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Oct 01, 2022

The writer of the novel that inspired the hit TV series starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington talks about how her new book turned dystopian after Trump came to power

Celeste Ng’s first novel, Everything I Never Told You, about a Chinese American family in 1970s Ohio, became a bestseller in 2014. Her follow up, Little Fires Everywhere, explored the underside of the seemingly utopian community of Shaker Heights, Ohio, where Ng lived in her teens, and became a hit TV series starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. Her latest, Our Missing Hearts, is something of a departure; it is set in the near future, when laws have been passed to preserve “American culture”, resulting in discrimination against Asian Americans and ultimately tearing families apart. She explains why what she planned as a domestic novel turned so dark.


Your new book reads as a nightmare scenario, yet it could so easily be true. How did it take shape for you?
I started writing in October 2016, right after I had finished Little Fires Everywhere, and I thought it was going to be a fairly realistic and conventional novel about a mother-son relationship. And while this idea was still coalescing, Trump was elected. We saw the rise of the far right, we saw a lot of the elements that had been bubbling under the surface come right up to the top. These feelings of anger and resentment and hatred and bigotry. That only increased throughout the years that followed, and that started to leach its way into the story. The book felt like the only way for me to wrestle with some of these questions that I was asking myself, like how do we move through this? How do you raise the next generation in this world?

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Oct 01, 2022
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Sep 30, 2022

A novella and short stories from the 1950s showcase Cohen’s fascinating self-fashioning, but also a taint of bitterness

Long before he wrote Famous Blue Raincoat or Last Year’s Man, Leonard Cohen already knew – with painful exactness – who he wanted to be. In a short story dating from 1957, collected here for the first time, he details his 13-year-old self’s “heroic vision” of a charismatic future persona: “I was a man in the middle-twenties, raincoated, battered hat pulled low above intense eyes, a history of injustice in his heart, a face too noble for revenge, walking the night along some wet boulevard, followed by the sympathy of countless audiences.”

Swap in “mid-70s”, take off the raincoat to reveal the natty suit beneath, transport the life-bruised man from wet boulevard to centre stage, and behold the Cohen I saw perform in 2008, everything the 13-year-old Leonard might have wished for.

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Sep 30, 2022

Authors, critics and Guardian readers discuss the titles they have read over the last month. Join the conversation in the comments

In this series we ask authors, Guardian writers and readers to share what they have been reading recently. This month, recommendations include historical reads, from an excellent nonfiction book about the Soviet Union to a trilogy of novels about a fictionalised postwar Britain. Tell us in the comments what you have been reading.

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Sep 30, 2022

The suave Hollywood actor shares delicious stories of his love of food, from the family kitchen to the world’s finest restaurants



When Stanley Tucci was a boy, he would often swap packed lunches with his friend, Ricky, at school. While Tucci’s lunch, assembled by his mother, would contain delicious leftovers from last night’s dinner, Ricky’s was always a sandwich filled with marshmallow – “the unhealthiest schmear between two slices of bread known to man”.

Nowadays, Tucci would rather eat gravel than ingest such rubbish. As we have learned from his cookbooks and from his Emmy-winning TV series where he wafts elegantly around Italy consuming his bodyweight in pasta and pizza, Tucci loves to eat. Taste, which is narrated by the actor, tells of a life lived through food, from the pomodoro sauce that would be strained through a pillowcase at his grandmother’s house, to his mother’s slow-cooked ragu, to the coq au vin he ate on an early date with his first wife, Kate. You will learn little here about his professional career, save for the Manhattan burger bars that sustained him during his early days as an actor, and the plate of andouillette, a particularly pungent French sausage, that he rashly ordered while dining with Meryl Streep (they sent it back and ordered omelette instead).

Tucci’s delivery is much as it is in his TV series: understated, urbane and charismatic. Not for nothing did an Instagram video of him making a negroni with exceptional chicness go viral during lockdown. Alas, there is no such video where he knocks up a perfect spaghetti carbonara, though listening to him rhapsodise about eating it in this mouth-watering memoir has to be the next best thing.

