The university that broke the mould turns 50

Image caption Stirling University is now 50 years old

Fifty years ago this week Stirling University became Scotland’s first brand new university for more than four centuries.

During the 1960s a new wave of universities were established in Scotland as part of a great expansion of higher education across the UK.

Strathclyde University, Heriot-Watt and Dundee grew out of existing institutions but Stirling was different.

The others had a back story – for instance Strathclyde’s reputation in science and engineering built on the work of the Royal College of Science and Technology.

But Stirling, as a brand new institution, had to work hard to make its reputation from scratch and its whole set-up was an alternative to the existing structure.

For example, it was the first Scottish university to pioneer a “semester” system for students – one which is now adopted by others.

Initially it was probably seen as the most radical of Scotland’s universities.

An incident in 1972 in which some students jeered the Queen when she visited caused a national uproar and cemented this reputation.

One student from the early days recalled the difficulties which led to extra stress for undergraduates and the anger when the Queen visited.

He spoke of unfinished campus residencies which meant some students had to live as far away as Callander, the scarcity of course books in the library and the pressure which the then novel semester system led to – especially how coursework and essays counted towards final marks.

It took years for the university to overcome its difficulties but its radical edge faded as it became a more established institution.

Expansion of universities

The drive for new universities came from a report published in 1963 which was commissioned by the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan and chaired by the economist Lord Robbins.

It recommended an immediate expansion of universities and that all Colleges of Advanced Technology should be given the status of universities.

As a result of this, the number of full-time university students across Britain was to rise from 197,000 in the 1967-68 academic year to 217,000 in the academic year of 1973-74.

The Robbins Report also concluded that university places “should be available to all who were qualified for them by ability and attainment”.

It said the institutions should have four main objectives essential to any properly balanced system:

  • instruction in skills
  • the promotion of the general powers of the mind so as to produce not mere specialists but rather cultivated men and women
  • to maintain research in balance with teaching, since teaching should not be separated from the advancement of learning and the search for truth
  • and to transmit a common culture and common standards of citizenship.

These were broad principles which Stirling was to follow. Indeed Lord Robbins was to be Stirling University’s first chancellor.

Several sites were considered for the new university including Perth, Falkirk and Inverness before Stirling and its campus on the edge of the town was picked.

Until the 1960s there were just four universities in Scotland – Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and St Andrews – although several other institutions had the power to award degrees.

Actually going to a university was, in many respects, seen as a privilege.

For many years, a certain rivalry existed between Scotland’s ancient and modern universities – in truth each institution had its strengths and weaknesses.

Another great expansion of higher education came in the early 1990s when many former polytechnics were granted university status.

Stirling has often performed well in studies of the so-called “pre-1992” universities.

As a general rule, the ancient universities still rank higher in international studies but it is hard to claim that so-called ancient and modern universities do not generally enjoy parity of esteem within the UK.

Stirling University today has some 14,000 full time and part-time students. It is no exaggeration to say that the institution has changed the character of the city of Stirling itself.

Indeed so many of the aims of post-war policy and the factors which led to Stirling University’s foundation sound familiar.

The number of Scots going to a university – whether one of the ancients, one created in the 1960s or a former polytechnic – is around a record high.

All universities are expected to work hard to widen access and help youngsters from disadvantaged areas get into higher education.

But on Stirling’s golden jubilee, it is worth reflecting on the role played by an institution which quickly became a respected part of Scottish public life and whose graduates – from the author Iain Banks to former first minister Jack McConnell – have contributed to society.

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-41322668

‘Outlander’ says goodbye to one major character, but there’s hope for another

Image: starz

This recap contains spoilers for Outlander Season 3, episode 3, “All Debts Paid.”

Episode 3 of Outlander Season 3 is a pretty big deal for fans of Diana Gabaldon’s novels: Not only does it reintroduce a pivotal character in Lord John William Grey (all grown up and decidedly more dashing than the last time we saw him in Season 2, now portrayed by David Berry), but also closes the chapter on Claire and Frank’s tumultuous relationship in surprisingly poignant fashion.

While the show has to omit or streamline countless plot points from the novels in the adaptation process — including cutting Jamie’s trip out to the seals’ isle (although perhaps we’ll see it later in flashback) and the many prickly layers of his complicated relationship with Lord John — for the most part, Outlander’s writers do an admirable job of staying faithful to the emotional arcs that drive Gabaldon’s novels. That’s especially true of episode 3, written by Matthew B. Roberts, which takes our heroes on a believable and equally effective journey, even if the signposts are a little different along the way.

But “All Debts Paid” also featured a massive change to the narrative of Gabaldon’s Voyager — one that will have ripple effects across the series — and we couldn’t be happier about it.

