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Vermeer was brilliant, but he was not without influences

JOHANNES VERMEER’S depictions of contemplative moments in serene Dutch interiors have made viewers lean in and gasp for centuries. Only 34 paintings out of a total of no more than 50 have survived, and there are no extant diaries or letters to reveal the intimate chambers of his own life. …

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Optimism has made wars likelier and bloodier

The Future of War: A History. By Lawrence Freedman. PublicAffairs; 400 pages; $30. Allen Lane; £25. THIS is not really a book about the future of warfare, with all that might imply in terms of exotic technologies that will transform not only the character of war, but, some believe, even …

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The book that foresaw the assault on the Rohingyas

Personae non gratae in Myanmar Myanmar’s Enemy Within: Buddhist Violence and the Making of a Muslim “Other”. By Francis Wade. Zed Books; 280 pages, $24.95 and £14.99. THE gradual implosion of an autocracy can open up a dangerous void. In Myanmar, on a fragile path of democratisation after nearly half …

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Explaining the Finnish love of tango

THE land of a thousand lakes plays host to all manner of quirky pastimes. Competitive berry pickers flocked to Suomussalmi in 2016 for the World Championships. Annual wife-carrying contests take place in Sonkajarvi. Mosquito swatting (as many killed as possible in five minutes) is a popular competition in Pelkosenniemi. A …

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Amadou & Mariam are as experimental—and as political—as ever

THEY were once called the “blind couple of Mali”, having first met at the country’s Institute for the Young Blind. Now their first names—“Amadou & Mariam”—are all that is needed. The musical duo have come a long way, both geographically and musically, since 1980 when they first started blending Mariam’s …

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“Last Flag Flying” and the muddled politics of war

IN 1973, Hal Ashby released “The Last Detail”, a film whose anti-authoritarian politics made it an icon of the counterculture. It is the story of two Navy lifers (Jack Nicholson and Otis Young) tasked with accompanying a young petty thief (Randy Quaid) to military prison. Along the way they show …

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The decadent late-Victorian and Edwardian era

Can you see the end of Empire, dear? The Age of Decadence: Britain 1880 to 1914. By Simon Heffer. Random House Books; 897 pages; £30. IN the late Victorian and early Edwardian period of 1880-1914, at least (see article), Britain had a swagger in its step. You could see it …

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When architectural idealism meets reality

Four Walls and a Roof: The Complex Nature of a Simple Profession. By Reinier de Graaf. Harvard University Press; 528 pages; $35 and £27.95.  HIS name may not be familiar, but Reinier de Graaf’s architecture practice, the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), designed the CCTV building in Beijing and the Prada Foundation …

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Kazuo Ishiguro, a Nobel laureate for these muddled times

WHEN Kazuo Ishiguro started to write fiction, he wasn’t steeped in literature. He said that he had not read very much at all. His distinctive style grew out of a desire to write the cleanest sentence possible, line by line; he has spoken of a wish simply for readers to …

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Meet the invisible hand behind Hong Kong’s rise

Not pictured: the invisible hand Architect of Prosperity: Sir John Cowperthwaite and the Making of Hong Kong. By Neil Monnery. London Publishing Partnership; 337 pages; £24.50. DURING the 1960s, governments were responding to political unrest and economic challenges with nationalisation, centralised planning and public spending (financed by heavy taxes and …

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