Taste is available via Penguin Audio, 6hr 49min.

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Sep 30, 2022

Days Like These by Brian Bilston; A Little Resurrection by Selina Nwulu; England’s Green by Zaffar Kunial; After Sylvia, edited by Ian Humphreys and Sarah Corbett; Journeys Across Breath by Stephen Watts

Days Like These: An Alternative Guide to the Year in 366 Poems by Brian Bilston (Picador, £16.99)
The poem-a-day format of poetry publishing is ripe for subversion. One suspects the tongue of the “poet laureate of Twitter” is in his cheek when celebrating such wildly various historic occasions as Charles I’s execution, Dylan going electric and … Bilston finding one of his books in a charity shop. He succeeds when he describes the specific in the mundane, such as on TV: “I used to believe that the tiny people in the magic box / were watching me as I watched them – / looking out at somebody else inside a tiny box”.

A Little Resurrection by Selina Nwulu (Bloomsbury, £9.99)
“I’ve been an angel before. No big deal, but it’s true.” From the off, the first collection by a former young poet laureate for London grabs the attention. Ranging across poems dealing with deportation and repatriation, trying to find a home between cultures, and charting the impact of this on Black bodies, Nwulu’s voice is direct and disarming, powered by a quiet anger. She is particularly good at illuminating the eddies of grief, thanks to her ability to freeze-frame decisive moments. When her father dies in hospital, there are “scattered around him, debris of a quiet bomb”. A compelling debut.

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Sep 30, 2022

The author on the underrated brilliance of PG Wodehouse, taking inspiration from Harper Lee, and the play that made her think differently about Northern Ireland

My earliest reading memory
When I was about eight I was asked to read a book to a class of younger children to keep them quiet, but I couldn’t read, so I held up a book and made up a story. When we moved to Paris I began to think I might never be able to read. Then I remember driving through London at night when we came home for a visit. My big sister and I kept shouting out the names of the shops because they were in English, and I could finally read them.

My favourite book growing up
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I loved the sanctimoniousness, the antiracism, the slam-dunk lawyering and the overalls. I actually tried to introduce “hey” as a greeting at school but didn’t have the social cachet to make it happen. I reread it so often I had edit suggestions.

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Sep 30, 2022

From socks based on a giraffe’s leg to a bottle like a beetle’s bottom – how the natural world inspires scientific innovation

What do a beetle’s backside, a lotus leaf and a giraffe’s leg have in common? As science journalist Kristy Hamilton explains in her delightful first book, all three have inspired human engineers to solve complex problems.

The rear-end of a Namib desert beetle sports small bumps that encourage the condensation of oceanic fog – a smart way of finding water in a landscape devoid of rain. All the beetle has to do is clamber up the nearest sand dune and wave its bottom in the rolling mist for an hour or so before fresh water trickles down its smooth black body and into its mouth. This has proved a boon for beetle and human alike, providing the creative blueprint for a self-refilling water bottle that utilises similar hydrophilic nodules to leach moisture from the air.The floating leaves of the Lotus are covered in tiny filaments that do just the opposite – they repel water. This hairy hydrophobic surface forces rain to slide straight off the leaf, taking dirt with it. It’s a handy way to keep clean if you don’t have actual hands to wash with and has inspired everything from stain resistant textiles to self-cleaning toilets.

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Sep 29, 2022

This rich history of economic thought shows that the concept of completely unfettered trade is an extremely recent invention

Strange things are afoot in the world of economic policy these days. Liz Truss is, by her own account, Margaret Thatcher’s biggest admirer and a fanatical devotee of economic liberalisation. Yet the first act of the new prime minister was to announce the largest government intervention in UK history: a price cap for retail energy markets expected to cost the Treasury more than the entire NHS budget.

