Journal of an American plague year

MOST of the books written about Covid-19 to date have been journalistic. They did the essential job of capturing the pandemic while we were living through it, but they lacked distance. Now, with the benefit of hindsight and a great deal more data, come the first of the histories. Early out of the starting blocks is Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist at New York University who has made a speciality of what he calls the “social autopsy” of disaster…

K. Kendall from Portland, OR, USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

This article first appeared in New Statesman online on 26 February 2024, and in the subsequent print edition. To continue reading, click here.

The big idea: what’s the secret of innovation?

THERE’S a scene in The Simpsons in which Homer’s half-brother Herb unveils his new invention – a machine for translating baby talk – and Homer tells him: “People are afraid of new things. You should have taken an existing product and put a clock in it…”

Edison and his early phonograph, circa 1877

This article first appeared in The Guardian magazine on 7 January 2023. To continue reading, click here.

The secret police have a file on you. Do you want to see it?

IN East Germany, during the communist period, people would sometimes join a queue on the basis that if others were waiting, there must be something worth having at the end of it. Siegfried Wittenburg, whose images accompany this article, photographed this waiting-for-I-know-not-what in his home town of Rostock. It was safer to take photos than to criticise the regime in words, but only just…

A sea of mud between apartment blocks whenever it rained. Rostock, East Germany, 1981. Photograph: Siegfried Wittenburg

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 28 November 2022. To continue reading, click here.

Death and the Artic char

TO the east of Amsterdam lies a tract of reclaimed marshland, the site of an epic rewilding project called the Oostvaardersplassen. It is sometimes nicknamed the Dutch Serengeti because of the profusion of large herbivores that graze there. But during the bitterly cold winter of 2017-18, deeply shocking images began to emerge. Thousands of deer, cattle and horses lay dead or dying of starvation. Desperate onlookers threw bales of hay over fences in an effort to help – clearly something had gone badly wrong…

Nature has a “requirement for mortality” – André de Roos. Credit: Alexia Khruscheva/Getty Images

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 18 October 2022. To continue reading, click here (paywall).

From crime lord to Michelin award

KRISHNA Léger is confident he is the only person to have smuggled fresh fish into Les Baumettes in Marseille, one of the most notorious prisons in France. With the fish he made bouillabaisse, the famous Marseillais soup. One of his fellow inmates – also from Marseille – said it was the best he had ever tasted…

Krishna Léger. Photograph: Denis Dalmasso/The Guardian.

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 20 August 2022. To continue reading, click here.

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