London Review of Books
I’m testing out new habits: this blag, a gameful morning routine, more podcasts & audio (the audio version of The Economist is superb), the occasional fancy breakfast, more cycling, no Netflix, study-lounging… Subscribing to the London Review of Books is another such experiment. It took over a month a half for my first physical copy to finally arrive but when it did it was something precious. I gave it a thorough read and came away enriched.
When it comes to books, reviews have a strain that has evolved far beyond mere ratings to longform pieces by lifelong subject experts not only throughly describing a book (or several at a time) but placing it in a rich context.
I had read a few such longform reviews I had chanced upon but didn’t search for them. Last year I started getting interested in the online LBR when Brian Rotman’s mathy reviews showed me the possibilities of the genre.
Reading a whole edition, in it’s native broad format, has blown me away. 2 articles stood out for me (and when I read them I highlighted them plenty as you can see). The first is Diarmaid MacCulloch’s The World Took Sides, a wonderfully learned review of 3 books on Martin Luther that takes you to the 16th century and what a world ruled by religion looked like.
The second is Paul Taylor’s The Concept of ‘Cat Face’, an accessible overview of the state of the art in machine learning. His math metaphors for the algorithms in particular are clear and captivating.
Btw, this is what I mean by study-lounging: lazying outdoors for hours on a sunbed under a shadow oasis in a sea of sunlight, reading hard stuff. Paper, that oldfashioned screen, really comes into its own when drenched in photons. Plus, there’s something about sheer indulgence that makes it easier to tackle things you’ve postponed for too long out of fear.