It is not an isolated case. The flagship fiscal policy of Truss’s predecessor – “levelling up” – was essentially an admission that free markets cannot be left to their own devices in allocating investment across regions. In the world of money and finance, the era of quantitative easing has effectively nationalised large parts of the world’s major bond markets. Internationally, the US has morphed into the world’s leading protectionist power – while communist China is toasted in Davos as the last great champion of free trade. Forget strange things – it’s more like Stranger Things, and global economic policy seems to have stumbled into the Upside Down.

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Sep 29, 2022

Novelist given suspended sentence after staging peaceful protest calling for political reform

Renowned Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga has been given a suspended prison sentence after being found guilty of inciting violence by staging a peaceful protest calling for political reform.

Dangarembga and co-accused Julie Barnes were convicted of participating in a public gathering with intent to incite public violence at Harare magistrates court on Thursday. The pair were also each fined 70,000 Zimbabwe dollars (£200).

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Sep 29, 2022

A fascinating meditation on Black female creativity from the author of Corregidora and Palmares

American author Gayl Jones is powering into her eighth decade with a new novel only a year after the publication of her epic tale of slavery in Brazil, Palmares, which itself appeared after a 20-year hiatus. While briefer and lighter in tone, The Birdcatcher has grim moments. An offstage character mutilates her genitals with the mirror from a compact, and Catherine, the sculptor at the heart of the novel, continually tries to kill her beloved husband, Ernest. Without the constant vigilance of the novel’s narrator, Amanda, she would succeed.

As a meditation on female creativity, it forms a fascinating bookend to Jones’s debut, the bruising Corregidora. Published in 1975 when she was in her mid-20s, that novel centres on Ursa, a 1940s blues singer brutalised and exploited by her partners, while bearing the historic burden of slavery in the form of horror stories handed down through the generations. (Corregidora is the name of Ursa’s despised ancestor, a Portuguese slave owner who raped not only his slaves but the children he fathered on them.)

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Sep 29, 2022

Lucian Freud’s letters reveal the artist in all his rambunctious, irreverent and amusing glory

In their brief introduction to this handsome and enthralling volume, the editors, David Dawson, for many years Freud’s personal assistant, and Martin Gayford, a friend of the artist, begin by insisting that what they have produced is neither a memoir nor a biography, but a collection of letters. This is disingenuous, and does both men an injustice. Love Lucian is unique, a sort of biographical tapestry woven around a set of missives reproduced in facsimile that are at once skimpy, slapdash, funny and, in many cases, idiosyncratically but beautifully illustrated – works of pictorial art.

Freud was not a letter writer in the sense of two cases the editors mention, Van Gogh and Michelangelo. He was not as driven as the former, or as self-absorbed as the latter. He took his work, but not himself, seriously. Which is not to say that he was unaware of his own worth as an artist, or shy about proclaiming it. Dawson and Gayford suggest, and surely they are right, that the flippancy and raucous humour of the letters, like the hectic private and public doings of the man who wrote them, were a release and a relief from the rigours of a life dedicated to the making of art.

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Sep 28, 2022

This follow-up to the Booker-shortlisted Oh William! is a wondrously living record of pandemic pressures and the power of the past

Elizabeth Strout is writing masterpieces at a pace you might not suspect from their spaciousness and steady beauty. Last year she published Oh William!, which is on the 2022 Booker prize shortlist. In it, her much-loved narrator Lucy Barton returns tentatively to the company of her first husband, William, thinking all the while about empathy, loneliness and her lifelong sense of invisibility. Now Lucy by the Sea picks up the story, but there is a virus spreading and we are at the dawn of a changed world.

“I don’t know how to say it,” Lucy hesitates, thinking back to the early weeks of the pandemic, “but my mind was having trouble taking things in.” Here is Lucy’s voice again, the voice that first held readers rapt in Strout’s 2016 My Name Is Lucy Barton. Yet it is also oddly unfamiliar. Lucy is vague and detached in ways that make her strange, not least to herself. “My mind was having trouble,” she says, as if her mind were separate from herself, and so she feels it to be throughout the disorienting stretches of an unknowable year.

