Virginia Woolf is an icon with a shaky reputation. She is
known as depressed—a novelist who, at age 59, drowned
herself in the River Ouse outside her weekend home. She also
stands as that prototypical female figure whose face we put
on mugs, t-shirts,...
Jane Austen is loved mainly as a charming guide to
fashionable life in the Regency period. She is admired for
portraying a world of elegant houses, dances, servants and
fashionable young men driving barouches. But her own vision
of her task was radically different....
Imagining the inner lives of other people is a core human
capacity. But we don’t automatically or naturally do this
very well. We are prey to a range of cognitive biases:
without being aware that we are doing so, we might assume
We generally think that philosophers should be proud of
their big brains, and be fans of thinking, self-reflection
and rational analysis.
But there’s one philosopher, born in France in 1533, with
a refreshingly different take. Michel de Montaigne was an
intellectual who spent his writing...
Modern life is, in many ways, founded around the idea of
progress: the notion that as we know more (especially about
science and technology), and as economies grow larger,
we’re bound to end up happier. Particularly in the
eighteenth century, as European societies and...
Democracy was achieved by such a long, arduous and heroic
struggle that it can feel embarrassing – even shameful –
to feel a little disappointed by it. We know that at key
historical moments people have made profound sacrifices so
that we can, every...
Modern architecture produces truly innovative work:
glittering, staggeringly tall buildings, opera houses that
look like folded origami, even museums that look like
spaceships. However, in turning towards everything new,
architectural modernism also dogmatically left behind much
of what makes buildings lovely. The best architects of...
We tend to get pretty nervous around the idea of political
art. Some terrible things have been done in its name: it’s
encouraged fanaticism, demonised vulnerable groups and
pumped out delusional propaganda. But despite our
misgivings, our collective existence is very much in need...
The 19th-century designer, poet and entrepreneur William
Morris is one of the best guides we have to the modern
economy – despite the fact that he died in 1896 (while
Queen Victoria was still on the throne), never made a
telephone call and would...
In the West, philosophers write long non-fiction books,
often using incomprehensible words and limit their
involvement with the world to lectures and committee
meetings. In the East, and especially in the Zen tradition,
philosophers write poems, rake gravel, go on pilgrimages,
practice archery, write aphorisms...
One of the most depressing aspects of travel is finding that
the world often looks the same in many different places. The
towers of downtown Tokyo are indistinguishable from those of
Frankfurt or Seattle. That’s no coincidence. Modern
architecture was founded on the idea...