Essays

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Detail of ‘Siege of the City’ by Jean Charlot, watercolour of a fresco at Chichén Itzá. The Maya mural from the Las Monjas building clearly shows a ship with the distinct wooden planks of a Viking boat © Jean Charlot/Artists Rights Society [ARS]; Copyright Agency, 2020

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Global history
Vikings in America

Centuries before Columbus, Vikings came to the Western hemisphere. How far into the Americas did they travel?

Valerie Hansen

A red deer stag in autumn mist. Photo by Arterra/Sven-Erik Arndt/Getty

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Biology
Sex is real

Yes, there are just two biological sexes. No, this doesn’t mean every living thing is either one or the other

Paul Griffiths

Activists clash with police on 1 March 2020 in Kolkata during a protest against India’s new citizenship law and following sectarian riots in New Delhi. Photo by Indranil Aditya/NurPhoto via Getty

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Mood and emotion
Politics is visceral

In an age thick with anger and fear, we might dream of a purely rational politics but it would be a denial of our humanity

Manos Tsakiris

An American advertisement for Royal Crown Cola from 1955. Photo by Alamy

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Gender
Angels in the market

The heart-tug tactics of 1950s ads steered white American women away from activism into domesticity. They’re still there

Ellen Wayland-Smith

A polio patient receives treatment via an ‘iron lung’, the nurse adjusting the flow of air pressure. United States c1955. Photo by Three Lions Inc/Getty

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Medicine
Life and breath

There’s a strange, and deeply human, story behind how we taught machines to breathe for critically ill patients

Sarah Ruth Bates

Taylor Hackford and Isabella Rossellini get to the point. Photo by Eve Arnold/Magnum

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Philosophy of language
Thoughts into words

Here’s the paradox of articulation: are you excavating existing ideas, or do your thoughts come into being as you speak?

Eli Alshanetsky

Illegal gold miners working in a pit in Manicaland, Zimbabwe. Photo by Robin Hammond/Panos Pictures

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Human rights and justice
Weak links

The idea of the ‘supply chain’ shackles how we think about economic justice. What forces could new metaphors unleash?

Michael Gibb

On the runway in 1962. Photo by Ernst Haas/Getty

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Travel
Fly with me

Jet-age glamour was more than just aesthetic: its promise of motionless movement reshaped perception of time and space

Vanessa R Schwartz

Detail of Sunrise III (1936-37), by Arthur Garfield Dove. Gift of Katherine S Dreier to the Collection Société Anonyme/Yale University Art Gallery

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Evolution
Origin story

Perched on the cusp between biology and chemistry, the start of life on Earth is an event horizon we struggle to see beyond

Natalie Elliot

Wyoming, United States, 1954. Photo by Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

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History of ideas
On tact in dark times

Far from a social luxury, tact becomes imperative when life is cheapened. We exercise it to show gentle respect for another

Corina Stan

From Jerusalem The Emanation of the Giant Albion by William Blake, plate 53, printed in 1821. Courtesy the Yale Center for British Art

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Stories and literature
The four-fold imagination

William Blake saw angels and ghosts and the Hallelujah sunrise, even on the darkest day. We need to foster his state of mind

Mark Vernon

Photo by Corbis/Getty

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Language and linguistics
A history of punctuation

How we came to represent (through inky marks) the vagaries of the mind, inflections of the voice, and intensity of feeling

Florence Hazrat

Cologne Cathedral stands out from the rubble of a city destroyed during the Second World War. Photographed from a US spotter plane in September 1945. Photo by Bettmann/Getty

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History
Repetition and rupture

Reinhart Koselleck, the last great theorist of history, sought in the apparent chaos of events a science of experience

Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann

Photo by Trent Parke/Magnum

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Mental health
Deluded, with reason

Extraordinary beliefs don’t arise in a vacuum. They take root in minds confronted by unusual and traumatic experiences

Huw Green

The view towards Milano Centrale station down via Vittor Pisani during lockdown, 29 March 2020. Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket/Getty

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Engineering
Uncertain times

The pandemic is an unprecedented opportunity – seeing human society as a complex system opens a better future for us all

Jessica Flack & Melanie Mitchell

The cellar of the Codorníu winery Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, Catalonia. Photo by Richard Kalvar/Magnum