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Sep 28, 2022

It requires an iron self-discipline to get through more than 400 pages of sympathy for our disgraced former prime minister

I once wrote a book about Boris Johnson and promptly decided I would rather pull out my teeth than do it again. As a result, I must confess to a certain admiration for an author who, in his fourth volume about the recently departed prime minister, still finds himself thrilled by that man’s ability to “shock and enrage the Establishment”.

While the rest of us obsess about impending economic collapse, Gimson exults in the perceived triumphs of an Old Etonian charlatan over pitiful ranks of “moralists”, the “virtuous” (they get a particular kicking here), the “serious-minded” and the so-called “priggish middle classes”. Actually, this is where I get confused, since Gimson himself seems pretty moral, serious, even virtuous – and is, as far as I can tell, middle class.

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Sep 28, 2022

Moving on from writing that holds the natural world at arm’s length, authors have begun using intimate life to show nature as a protagonist in itself

The lockdowns of 2020/2021 galvanised and expanded a readership drawn to writing about the natural world. For the fortunate, the pause and hush offered space to witness the seasons unfolding, to hear voices other than our own, and to realise “our” story is deeply entangled with other lives. Undisturbed by the hum of road and shipping traffic, birdsong and the buzz of pollinators were amplified in our days’ soundtracks, and whales were recorded for the first time speaking in complex “sentences”. With the grave threat posed by the compound climate, ecological and biodiversity crises, a need and longing to repair our connection to the living world is keenly felt by many, and literature is playing a key role.

While the early nature writing canon leaned towards natural history – often at arm’s length, often written by a man out in a “wild” place – recent forms are bringing the issues of our time closer to home in memoir, making vivid the lives of others – human and not. The diversification of authors and of the places, cultures, and beings represented are lending vitality to the genre. A current fascination with the intelligences of the “‘more-than-human” world is firmly placing nature as protagonist rather than in service to a human plot.

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Sep 28, 2022

The leader of the Harlem Renaissance wrote poems and plays, short stories and children’s books. If you’re new to Hughes’ work, here are some good places to begin

Poet, writer and activist Langston Hughes is best known for popularising jazz poetry and leading the Harlem Renaissance, the African American cultural movement in New York City in the 1920s. A century on, what can we learn from the great writer’s rich catalogue of work? Performance poet, author and film-maker Malik Al Nasir explains how he fell in love with Hughes’s writing as a young man – and how you can too.

***

A nigger night,

A nigger joy.

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Sep 28, 2022

Fines for late books will also be abolished by some libraries in England and Wales in a bid to ease financial pressures

Libraries in England and Wales are responding to the cost of living crisis by abolishing daily late fees for books and getting ready to become “warm banks” to help the vulnerable this winter.

A survey by Libraries Connected, a charity which represents public libraries, found that nearly 60% are actively considering taking part in a “warm bank” scheme, offering heat and shelter to vulnerable people, as another way to help during the cost of living crisis. However, just 4% of library leaders expect to receive any extra funding for this activity.

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Sep 28, 2022

The 2014 resistance movement is the battleground for this powerful debut that has much to say about the war of today

The Russo-Ukrainian war did not start with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022. The conflict goes back to 2014 and the so-called Revolution of Dignity, when after months of protest against a corrupt Ukrainian government strengthening ties with Vladimir Putin, Kyiv erupted in violent clashes that culminated in the deaths of more than 100 protesters and the removal of the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovich. This victory was short-lived: Russia quickly moved to annex Crimea and send in support for pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donbas and Luhansk.

American author Kalani Pickhart’s powerful debut novel, I Will Die in a Foreign Land, returns to the explosive energy that immediately preceded that outbreak of war, showing us characters who each, in their own way, contribute to the Revolution of Dignity. Pickhart homes in on her characters’ individual struggles and widens the shot in turn, to encompass the whole conflagration and the sequence of ruins it left behind it. It is an impressive feat of empathy, for although Pickhart did travel to Kyiv and consult with many Ukrainian authors and scholars, she is not Ukrainian (or Ukrainian-American) herself.

