Sunday, June 30, 2013
How an Israeli billionaire wrested control of one of Africa’s biggest prizes
Patrick Radden Keefe in The New Yorker:
One of the world’s largest known deposits of untapped iron ore is buried inside a great, forested mountain range in the tiny West African republic of Guinea. In the country’s southeast highlands, far from any city or major roads, the Simandou Mountains stretch for seventy miles, looming over the jungle floor like a giant dinosaur spine. Some of the peaks have nicknames that were bestowed by geologists and miners who have worked in the area; one is Iron Maiden, another Metallica. Iron ore is the raw material that, once smelted, becomes steel, and the ore at Simandou is unusually rich, meaning that it can be fed into blast furnaces with minimal processing. During the past decade, as glittering mega-cities rose across China, the global price of iron soared, and investors began seeking new sources of ore. The red earth that dusts the lush vegetation around Simandou and marbles the mountain rock is worth a fortune.
Mining iron ore is complicated and requires a huge amount of capital. Simandou lies four hundred miles from the coast, in jungle so impassable that the first drill rigs had to be transported to the mountaintops with helicopters. The site has barely been developed—no ore has been excavated. Shipping it to China and other markets will require not only the construction of a mine but the building of a railroad line sturdy enough to support freight cars laden with ore. It will also be necessary to have access to a deepwater port, which Guinea lacks.
More here. [Thanks to Feisal H. Naqvi.]
Mimetic Desire: The Bling Ring
Nick Coccoma in Critics at Large:
Sofia Coppola’s first movie, The Virgin Suicides (1999), treated a cadre of teenage sisters and their relationship with the material and moral strictures surrounding them. With The Bling Ring she comes full circle in a way, but the detours she’s taken in the intermediary years bring her to a very different vantage point. Once again, a group of adolescent girls (plus one boy) are the main characters; once again, the effect of materiality and culture is the theme. But her take on this material is informed now by her intervening films, Lost in Translation (2003), Marie Antoinette (2006), and Somewhere (2010). Without those reference points, you could slip and pass off The Bling Ring as a pointless affair. So did the woman next to me in the theater when I saw it, who pronounced it the worst movie she’d ever seen (did she forget the Baz Luhrmann movie playing next door?). But with Coppola’s oeuvre hanging as an illuminating backdrop, The Bling Ring reveals itself as perhaps her most biting, damning portrait of society yet.
The story is so bizarre it can only be true. Over many months in 2008-9, a posse of Los Angeles teens burglarized the mansions of various celebrities and made off with millions of dollars in luxury goods, designer apparel, and cash. Their hijinks led to a Vanity Fair piece, which was the source for Coppola's screenplay. She alters some names but keeps the story intact, introducing us first to Marc, a new student at a school for problem kids. There he falls in with a Korean American girl named Rebecca, who initiates him into the circle of vandalizing Valley girls. What follows can best be described as some strange mix of unconventional high comedy, coming-of-age tale, and quasi-gangster movie, as the cohort pilfer and party their way through Hollywood. The gang want in on the monied entertainment club, and in the process create an exclusive clique of their own.
Will we ever… discover what happened to Amelia Earhart?
Clues suggest the pioneering aviator met a slow death as a castaway. Investigators are still searching for definitive evidence to solve this disappearance mystery, but think they may be closing in on the truth.
Rachel Nuwer at the BBC:
Things were not going well for Amelia Earhart on the morning of 2 July 1937. Around 19 hours earlier, she’d taken off from New Guinea bound for Howland Island, a minuscule, 0.7-square mile (1.8-square kilometre) speck of land situated between Hawaii and Australia. She had already travelled 22,000 miles (35,400 km) around the equator, and just 7,000 miles (11,300 km) of Pacific Ocean stood between her and the record for world’s longest round-the-world flight. But one by one, problems had been accumulating on that fateful flight. Now, it was becoming apparent that not just her goal, but also her life was at stake.
“We must be on you, but cannot see you – but gas is running low,” she radioed to the United States Coast Guard ship assigned to help guide Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, to Howland Island. Due to a series of still-debated misunderstandings and errors, the pair could not hear any of the voice transmissions from the ship, and their attempts to use radio navigation to locate the island failed.
At 8:43 am, reportedly sounding close to tears, Earhart broadcast her last known transmission – “We are on the line 157 337... We are running on line north and south” – indicating that she was following a particular bearing in the hope of stumbling across her destination. As history shows, she never made it.
