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How the world changed around Sergio Aragones and Mad magazine

THE world in 2017 is a confusing place. It is often difficult to tell whether a news story is genuine, fake or an advertisement. Hollywood studios churn out repetitive superhero franchises with sequels veering dangerously close to double digits. Politicians, entertainers and media professionals across the spectrum are being exposed …

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A modern history of Iran

Iran: A Modern History. By Abbas Amanat. Yale University Press; 1,000 pages; $40. To be published in Britain in January; £30. ABBAS AMANAT is an authority on Iranian culture and political history. In his new book he presents the past five centuries of Iran’s history in its Persian, Shia context. …

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The rise and rise of performance art

BY THE late 1990s, the small and marginal world of performance art seemed stunted by nostalgia and self-parody. “I would go to [New York’s] Lower East Side and see these scruffy works that felt like a repeat of the 1970s,” says RoseLee Goldberg, a South African-born curator and art historian …

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What does America’s Second Amendment really say?

JUST weeks after the deadliest mass shooting in American history, in Las Vegas, America faced its fifth-worst attack, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on November 5th. Both assailants were armed with military-style rifles. Why does American law let people buy such weapons? The answer is the Second Amendment to the constitution, …

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A British travel writer evokes the magic of the Baltic Sea

Ice trap Icebreaker: a Voyage Far North. By Horatio Clare. Chatto and Windus; 213 pages; £14.99. “ICEBREAKER” by Horatio Clare, a British nonfiction writer, is an encounter with the void. It describes ten winter days on a Finnish icebreaker, one of a fleet that works at perilously close quarters with …

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Jaron Lanier’s memoir recalls a life spent in virtual reality

Dawn of the New Everything. By Jaron Lanier. Henry Holt; 351 pages; $30. Bodley Head; £20. WHAT is virtual reality (VR)? Over 21 chapters and three appendices, Jaron Lanier, a tech pioneer, puts forward 52 definitions. Some are geeky: “a media technology for which measurement is more important than display”. …

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Hybrid models are changing the piano market, too

HYBRID is all the rage. Buyers want the reliability and beauty of the traditional product but are also keen on the flexibility, cost-effectiveness and modernity provided by electric innovations. With a hybrid, they can have it both ways. We are, of course, talking about pianos. Sales figures for acoustic pianos …

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Robin Hood Gardens and the divisiveness of brutalism

IT HAS an almost mythical status in the canon of post-war British buildings. Clad in precast concrete panels, with apartments rising and descending from wide, raised decks (referred to as “streets in the sky”), Robin Hood Gardens embodies the brutalist desire to renegotiate the relationship between architecture, citizens and society. …

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The defiance of Tove Jansson, mother of Moomins

ASK any Finn of their fondest childhood memory, and it is likely to involve the Moomins in some way. The affable, hippopotamusesque little trolls adorn collectible mugs, confectionaries, linens and anything worth branding, but they are also a key part of their native Finland’s national identity and cultural consciousness. For …

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How Iceland (population: 330,000) qualified for the World Cup

IT HAS become a familiar ritual. A drum beats twice. A wall of blue-shirted fans grunts and lets rip a thundering clap. The pace quickens, like a Viking horde charging into battle. After every victory—and there have been many in recent years—Iceland’s football players and fans unite in performing the …