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Sep 28, 2022

The German author’s contribution will remain unseen, alongside contributions from authors including Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell, until 2114

German writer Judith Schalansky has become the ninth author to be selected for the Future Library, which asks authors to create a work that will not be revealed to readers until 2114.

The Future Library is an organic artwork dreamed up by the Scottish artist Katie Paterson. It began in 2014 with the planting of 1,000 Norwegian spruces in a patch of forest outside Oslo, and one writer a year is asked to contribute a manuscript to the project.

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Sep 27, 2022

From heroin addiction to band breakups, the singer-songwriter opens up about his past and the agony of losing a son

The first thing Nick Cave says in Faith, Hope and Carnage is that he hates interviews. You could see that as a dispiriting start to a book that’s basically a 304-page interview – by Observer journalist Seán O’Hagan – but it’s hardly news. In the 1980s, Cave’s relationship with journalists was so fraught and combative it occasionally spilled over into actual violence. It subsequently calmed considerably, but always remained slightly uneasy and guarded. Eventually he stopped giving interviews altogether, a decision that seemed understandably prompted by the death of his 15-year-old son, Arthur, in 2015.

Giving up speaking to the press is not uncommon in a 21st-century pop world rich with other means of communicating with your audience – few major stars still submit to the old-fashioned treadmill of promotional interviews around a new release. But it’s usually rooted in a desire to tightly control one’s public image: better to maintain a painstakingly curated presence on Instagram, with every photo digitally airbrushed to perfection, every accompanying caption carefully vetted, , than have your off-the-cuff thoughts mediated by a journalist. What’s striking about Cave’s retreat is that it presaged a radical shift in the opposite direction. He has never been more open, or more available, than in recent years. In 2018, he started The Red Hand Files, a website on which he invited fans to “ask me anything”: four years on, he’s written hundreds of disarmingly frank, thoughtful answers to questions that range from profound to playful. He took the same approach during 2019’s Conversations With Nick Cave, a world tour that revolved not around music but an audience Q&A. In both online and live incarnations, the topic returned again and again to his son’s death and its aftermath: the assumption it was a subject Cave wouldn’t want to discuss publicly couldn’t have been more wrong.

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Sep 27, 2022

The Making of Another Motion Picture Masterpiece spans 80 years and is said to be ‘thoughtful, poignant and hugely entertaining’

Oscar winner Tom Hanks’s debut novel has been announced, and is due out next year. The book, Hanks’s second foray into fiction – he published a short story collection in 2017 – has been described by its publisher as a “wildly ambitious” story about the making of a film.

The Making of Another Motion Picture Masterpiece spans 80 years, and culminates in the opening of the titular movie, which is a “colossal, star-studded, multimillion-dollar superhero action film” inspired by a comic book.

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Sep 27, 2022

In The Jukebox Heart, this posthumously released work, the great singer-songwriter imagines a young romantic courting a mysterious, beautiful woman. Will it end in Hallelujah – or so long Mariette?

When I was about 13 years old, I did the things my friends did until they went to bed, then I’d walk miles along Ste Catherine Street, a night lover, peeking into marble tabled cafeterias where men wore overcoats even in the summer, stopping for intense minutes in front of novelty shops to catalogue the magic and tricks, rubber cockroaches, handshake buzzers, explosive cigars, and leaking glasses, sometimes choosing a sexy pipe for my future manhood from among the terraces of briar in bright windows of tobacco stores – I’d stop wherever there was an array – newsstands, displays of hardware, skeins of black and blonde hair hung between elaborately wigged wooden heads in beauty salons; I wanted detail to study, but a profusion so I did not have to linger long on anything. Sometimes when I got home, my mother would be on the telephone describing my coat to the police. As I prepared for bed, she’d rage outside my closed door, demanding explanations, reciting the names of children who brought their parents pleasure and honour, calling on my dear father to witness my delinquency, calling on God to witness her ordeal in having to be both a father and a mother to me. I would fall asleep in the torrent, thinking usually of the exhausted school day that awaited me.