Sir Bob Geldof: musician, humanitarian, and serial entrepreneur
Abigail Van-West in Startups:
When his mother died of a brain haemorrhage and his father began to work away from home, Geldof was required to look after himself at the age of seven and soon began to understand the value of independence.
“I was forced by circumstances into an independent life, an organised life. I had to organise the milk, the food, the coal, wrapping up the newspaper, and getting a newspaper to light the fire. I was forced back upon myself, forced into independence.”
Geldof is known for his refusal to hold back when it comes to expressing something he is passionate about, from convincing millions of the need for charity in poverty stricken Ethiopia through globally broadcast charity concert Live Aid in 1985, to demanding that politicians “make poverty history” at Live 8 20 years later. And he puts his strong opinions and determination down to the harsh lessons of his early years.
“There was no-one in the house so there was no-one to temper my opinions as I formulated them raw and child-like. But the downside of it was of course that I really didn’t understand what authority was. If your parents abandon you, even if it’s not their fault, you think, ‘Why should I trust authority? They always leave’.”
WOODY ALLEN ON LIFE: “THE WHOLE THING IS TRAGIC”
From The Talks:
This is my perspective and has always been my perspective on life. I have a very grim, pessimistic view of it. I always have since I was a little boy; it hasn’t gotten worse with age or anything. I do feel that’s it’s a grim, painful, nightmarish, meaningless experience and that the only way that you can be happy is if you tell yourself some lies and deceive yourself.
I think it’s safe to say that most people would disagree.
But I am not the first person to say this or even the most articulate person. It was said by Nietzsche, it was said by Freud, it was said by Eugene O’Neill. One must have one’s delusions to live. If you look at life too honestly and clearly, life becomes unbearable because it’s a pretty grim enterprise, you will admit.
I have a hard time imagining Woody Allen having such a hard life…
I have been very lucky and I have made my talent a very productive life for me, but everything else I am not good at. I am not good getting through life, even the simplest things. These things that are a child’s play for most people are a trauma for me.
The Holy Quran Theme Park
Rafia Zakaria in Dawn:
It is going to be called The Holy Quran Park. Last Friday, June 21, 2013, officials in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates announced that the city would be constructing a theme park that will allow tourists to witness through rides and gardens, some of the content of the Holy Quran. According to Mohammad Noor Mashroom, Dubai Municipality’s Director of Projects, the park will be ready to go into operation sometime in September of next year and will cost $7.4 million dollars.
The sixty hectare Holy Quran Park will be located in an area known as Al-Khawaneej. Its features will include “the miracles of the Quran experienced through a variety of surprises by those visiting the Park”. Some of these surprises will be presented while park goers walk through an air-conditioned tunnel so they do not have to experience the searing heat of the desert. Other plans for the park include an “Umrah Corner” as well as gardens said to feature the 54 species of plants mentioned in the Quran. The Park will also have fountains, walking and biking paths and an outdoor theater. In addition to constructing The Holy Quran Theme Park, Dubai also recently bid to construct the “Angry Birds Theme Park” (built to emulate the popular game) and also the world’s largest Ferris wheel.
Why Living in a City Makes You More Innovative
The research team, led by Wei Pan, analyzed all kinds of factors to tabulate the “social-tie density” of different cities–that’s the average number of people each resident will interact with personally. They looked at everything from the number of call partners with whom a cellphone user will end up sharing a cell tower to the number of people connecting through location-based social networks like Foursquare to the contagion rates of diseases spread only through personal contact. And they found that the higher a city’s social-tie density, the higher its levels of productivity and patents awarded. Says Pan: “What really happens when you move to a big city is you get to know a lot of different people, although they are not necessarily your friends. These are the people who bring different ideas, bring different opportunities and meetings with other great people that may help you.” His model doesn’t hold up, however, for some huge African and Asian cities that have even denser populations than cities in the West cities. But Pan has an explanation for that. Generally, those cities have terrible transportation systems. If people can’t get around, can’t have those serendipitous interactions, a city’s density has less impact. It’s all about the friction.
Here’s other recent research on what makes us more–and less–creative:
- They are, however, extremely cranky: Lose the image of the creative genius so inflamed with inspiration that he or she can go days without sleep. Not likely. According to a study at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, people who don’t get enough sleep tend not to be all that creative.
- Does “Words With Friends” count?: On the other hand, if you are staying up late, it may do you good to read a little fiction. Research done at the University of Toronto determined that people who read fiction were more comfortable with disorder and uncertainty than people who read an essay and that fostered more sophisticated thinking and greater creativity.
