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Amartya Sen: ‘Referendums are like opinion polls. Sometimes they’re very wrong’

22 January, by Will Hutton[ —]

As a new edition of his pioneering 1970 book Collective Choice and Social Welfare is published, the economist talks Brexit, Trump and real news

Amartya Sen is one of the world’s greatest living economists. Scarred by witnessing at first hand the life-and-death choices confronting so many poor Hindus and Muslims, especially women, during and then after the partition of India, Sen, who was born in Manikganj (now in Bangladesh) in 1933, has insisted throughout his life that no good society can excuse putting anyone in such a position. These inequalities are insupportable whether they are in the developing or the developed world. Economics, along with the mathematics and moral philosophy in which it is embedded, has a duty to address these realities.

Conservatives cleverly argue that society is not an individual thing but a mass of individuals who, because their values and preferences are impossible to aggregate, cannot therefore make choices about what constitutes social good. Sen and others counter this view and have developed a new system of thought rooted in the notion that collective action can proactively promote human welfare. And that there are intellectually robust concepts – despite the efforts of the right to prove that all public action is self-defeating – to improve society and lower fundamental inequalities and workable policies that flow from them.

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A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea by Melissa Fleming – review

22 January, by Natasha Walter[ —]
The miraculous tale of a Syrian refugee rescued from the waves loses its power in the telling

Melissa Fleming, chief spokesperson of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has clearly been tussling with the questions that those who work with refugees tend to ask a lot. How can we encourage more people to see refugees as individuals? How can we ensure that refugees are treated in a way that recognises our shared humanity?

Reading her book, an account of the refugee crisis as experienced by one Syrian woman, you can see immediately why Fleming thought that telling this particular story could be a way forward. Doaa al-Zamel is both ordinary enough to compel sympathy, and extraordinary enough to be unforgettable.

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Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities by Bettany Hughes – review

22 January, by Peter Frankopan[ —]
This history of the queen of cities through the ages is important, entertaining and impressively researched

Cities all rise and fall, wrote the French author Pierre Gilles in the 16th century. Except one. “Constantinople alone seems to claim a kind of immortality and will continue to be a city as long as humanity shall live either to inhabit or rebuild it.” There always has been something special about the glorious metropolis nestled on the banks of the Bosphorus, at the point where Europe and Asia meet.

Bettany Hughes’s ebullient book is an ode to three incarnations of the city: Byzantion of the ancient past; the Constantinople that was the capital of the Christian Byzantine empire; and the Constantinople of the Muslim Ottomans that today goes by the name of Istanbul. Hughes guides us round a city that is majestic, magical and mystical, leaving few stones unturned. It is a loving biography of a city that never stands still, never mind never sleeps.

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Paul Beatty: ‘For me, Trump’s America has always existed’

https://www.theguardian.com/world/narendra-modiplay episode download
22 January, by Vidhi Doshi in Jaipur[ —]
Booker prize winner says president’s rise is not a shock and race relations have improved very little, even under Obama

When Donald Trump was being inaugurated, Paul Beatty was lying in bed with his wife, groggy with medication halfway around the world, in Jaipur, India. His book, The Sellout, a sarcastic, complex novel on race relations in the US, was the first American work to win the Man Booker prize, but Beatty, faced by a phalanx of cameras at a press conference at the Jaipur literature festivalon Saturday, refuses to play along and be the voice of black America that the journalists so desperately want him to be.

“I don’t claim to offer any special insight,” he says. “I read the same newspapers you all do.” Reclining on a large sofa hidden from the crowds of literature enthusiasts attending the festival, Beatty slumps as though a dark cloud is hanging over his head. His pessimism about America’s future seems to reflect the gloom of many Americans who watched the former reality-TV star take the oath on Friday.

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People, the final frontier: how sci-fi is taking on the human condition

21 January, by Sarah Hughes[ —]
The latest films and books in the genre focus on relationships as much as outer space thanks to the Tim Peake effect

Call it the Tim Peake effect. Science fiction has always been as much about the human condition as saving the world from an alien invasion, but now a new wave of films and books are taking that interest one step further and developing an existentialist genre set in outer space.

“The idea of putting a man on Mars is no longer a great leap of imagination,” said David Barnett, whose novel Calling Major Tom was inspired by the moment in 2015 when British astronaut Peake called the wrong number from the International Space Station. “In the 1970s and 80s, space travel felt like something out of science fiction, but now it’s part of modern life, with astronauts tweeting and going on YouTube, and because of that, putting space travel in a book doesn’t freak out non-sci-fi fans as much as it might once have done.”

