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Tales Of The Hobbit

Scientists recount the discovery of Homo floresiensis, “the most important hominin fossil in a generation”. The bones suggested a human, but smaller — perhaps a new species. “It’s not a diseased modern human. But whether it’s a shrunken down version of a Homo erectus, or whether it’s something more ancient like a Homo habilis, or even an australopithecine who’s managed to struggle out of Africa — that’s still pretty much up for grabs” (3,550 words)

The Man With The Golden Blood

Only 43 people in the world are known to have Rhesus-null blood, of whom a mere six are regular blood donors. They are “infinitely precious to medicine and science”. The “null” means that their blood has no Rhesus antigens; it can be used for transfusions without fear of rejection. “It’s the golden blood”. Those who have it can save “countless lives”. But their gift becomes a curse if they ever need a transfusion themselves (3,490 words)

The Personality of Stalin

Another fine discussion of Stephen Kotkin’s revisionist biography of Stalin (Anne Applebaum’s review is also recommended). Stalin was “a man acting out of deeply held ideological convictions”. His action were “only understandable in these terms, not in terms of maximisation of personal power”. Without Stalin, the Soviet Union “would have been transformed into something else or fallen apart” (2,480 words)

Escape From Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word is “a work of genius that’s almost always wrong as an instrument for writing prose”. Its developers “did not think about writing as a sequence of words set down on a page”, but instead “dreamed up a new idea about what they called a document,” an ideal form “magnificent in its inner coherence but mostly irrelevant to the real world”. The document sets the rules; the writer must try to obey them (1,375 words)

Postscript: Benjamin Bradlee

Eulogy for Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee, “the least dull figure in the history of postwar journalism”, who has died at 93. As editor of the Washington Post from 1968 to 1991, through the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, he “took a mediocre-to-good paper and turned it into something ambitious, wealthy, and brave”. He was “a driven newspaperman, a man of his time and of his institution, and more alive than a major weather system” (1,800 words)

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