- Do not disturb. Daydreamer at work: And it turns out that being bored at work may not be such a bad thing. A team of British scientists found that people who do tasks they find boring tend to daydream more and that can lead to more creative thinking. The question that needs to be answered now, says lead researcher Sandi Mann, is: “Do people who are bored at work become more creative in other areas of their work — or do they go home and write novels?”
ways of seeing 4
Study Advances New Theory of How the Brain Is Wired
Speaking. Seeing. Hearing. Thinking. Remembering. Understanding this sentence and making a decision about whether or not to read on. All of this work is handled in the cerebral cortex, the deeply creased, outermost portion of the brain that is the center of all the higher brain functions that make us human. Humans have the thickest cortex of any species but, even so, it measures no more than 4 millimeters (.16 inches) thick. For decades, scientists thought they had a pretty clear understanding of how signals move through the cerebral cortex. By studying the anatomy of nerve axons—the wires that connect nerve cells—they had concluded that information is relayed through a “column” of six layers of specialized nerve cells in a series of hand-offs that begins in the mid-layer of the cortex, then moves to other layers before triggering a behavioral response.
Now a study by Columbia neuroscientist Dr. Randy Bruno indicates this longstanding view is incorrect. Looking at how sensory information is processed in rats, Bruno found that signals are processed in two parts of the cortex simultaneously rather than in series—almost as if there are two brains. “Our findings challenge dogma,” says Bruno, assistant professor of neuroscience and a faculty member at Columbia’s new Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute and the Kavli Institute for Brain Science. “The upper and lower layers form separate circuits that do separate things.” The discovery, he says, “opens up a different way of thinking about how the cerebral cortex does what it does, which includes not only processing sight, sound and touch but higher functions such as speech, decision-making and abstract thought.”
in the end we spend our lives alone
Saturday, June 29, 2013
How 17 Equations Changed the World
Maria Popova over at Brain Pickings [h/t: Jennifer Ouellette]:
When legendary theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking was setting out to release A Brief History of Time, one of the most influential science books in modern history, his publishers admonished him that every equation included would halve the book’s sales. Undeterred, he dared include E = mc², even though cutting it out would have allegedly sold another 10 million copies. The anecdote captures the extent of our culture’s distaste for, if not fear of, equations. And yet, argues mathematician Ian Stewart in In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World, equations have held remarkable power in facilitating humanity’s progress and, as such, call for rudimentary understanding as a form of our most basic literacy.
The power of equations lies in the philosophically difficult correspondence between mathematics, a collective creation of human minds, and an external physical reality. Equations model deep patterns in the outside world. By learning to value equations, and to read the stories they tell, we can uncover vital features of the world around us… This is the story of the ascent of humanity, told in 17 equations.
From how the Pythagorean theorem, which linked geometry and algebra, laid the groundwork of the best current theories of space, time, and gravity to how the Navier-Stokes equation applies to modeling climate change, Stewart delivers a scientist’s gift in a storyteller’s package to reveal how these seemingly esoteric equations are really the foundation for nearly everything we know and use today.
Stop Illicit Financial Flows in 2015A friend directs me to this indiegogo campaign to help stop illicit financial flows.
A Place in the Country
In the course of discussing a writer, Sebald often acknowledges an intermediary, a Brod or Boswell type who played a role in keeping the flame or spreading the word. In the essay on Johann Peter Hebel, a lyric poet and author of almanac stories, this figure is Walter Benjamin, whom Sebald credits with initiating the attack on the "primitive Heideggerrian thesis of Hebel's rootedness in the native soil of the Heimat". In the essay on Robert Walser, it is Walser's friend Carl Seelig who preserved the Swiss writer's Nachlass (literary remains), and without whom, Sebald argues, his rehabilitation "could never have taken place". A short preface Sebald wrote for the German edition explains that when he travelled to Manchester in 1966, he packed books by Walser, Hebel and Keller which, 30 years on, would still find a place in his luggage. But A Place in the Country, though idiosyncratic, turns out to be less introvert than Sebald's fictions, less insistent on a "Sebald" figure who serves as the origin of its impressions and arguments. As it turns out, Sebald is less involved with what the writers mean to him than with what they might be shown to symbolise or represent. The result, written in his customary and not always helpful long paragraphs, and illustrated with plates, photographs and photocopies, is a passionate and provoking attempt to sketch an alternative tradition of Alpine literature starting with Jean-Jacques Rousseau – described as "the inventor of modern autobiography" and "inventor of the bourgeois cult of romantic sensibility" – and culminating, perhaps, in Sebald's own variant of Romantic autobiography.more from Leo Robson at The Guardian here.
