose. He makes a few quips, and the audience titters politely. Then the man begins to sing. Flowers in his voice, he tells the story of a …

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A visual history of Benin City returns home

LAST month an extraordinary collection of photographs returned to Nigeria. Chief Solomon Osagie Alonge took pictures of the people of Benin City for over half a century, amassing an archive of more than 3,000 images. Spanning British rule and the early decades of independence, it is a visual record of …