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Archaeology
Accumulation and its discontents

Whether collecting, storing or hoarding, we’ve always had our issues with stuff – not least deciding what’s worth having

Astrid Van Oyen

Photo by Richard Kalvar/Magnum

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Thinkers and theories
The semi-satisfied life

Renowned for his pessimism, Arthur Schopenhauer was nonetheless a conoisseur of very distinctive kinds of happiness

David Bather Woods

Detail from La Malade (1892) by Felix Vallotton. Courtesy Wikipedia

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Illness and disease
No rest

In the 19th century, the rest cure tested women’s sanity. Today, it challenges cherished myths about work and productivity

Alicia Puglionesi

The First Cloud (1888) by William Quiller Orchardson. Courtesy the Tate Gallery/Wikipedia

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Love and friendship
Forgive and be free

Hurts – your own or those done to you – keep you stuck. Forgiveness therapy can help you gain perspective and move on

Nathaniel Wade

Illustration by Richard Wilkinson

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Evolution
Catastrophes and calms

Evolution is extraordinarily creative in the wake of a cataclysm. How does life keep steadily ticking over in between?

Renée A Duckworth

Pope Benedict XVI, despite rumours, did not wear Prada. ‘The pope, in summary, does not wear Prada, but Christ,’ said the official Vatican newspaper in 2008. Papal footwear has traditionally been red and is regarded as the colour of martyrdom. Photo by Giampiero Sposito/Reuters

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Design and fashion
What do shoes do?

Partly of the earth, partly of our body, the shoe sits on the edge of an ontological threshold. Where can it transport us?

Randy Laist

Detail from a manuscript painting from a set of annals written in Nahuatl called the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca (1545-1565) from Mexico. Courtesy the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris

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Global history
How Aztecs told history

For the warriors and wanderers who became the Aztec people, truth was not singular and history was braided from many voices

Camilla Townsend

US presidential advisor Ivanka Trump, managing director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde and German chancellor Angela Merkel share a laugh at the start of a panel discussion at the W20 summit in Berlin on 25 April 2017. Photo by Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images

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Knowledge
Confidence tricks

The ignorant pundit is absolutely certain; the true expert understands their own limits and how to ask the right questions

Andrew Little & Matthew Backus

An unknown male mummy found along with the mother and wife of Tutankhamun. Photo by Kenneth Garrett/National Geographic

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Archaeology
Mummies among us

Before death became a source of disgust and denial, Europeans cheerfully painted with – and ingested – human remains

Michael Press

Photo by Richard Kalvar/Magnum Photos

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Language and linguistics
The space between our heads

Brain-to-brain interfaces promise to bypass language. But do we really want access to one another’s unmediated thoughts?

Mark Dingemanse

Pakistani construction workers in the Business Bay area of Dubai, 2012. Photo by Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum

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Work
Universal unions

Being an employee is a threat to your liberty. But while firms exist, compulsory unions are a basic safeguard of freedom

Mark R Reiff

Viewed from the International Space Station, stars glitter in the night sky above the Earth’s atmospheric glow. Photo courtesy Nasa

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Cosmology
Big space

Our planet is a tiny porthole, looking over a cosmic sea. Can we learn what lies beyond our own horizons of perception?

Katie Mack

Map of the Port of Alexandria, Egypt, from Kitab-ı Bahriye (Book of Navigation) by Piri Reis, first published 1521, map taken from the revised 17th-century edition. Courtesy The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

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Cities
The city is a lie

From Ancient Egypt’s deltas to Edinburgh’s crags and peaks, the city pushes back against the dream of human separateness

Sam Grinsell

Malibu, California, 1957. Photo by Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

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Gender and identity
Sexual dinosaurs

The charge of ‘feminist bias’ is used to besmirch anyone who questions sexist assumptions at work in neuroscience

Cordelia Fine

Residents line up for cow beans provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to ease an ongoing food crisis caused by the Boko Haram insurgency. Mainok village, Western Borno State, Nigeria, 11 February 2017. Photo by Ashley Gilbertson/VII/Headpress

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Poverty and development
The billionaire curse

Philanthropy is vital – but its mechanisms are as intricate and troubling as the baroque structures of high finance

Katharyne Mitchell