In 1975, a popular fourth-term[*] Democratic senator from Idaho named Frank Church was serving as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. After he learned that letters he’d sent to Russia had been intercepted by government snoops, he was outraged. “It was an affront to his privacy,” says Pat Shea, a committee deputy director under Church , “an affront to the separation of powers.” Church convened and chaired a series of committees that shed light on what was sometimes referred to as the “No Such Agency,” a government body formally created in 1952 by President Truman that until 1975 had undergone zero congressional oversight. The Snowden Affair is a “rerun” of issues first uncovered during the 1970s, though these problems trace back to the earliest American efforts at espionage, says Shea. Between 1975 and 1976, the Church committees produced more than a dozen reports detailing the illegal activities of the NSA, CIA, and FBI, which included opening mail, intercepting telegrams, planting bugs, wiretapping, and attempting to break up marriages, foment rivalries and destroy careers of private citizens. “We thought we put a stop to this wholesale collection of information on Americans forty years ago,” says Peter Fenn, another former Church staffer.more from Michael Ames at Harper's here.
Onomatopoeia For Your Eyes
From Scientific American:
Whiz, BAM! Boom. Remember onomatopoeia from fifth grade English class? Well here’s a treat for your eyes, a sort of visual onomatopoeia where designer Ji Lee twists letters and words into visual representations of their meanings.
These images are taken from Ji Lee’s book, Word As Image: a collection of 90 altered words, examples of visual onomatopoeia. He has also just come out with an animated version of the same book, showing us that not only can we push our perception of the written word, but also the medium in which it is delivered. Why stick with static words on pages made with cellulose fiber from dead trees when words and the concepts they represent can be delivered dynamically, delighting you with their very existence as well as their meaning?
From The New York Times:
Just a few years ago, Raj Rajaratnam and Rajat Gupta were two of the most admired business luminaries from the “twice blessed” generation of South Asian immigrants. Both were born after India achieved independence from Britain in 1947, and both came to the United States after the Hart-Celler Act of 1965 abolished national origin quotas. Like many top students at the time, they sought graduate business degrees: Rajaratnam at the Wharton School, Gupta at Harvard. Rajaratnam founded the Galleon Group hedge fund and became a billionaire, and was considered the richest Sri Lankan-born person in the world. Gupta rose within McKinsey & Company to become the elite consulting firm’s three-term leader and the first Indian-born chief executive of a multinational company. Both were rich and reputable, traveling in the most exclusive social and business circles. Rajaratnam was dedicated to helping victims of land mines; Gupta presided over global efforts to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
Needless to say, neither of these men needed to engage in insider trading.
And yet (spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t read the business pages since 2011), in separate trials, juries convicted each of multiple counts of securities fraud. Investigators discovered that Rajaratnam had been given insider tips and used this advantage to make millions of dollars trading shares. Gupta was one of his sources. Rajaratnam received an 11-year sentence, the longest in American insider trading history; Gupta got two years. In one particularly dramatic instance, Gupta, on a conference call with Goldman Sachs’s board of directors one week after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, in 2008, learned that Warren Buffett was prepared to support Goldman with a $5 billion investment. Within minutes, Gupta called Rajaratnam and Galleon purchased nearly $25 million of Goldman stock, mostly for Rajaratnam’s portfolio. The following month, when Gupta learned Goldman was about to report a loss, he called Rajaratnam 23 seconds later. Galleon soon began dumping Goldman stock.
A Test to Measure How Rational You Really Are
George Dvorsky inteviews Keith E. Stanovich in io9:
Cognitive biases are an essential part of the modern definition of rationality in cognitive science.
To think rationally means taking the appropriate action given one’s goals and beliefs — what we call instrumental rationality — and holding beliefs that are in synch with available evidence, or epistemic rationality. Collectively, the many tasks of the heuristics and biases program — and the even wider literature in decision science — comprise the operational definition of rationality in modern cognitive science (see my book Rationality and the Reflective Mind, 2011).
Let me give you some examples of instrumental rationality and irrationality:
- The ability to display disjunctive reasoning in decision making [e.g. Either the Sun orbits the Earth, or the Earth orbits the Sun. The Sun does not orbit the Earth. Therefore, the Earth orbits the Sun.]
