Category Archives: History

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 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.

Going viral

FIRST the pharaoh changed his name, from Amenhotep IV to Akhenaten. Then he decreed that a new capital should be built far away from the old one. And in this city, one god should be worshipped, forsaking all others: the sun god Aten…

Pete Reynolds for New Scientist

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 19 July 2022. To continue reading click here (paywall).

The big idea: could the greatest works of literature be undiscovered?

WHEN the great library at Alexandria went up in flames, it is said that the books took six months to burn. We can’t know if this is true. Exactly how the library met its end, and whether it even existed, have been subjects of speculation for more than 2,000 years. For two millennia, we’ve been haunted by the idea that what has been passed down to us might not be representative of the vast corpus of literature and knowledge that humans have created. It’s a fear that has only been confirmed by new methods for estimating the extent of the losses…

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

Womanland

THERE can be few myths as ingrained in our consciousness as that of the Amazons, an ancient caste of warrior women whose marksmanship struck fear into the hearts of their enemies, who chose sexual partners freely and who sacrificed their male offspring to preserve the matriarchy…

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 9 February 2022. To continue reading, click here.