In the books, Murtagh FitzGibbons Fraser, Jamie’s godfather and right-hand-man, is killed at the Battle of Culloden, but episode 3 reveals him to be alive (if not well) at Ardsmuir. When the prison is closed, the fan-favorite character, played by the indispensible Duncan Lacroix, is shipped off to the American Colonies with the rest of the prisoners, while Jamie is taken to an estate called Helwater to serve Lord Dunsany. 

Showrunner Ron Moore tells Mashable that there was one very good reason why he chose to keep the beloved character alive: “Murtagh’s development in the series is different than the books basically from the beginning. We made him much more of a key player in the story, much closer to Jamie, and then he got in on [Claire’s] secret in Paris. He became part of the family in a different way than in the books. And I just wasn’t ready to let him go in Culloden. He is going to survive and we will catch up with him later, we will just keep him going.”

Fans who’ve read book four might have some idea how Murtagh could come back into Jamie’s life, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Image: starz

Back in the future, we see Claire’s relationship with Frank fracture beyond repair. The episode’s early moments reveal that Frank has been seeing other people, since Claire can no longer love him the way she did before, and while their agreement seems amicable at first, over the years, the connection between them deteriorates to the point where Frank decides he wants a divorce so that he can take Brianna back to England without Claire, to start a new life with his mistress — a suggestion that naturally incenses Claire. 

(Sidenote: I hope the TV Academy and HFPA will finally pay attention to Outlander next awards season — over the course of these first three episodes, Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, and Tobias Menzies have all done a spectacular job of establishing the passage of time through their nuanced, perfectly calibrated performances, conveying the agony of grief, insecurity and old wounds more effectively than any old age makeup or hair change could. Heughan’s powerful, restrained delivery when John touches Jamie’s hand effortlessly evokes all the trauma he suffered while at Black Jack’s mercy in a single expression, while Balfe and Menzies’ confrontations are searingly honest, loaded with the weight of two decades’ worth of unspoken resentments.) 

Unfortunately, Frank never gets the chance to start over, because he’s killed in a car accident following the fight.

According to Balfe, Claire manages to be content in a marriage of convenience for so many years because she experienced true love with Jamie — but things aren’t quite so simple for Frank. 

“She’s sort of decided within herself that once was enough for her, and that the memory of that love is enough to carry her through the rest of her life. Her marriage with Frank, yes, it’s a marriage of convenience, but I think it’s a marriage of friendship in some ways,” she tells Mashable. “They come to an agreement where she won’t ask any questions, he can do what he wants. She’s going to focus on her career and being a good mother, and he’s going to be a good father. It works for them, and it works for 20 years. And really the tragic victim in that marriage is Frank, because he’s somebody who really wants Claire and still is in love with Claire and still desires her, but she just can’t reciprocate it.” 

She adds, “Everyone gives Frank such a bad rap, but if you’re in that marriage, I think he can’t help but try and find the things that he needs outside of it. Claire still has Jamie’s love inside her heart, so she’s good.”

As emotional as Claire’s farewell to Frank is, Balfe reveals that filming the hospital scene presented an unexpected challenge.

“Our first take, I look down and realize that sound had stuck a microphone to Tobias’ bare chest. That was not very emotional. I was like, ‘Um, does the dead guy need a microphone?'”

Despite the technical difficulties, Balfe adds that the scene was incredibly important for Claire as a character.

“At that point they were so emotionally far apart from each other, and the intimacy had been gone for so many years, but it’s like you don’t realize how much you love somebody until they’ve been taken away from you,” she notes. “They’ve been so used to living in this side by side world, but taking each other for granted, in a way, that at that moment she just realized that, there’s always been this huge love for [him]… It’s an apology.” 

Tobias Menzies has now said goodbye to both his characters, Black Jack Randall and his descendant, Frank, but admits that he doesn’t exactly feel emotional about losing either:   

“It’s sort of odder than that, because they’re all just like bits of you, so they don’t go anywhere. Will I miss playing them? Yes, it’s been great. It’s been an amazing ride. And I’ll also miss all the great friends that I’ve made on it. But it’s been fun to go on and do other things. We’ve been doing this for three and a half years now. But yes, I’ll definitely miss it, and it’s been a really great adventure.” 

Outlander airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz.

Watch: ‘Outlander’ Season 3 is a heartbreaker

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/09/24/outlander-recap-season-3-episode-3-frank-dies-death-murtagh-alive-lord-john-grey/

Forget Meditating, Just Go For A Swim

Ryan Holiday Instagram

There is one quiet place left on this earth. One quiet place where there are no phones, no news tickers, no instant messages or even music. It’s the one place where you can have not just quiet but utter silence and meditative calm, even if those things don’t come to you naturally.

That place is underwater.

This morning, I ran a mile and a half down to the lake near my hotel. I left my shoes and phone and sunglasses on the dock and eased myself into the water. It was barely 8 am. The water was just warm enough to be pleasant, just cold enough to be invigorating and a few seconds later, I was enveloped in it, swimming along the surface.