- The tendency to show inconsistent preferences because of framing effects [e.g. saying a ‘glass is half empty’ can often be more persuasive than suggesting the inverse; this is somewhat related to the negativity bias]
- The tendency to show a default bias [a.k.a. the status quo bias in which we hold a preference for the way things currently are]
- The tendency to substitute affect for difficult evaluations [sometimes when we have to answer a difficult question we actually answer a related but different question without realizing a substitution has taken place]
- The tendency to over-weight short-term rewards at the expense of long-term well-being [which is also referred to as the current moment bias]
- The tendency to have choices affected by vivid stimuli [e.g. men have been shown to make poor decisions in the presence of an attractive female]
- The tendency for decisions to be affected by irrelevant context
Friday, June 28, 2013
CYNICS, SKEPTICS, ATOMISTS AND RELATIVISTS
Kenan Malik in Pandaemonium:
He was ‘the laughing philosopher’ because, wrote Hippolytus, ‘he regarded all human affairs as ridiculous’. Democritus (c460-c370 BCE) was the last of the Presocratics (though many don’t regard him as one), and the most influential. He was born into a wealthy family – so wealthy, it was said, that the Persian king Xerxes paid a visit as his army marched through Democritus’ home town of Abdera in Thrace during his futile attempt to conquer Greece. Democritus spent much of his inherited wealth on travel, satisfying his thirst for knowledge, journeying to Egypt, Ethiopia and as far afield as India. He himself declared that none among his contemporaries had made greater journeys, seen more countries or met more foreign scholars.
In his Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, the third century biographer Diogenes Laertius tells a story of Democritus deliberately blinding himself in order to be less disturbed in his philosophical pursuits. It is a fanciful tale – old age rather than self-mutilation most likely deprived him of his sight – but it does convey a sense of the awe with which contemporaries regarded both Democritus’ search for truth and the asceticism to which he subjected himself in this pursuit. He was, wrote Cicero ‘as great a man as ever lived’.
Yet, Democritus also came to be the most reviled of the Presocratics. Plato found him so distasteful that he refused to discuss his philosophy and, some claim, even wanted all his works burnt.
The Most Dangerous Threat to the World Is ... Collective Psychosis in Pakistan?
J. J. Gould in The Atlantic:
It may not be the most dangerous place in the world, but, with its mix of political instability and nuclear capability, it's plausibly the most dangerous place for the world. Yet according to Husain Haqqani, Americans have a chronically hard time understanding why.
"I do believe that Pakistan is a dangerous place," Haqqani said, speaking withThe Washington Post's David Ignatius and retired U.S. general Stanley McChrystal at the Aspen Ideas Festival today, "but ... not for the reasons the Americans think it is. The Americans don't get Pakistan."
Haqqani, who served as Pakistan's ambassador to Washington from 2008-2011, thinks that U.S. diplomats and military leaders have, after decades of on-again, off-again engagement with Pakistani officials, internalized a distorted sense of possibility in the United States' involvement in Pakistan as a whole.
Haqqani believes that Islamabad's generals in particular have played a big role over time in flattering Americans' sense of efficacy in Pakistan -- and seems to believe that U.S. generals have been particularly susceptible to being misled, tending to see Pakistan's military leaders as their apolitical counterparts, rather than "politicians in uniform." It's not that American officials' thinking about Pakistan is insufficiently complex, according to Haqqani (McChrystal, after all, had just emphasized the importance of not looking for simple fixes in Pakistan); it's that American officials' thinking about Pakistan serially overestimates the United States' ability to promote stability and development in the country at all.
There is an old sailors’ proverb claiming that below latitude 40 degrees south there is no law, and below 50 degrees, no God. Cape Horn sits at 56 degrees south, about 550 miles lower than the southernmost point of mainland New Zealand, and forces sailors much farther south than they would otherwise go. It is a landform that resonates with centuries’ worth of collective fear; thousands of people have died there. The cape itself is a promontory on a small island off the tip of South America that was first rounded in 1616 by a Dutch expedition—previous ships had gone through the Strait of Magellan—and was named after its captain’s hometown, Hoorn. There, mariners endure increasingly extreme weather as currents that otherwise circulate freely around Antarctica are forced through the narrow Drake Passage. South America’s steep continental shelf amplifies waves to heights that can surpass a hundred feet, and violent, gusty winds called williwaws shoot down through the Andes. The Horn, a symbol of the dangers of the sea, looms large in a sailor’s mind until it has been safely passed. In December 1968, the first of the men of the Golden Globe made his approach. Robin Knox-Johnston, a twenty-nine-year-old captain in the British Merchant Navy, was leading the field in the southern Pacific. One of the first to enter the race, he was still stewing about a French victory in the 1964 Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race, which had inspired headlines offensive to Knox-Johnston’s national pride (“Frenchman Supreme on the Anglo-Saxon Ocean,” ran one such offender in Paris Match).more from Maggie Shipstead at Lapham's Quarterly here.