I don’t know what it was that drove me downtown two or three nights a week. There were often long dark blocks between the windows I loved. Walking them, hungry for the next array, I had a heroic vision of myself: I was a man in the middle-20s, raincoated, battered hat pulled low above intense eyes, a history of injustice in his heart, a face too noble for revenge, walking the night along some wet boulevard, followed by the sympathy of countless audiences. My creation was derived from the lonely investigations of private eyes into radio or movie crimes, family accounts of racial wandering, Bible glories of wilderness saints and hermits. My creation walked with the trace of a smile on his Captain Marvel lips, he was a master of violence, but he dealt only in peace. He knew 20 languages, all the Chinese dialects, hardly anyone had ever heard him speak. Loved by two or three beautiful women who could never have him, he was so dedicated, every child who ever saw him loved him. He wrote brilliant, difficult books and famous professors sometimes recognised him in streetcars, but he turned away and got off at the next stop.

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Sep 27, 2022

The American poet faces the future anguished but unblinking in this magnificent collection of her four most recent books

Four of Jorie Graham’s most recent collections have been brought together here and their importance goes beyond the literary. She is a distinguished figure on the American poetry scene, a Pulitzer prize winner and Harvard poetry professor (a much-quoted piece in the New York Times, in 2005, implied she was too successful to be trusted). But there is nothing safe about her unparalleled work. The first collection here, Sea Change, was published in 2008 when the climate crisis was less inescapably in our minds but already Graham’s consciousness of the planet’s precariousness was driving her. She is best read aloud – no more than two or three poems at a time. Too much can swiftly become too much.

The bracketed title, [To] the Last [Be] Human, can be read as imperative and/or as aftermath – present and future co-existing. A number of her poems start like entries from a log book: “Summer heat, the first early morning” (Later in Life). Or “End of autumn. Deep Fog” (End) or “Evening. Not Quite. High Winds again”. (No Long Way Round). She begins with an anchoring in the present moment before projecting away. There is often a movement, as in the book’s title, between control and loss of control, a swerve between her personal sense of self and the endangered universal. She is weather vane, sentinel, about-to-be lost soul. What makes her work required reading is her readiness to go where angels fear to write, to do the terrifying work of visualising the future. The form of several poems adheres to a right-hand margin, which contributes counter-intuitive discomfort, a reminder of the limits of freedom – no hard shoulder upon which to pull up.

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Sep 26, 2022

The great historian’s analyses of a dozen 20th-century democrats and dictators are individually cogent but his conclusions tend to the obvious

Whether it’s because of the uncertain times in which we live, the dismal nature of our political leaders, or the rise of rightwing populism, we have had a spate of books in recent years on leadership in modern history. From Frank Dikötter’s How to Be a Dictator to Henry Kissinger’s Leadership, the format seems to be to string together chapters on various world leaders who changed the course of history, for good or bad, and reflect on the patterns between them.

The latest offering is Ian Kershaw’s Personality and Power, in which the great historian of Hitler and his movement pens a dozen lucid portraits of the leaders – half of them dictators, the others democrats, to varying degrees – who shaped Europe’s 20th century.

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Sep 26, 2022

Put any biases aside and you might just become a ‘superforecaster’

From Nostradamus to Paul the “psychic” octopus, who supposedly foresaw the results of World Cup matches, there has been no shortage of people who argue they – or their animals – are able to predict the future. In most cases it’s easy to dismiss such claims, be they incredibly vague, biblical-sounding prophecies (as with Nostradamus) or slippery coincidences (as with Paul).

But are there any people who actually can tell us what’s going to happen? We do, after all, look to academics or well-known political pundits to help us make sense of the world. If we want to know what’s coming down the line in Ukraine, for example, we might ask someone who has studied the Russian military forces, or perhaps a foreign policy guru. For the outlook on inflation in 2023, we might go to an economist. What’s surprising is that the evidence tells us academics and commentators don’t, in fact, do particularly well.

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