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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 …

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An intimate look at the Obama administration

JOHN F. KENNEDY always made good use of photojournalists. On the campaign trail, he was pictured with delegates, taking counsel from his brother, Robert, or carrying his young daughter and her rag doll. As president, he created the position of official White House staff photographer, and appointed Cecil Stoughton to …

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“Alias Grace”, another triumphant Atwood adaptation

This review contains plot details of “Alias Grace” THIS week, the Supreme Court paved the way for the execution of Vernon Madison, a 67-year-old from Alabama convicted of murdering a police officer three decades ago. Having suffered strokes, Mr Madison no longer remembers his crime, and is diagnosed with both …

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How Cézanne helped invent the modern portrait

The birth of the modern LATE in life, Paul Cézanne told his art dealer Ambroise Vollard that “the culmination of all art is the human face.” It’s a peculiar assertion, coming from the master of landscape and still-life, whom Matisse and Picasso revered as “the father of us all”. But …

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What makes a Jewish joke Jewish

You don’t have to be Jewish Jewish Comedy: A Serious History. By Jeremy Dauber. W.W. Norton & Company; 364 pages; $28.95. The Jewish Joke. By Devorah Baum. Profile Books; 184 pages; £9.99. To be published in America by Pegasus in May. Feeling Jewish. By Devorah Baum. Yale University Press; 296 …

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