Tymoshenko's two bodies
The political phenomenon of Yulia Tymoshenko, her meteoric business career, her triumphant ascent to power and the consequent drama of her criminal prosecution and imprisonment are unique, even for turbulent, post-communist eastern Europe. Having started with a video rental shop at the end of the 1980s, she built a business empire using her husband's family connections. Ten years later, in a move typical of Ukrainian tycoons seeking to protect their business interests, she entered politics. However, upon her election to the Ukrainian parliament, she joined the opposition to president Kuchma. Dismissed from her post of deputy prime minister in charge of energy policy in 2001, she faced a criminal case and spent 42 days in prison – a fact she later made use of in presenting herself as a victim of the Kuchma regime. In the 2004 presidential elections, Tymoshenko supported Viktor Yushchenko and became the female icon of the Orange Revolution. Her visual appearance from that period evoked a broad variety of cultural connotations: from Marianna of the Ukrainian revolution and a woman-warrior fighting the dark forces of evil to the traditional Mother of the Nation, the embodiment of chastity, tenderness and love. Tymoshenko's golden plait, reminiscent of a nimbus or a crown, has become the most successful brand in Ukrainian politics since she appeared on the covers of glossy magazines and on TV screens. Styled as a political celebrity, she did not so much persuade as seduce both the Ukrainian and the international public.more from Tatiana Zhurzhenko at Eurozine here.
A t a time when gay marriage is eliciting widely divergent views about the nature and importance of the institution of marriage in general, it is as well to be reminded, as we are by Alison Wolf at the beginning of The XX Factor, that for most women in the developed world, whether or not they marry is less important now for their personal fulfilment than it has ever been in recorded history. For Jane Austen, refusing a proposal of marriage was an utterly life-changing event, something that could not have been said of any of the men in her society. In some parts of the world today, refusing a proposal is still impossible, however calamitous a young woman fears its consequences will be. But in Europe and North America in the twenty-first century, choosing a marriage partner has for many women become a lifestyle choice with fewer long-term consequences than choosing a school or a job. Alison Wolf’s twist on this turn of events, though, is to argue that it means very different things to the most educated 20 per cent of women than to the 80 per cent of their less educated sisters. These women, she writes, “have become a class apart . . . they are more like the men of the family than ever before in history. It is from other women that they have drawn away”.more from Paul Seabright at the TLS here.
Karl Marx: a Nineteenth-Century Life
From The Guardian:
"Great passions, which, due to the closeness of their object, take the form of small habits, grow and once more reach their natural size through the magic effect of distance," wrote Karl Marx to his wife Jenny in 1856, as she journeyed from London to Trier. "My love of you, as soon as you are distant, appears as a giant … the love, not of Feuerbach's human being, not of Moleschott's metabolism, not of the proletariat, but the love of the beloved, namely of you, makes the man once again into a man."
Typical Marx: Romantic, charismatic, cosmopolitan, and at once able to combine the workers' revolution with protestations of uxoriousness. But also disingenuous, since it wabiographys during one of these absences that Marx managed to impregnate the family maid, Helene Demuth. Such are the personal and intellectual complexities that Jonathan Sperber pursues through 600 pages of tightly argued text in this profoundly important biography of "The Moor". In contrast to Francis Wheen's raucous account of Marx's life as hack, brigand and rapscallion, Sperber places the history of ideas at the heart of his study. And it is a refreshingly anti-populist take. According to Sperber, not only is Marx's critique of capitalism of very limited applicability to the modern world, it was barely relevant when first published. Even in the 1860s his was the old world of Robespierre, Hegel, Adam Smith and the Spinning Jenny. Indeed, "Marx is more usefully understood as a backward-looking figure, who took the circumstances of the first half of the 19th century and projected them into the future, than as a sure footed and foresighted interpreter of historical trends."