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The consolations of philosophy for the middle-aged

Midlife: A Philosophical Guide. By Kieran Setiya. Princeton University Press; 200 pages; $22.95 and £18.95. JOHN STUART MILL had his midlife crisis at 20. Hothoused by his father and preternaturally accomplished, he saw that even if all his “objects in life were realised”, still he would not be content—and had …

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Han Kang’s new novel, of mourning in a destroyed city

The White Book. By Han Kang. Translated by Deborah Smith. Portobello Books; 128 pages; £10. To be published in America by Hogarth in 2019. A WOMAN wanders through the snowbound streets of a European city that, in the second world war, suffered such wholesale obliteration that “the white glow of …

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Standing up for economists

Economics for the Common Good. By Jean Tirole. Translated by Steven Rendall. Princeton University Press; 576 pages; $29.95 and £24.95. “WINNING a Nobel prize changes your life,” said Jean Tirole, a French economist, from experience. When his work on competition policy and how to adapt regulation for specific industries earned …

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The metamorphosis of Elza Soares

ELZA SOARES brings “A Voz e a Máquina” (“The Voice and the Machine”) to the Instituto Tomie Ohtake in São Paulo on November 7th. With a wild purple perm and a signature growl, Brazil’s grand dame of samba will open her show with a reading of Martin Luther King’s poem …

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The strange afterlife of Antonio Gramsci’s “Prison Notebooks”

“FOR 20 years we must stop this brain from functioning,” intoned the prosecutor at Antonio Gramsci’s trial in 1926. Benito Mussolini’s nascent fascist regime (at that point only two years in power) had decided that Gramsci, a prolific journalist and high-ranking communist, was a danger to the state. Yet despite …

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“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is a true tragicomedy

COLIN FARRELL, the star of “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”, has been telling interviewers how traumatic it was to work on a drama as bleak as an unattended funeral. But he has also said that Yorgos Lanthimos, the film’s director and co-writer, views it as a rib-tickling comedy which …

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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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