Articles By: Richard K

Review: Amanda Curtin’s Elemental

If the past is a foreign country, then Margaret Duthie Tulloch (‘Meggie’) is a traveller from a distant land. Indeed the narrator of Amanda Curtin’s splendid novel Elemental has led a life unimaginably different from the woman to whom her story is addressed. That woman is Meggie’s granddaughter, Laura, who in a hundred-page ‘Coda’ at the end of the book […]

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On the side of the Angels: A. C. Grayling

Of all the shady turns of phrase to have lodged themselves in the popular consciousness since the terrorist attacks of 2001, the term ‘Enlightenment fundamentalist’ is surely one of the shadiest. A version of the logical fallacy known as ‘the appeal to hypocrisy’, this ingenious bit of rhetorical jujitsu suggests that the enemies of religious obscurantism are no less intolerant […]

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Review: Two Cheers for Anarchism and How to Run a Country

‘Freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice,’ declared Mikhail Bakunin in 1867, ‘[but] socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.’ This ideological double-bind is no less relevant to party politics as it is practised in contemporary Canberra as it was to what Eric Hobsbawm termed, in his book of the same name, ‘the age of extremes’. For notwithstanding the occasional […]

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Prophet of gloom

That the British philosopher John Gray shares his name with a US author of popular books on sex and relationships has always struck me as an unfortunate coincidence. Imagine a man who walks into his local bookstore looking for the latest offering from the author of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus (1992) and walks out with a […]

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Operation Mosaic

On 3 October 1952, Great Britain detonated its first atomic bomb in an old navy frigate, the HMS Plym, anchored in the Montebello Islands off the north-west coast of Australia. Four years later, in 1956, it detonated two more bombs in the Montebello archipelago, fallout from which spread from Western Australia to Queensland’s inland and coastal towns and out over […]

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On Nicholson Baker’s The Way the World Works

‘I want to write a short book called The Way the World Works’, writes Nicholson Baker in a self-reflexive addendum to a short book called The Way the World Works, a collection of essays spanning fifteen years and containing such miscellaneous pieces as an apologia for pacifism, a tribute to the late John Updike, and a review of the ‘first-person […]

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Cheer up, it may happen

The self-help genre has always had its critics. Even in 1983, before the craze for self-improvement had really got going, Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos was taking aim at its habits of mind. Then, in 1998, we got Christopher Buckley’s God is My Broker, which delineates the ‘7½ Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth’. (Conclusion: ‘The only way to […]

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On Jeremy Waldron and Martha C. Nussbaum

Whenever there is a discussion about free speech, two things are almost certain to be said. The first is (roughly) ‘I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.’ And the second is (equally roughly) ‘Freedom of speech should not extend to falsely shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre.’ While the first […]

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On Michael Rosen and Susan Cain

On 25 October 1991, the Mayor of Morsang-sur-Orge, Paris, issued an order banning a dwarf-tossing competition due to take place at a local discotheque. Invoking his police powers for the maintenance of public order, the Mayor took the view that the practice of dwarf-tossing was an affront to human dignity. Certainly the proposed event – which was to feature one […]

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On Thomas Frank and Arthur Goldwag

Say what you like about the Treasurer Wayne Swan – his timing is impeccable. As I was sitting down to plan this review, he was standing up at the National Press Club to attack the ‘tiny handful of people … who mobilise their considerable wealth against policies designed to benefit the majority’. Taking aim at the mining billionaires who’d campaigned […]

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