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Diana Athill on Molly Keane: ‘I admired many authors. But Molly, I loved’

21 January, by Diana Athill[ —]

Good Behaviour was the first novel Molly Keane published under her own name, and her best, says her editor Diana Athill. Here, she remembers their friendship

The arrival of Molly Keane’s Good Behaviour on my desk when I was senior editor at André Deutsch was less simple than it should have been. Gina Pollinger, Molly’s agent, who had been one of our editors, called me to say that she was about to send us a novel she thought I would love, but it landed on the desk of her ex-colleague, Esther Whitby, and Esther, having read it, passed it on to me, fully expecting to get it back. In our firm, the person who first read and loved a book usually became its editor. In this case, however, I said “I’m sorry, Esther, but I am going to pull rank. I am going to edit this novel.” I knew I was being mean.

Esther kept her mouth shut, so I failed to realise that I was losing one of my best friends. She was furious, and not a person who made light of being offended. I don’t know how long her resentment lasted, but it was for a considerable time. Luckily for me, another aspect of her nature is great generosity and kindness.

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The Saturday poem: Every Creeping Thing

21 January, by Guardian Staff[ —]
by Jacob Polley

By leech, by water mite
by the snail on its slick of light
by the mercury wires
of the spiders’ lyres
and the great sound-hole of the night

By the wet socket of a levered stone
by a dog-licked ice cream cone
by spores, mildew
by the green atchoo
by the yellow split pea and the bacon bone

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Jacob Polley: ‘If I’m writing a poem, I should be kept busy doing anything other than writing’

21 January, by Jacob Polley[ —]

The TS Eliot prize winner on distractions, idleness and the art of forgetting

When my days were all nearly all my own, I used to keep to a routine. Turn up at the page. Achieve something, a little something, before the afternoon crept in with interesting stuff on the radio, a walk in the air, that first glass of wine … I’ve written prose and poetry, and I found that a routine was essential for the prose writing. Then the writing day was, in the early stages of a novel and for a long time after the early stages, about amassing the words. The words had to be there, or there wouldn’t be anything there. That sounds like an odd thing to say now I’ve said it, but I suspect that writing a poem can be as much about the storing up of the energy before the poem’s written down as about the casting of it on to paper. One can have a strong sense of a poem being there, even when there isn’t anything there. Spooky. But this difference between prose and poetry might only be a difference in my own faiths in the two ways in which I can reliably both waste and escape time.

If I’m writing a poem, ideally I should probably be kept busy for most of the day doing anything other than writing. This helps me to forget that I’ve ever written anything, which is a necessary if bewildering condition that, for me, means I can set out across the page, as if across that fabulous snowfield of childhood. Wow! Snow! And look what it’s done to the world. I need that snow-wow. I might get lost. Too soon it might all go to dirty slush. But I could be out in the cold for ages. I could meet something totally unexpected, looming from the whiteness.

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The Pomegranate Tree by Vanessa Altin – a child's-eye view of war-torn Syria

21 January, by Piers Torday[ —]

This fictional diary of a young Kurdish teenager is harrowing, but for every barbarity there is a moment of courage or kindness

There are not many books for young people that begin with an attempted beheading of the narrator’s two-year-old sister. But while this is not a typical children’s book, it tells the story of some very typical children – who like playing with their pets, are fans of Harry Potter and who long for an ordinary childhood of family meals and laughter.

Except these children can only remember such things. The book, illustrated by Faye Moorhouse, is written in the form of a diary by 13-year-old Dilvan or “Dilly”, a Kurdish teenager living in a Syrian village close to the Turkish border. Dilly has seen her father and brothers disappear to fight against a terrorising army referred to only as “the ratmen”, because of their whiskery beards. And while she lives in a country far away from the UK, it is alarming to learn that the cruellest of these invaders have British accents.

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Reality Is Not What It Seems by Carlo Rovelli review – physics versus certainty

21 January, by Ian Thomson[ —]
The author of the million-selling Seven Brief Lessons on Physics rails against Richard Dawkins and the science-arts split

Carlo Rovelli’s slim poetic meditation Seven Brief Lessons on Physics managed to clarify the troubling uncertainties of Einsteinian relativity, quantum theory and other physical exotica. Less than 80 pages long, it became one of the fastest-selling science books ever, and has now sold a million copies worldwide. Not since Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time had there been such a consensual success in the science book market; in the author’s native Italy the lessons even outsold Fifty Shades of Grey.

Reality Is Not What It Seems – a deeper, more intellectually challenging meditation – outlines for the general reader some of the key developments in physics from the ancient Greek philosophers and the Roman poet Lucretius to the present day. In the Italian professor’s elucidation, physics goes deeper than any other science into the riddle of existence. The laws of physics – gravity, energy, motion – underpin those of chemistry, astrophysics and meteorology combined. So an understanding of the world requires some grasp of physics. This book aims to make that grasp easier for the layperson.

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