What was on my mind as this happened? Nothing. It was still. Every few minutes I would switch from freestyle to breaststroke in order to scan for boats, but otherwise there was not a care to consider, a thing to worry about. Then, as I got out towards the middle, I switched to backstroke and watched the sunrise over my shoulder.

By the time I had turned back and pulled myself out of the water, I was both exhausted and energized. My head was clear and I knew exactly what I wanted to do that day. In other words, I was experiencing all the benefits of meditation and mindfulness—it just also happened that I’d knocked out my calorie goal for the day and saw a new part of a city I had visited many times before.

It has become cliche—and annoying, frankly—to try to sell people on Zen Buddhism and meditation these days. Sit and watch your breath, they say. Try a five day silent retreat. Read this book. Download this guided app.

I think there is a simpler solution: Just go for a swim. A long one.

In a pool. In a lake. In the ocean. At a natural spring. Wherever you can, provided, you know, that you actually can swim (The last part is very important. Please don’t ignore).

You’ll see the benefits immediately. Not only is swimming one of the lowest impact forms of exercise—while still activating the whole body—it is, as I said, an immersive transcendent experience akin to meditation. It is impossible not to get something out of the silence, the repetition, the staring at the line on the bottom of the pool. Me, I like the sound and pressure I feel in my ears as my head goes in and out of the water. I like the way my goggles fog up and reduce my visibility to just the necessary amount. I like the feeling of the flow state when I hit just the right speed for just the right distance. I even like the mental math I sometimes do in my head to come to terms with the monotony…a mile isn’t counted to 72, it’s 7 sets of 10. And 4 laps into 10, means I’m almost done with this one and then I’ll get to start the next one…wait, what number am I on again?

Lots of people smarter than me have propounded the benefits of swimming. Follow the athlete and podcaster Rich Roll on Instagram and you’ll see him bang out a lunch swim of 5,000 yards. He has said that “submerged, the idle chatter of the monkey mind recedes. Each stroke, each lap is like a metronome, lulling me into a calm state of presence. When my swim is complete, I have an inescapable feeling of gratitude, with a light dusting of accomplishment.” The writer Robert Greene swims 1.25 miles multiple days of the week as a way of both breaking up the tough work of writing and toughening himself up to be able to do it. When he was president John Quincy Adams would swim in the early mornings in the Potomac River (can’t do that anymore—though Theodore Roosevelt used to swim nude in the river as well). Oliver Sacks picked up swimming from his father, and they both referred to it as the “the elixir of life.” The author Ruth Fitzmaurice has described swimming as a kind of “reset button.” “You’ll never regret a swim,” she once said. “You’ll always feel good coming out of that water.”

But meditation is more deliberate than this, you might say. It’s not just about getting some quiet time, it’s also about intentionality, about stilling the mind and having a mantra. I get that. For me, the solution to this problem was quite unintentional. I have tattooed on my forearms the phrases “The Obstacle is the Way” and “Ego is the Enemy.” When I swim in clear water, they are my mantras. With each stroke I am essentially thrusting them in front of my eyes and forcing myself to think about how I might overcome difficulties I face and how I might reduce and disassemble my ego.

I love running and there’s no question that it provides many of the same benefits, yet I always leave a swim better off than I do a run. Perhaps that’s because running has fewer defenses against the intrusions of the world. There are the stoplights and the honking cars. Our phones and our iPods used to be separate devices but the distinction has merged and the willpower to switch the phone into airplane mode has waned. Besides, what if we want to look at Google Maps? What if there is an emergency? What if someone is trying to reach me?

Not that these technologies aren’t coming to the pool either. When I look over and see a swimmer in the next lane with waterproof headphones I think, “Icarus! You are going to ruin this for yourself if you’re not careful.” The new Apple Watch is waterproof, and originally I was quite alarmed that it would be an intrusion. I’d fling it out of the water if it was but instead I’ve found that tracking my laps digitally means I don’t need to count as much, which means one less thought in my head. I shake my head at other “inventions” too. What are you swimming with fins for, friend? What’s with that ridiculous snorkel? To each their own, I guess.

One last story, one last sales pitch, I promise. Earlier this week I was walking out to the pool at my gym and a fan stopped me as I was getting in the water. “Are you Ryan Holiday? I just read Perennial Seller.” I thanked him and started my swim. It occurred to me though, about halfway through, just how much of that book I had written in the pool, in the middle lane, which I always prefer because there is less to bump into. Not writing consciously of course. I would head out to swim precisely when I was tired of writing or helplessly stuck. Yet it would always seem to be that the swim would unlock whatever door I was struggling to get open or some insight would creep into my brain that would be perfect for that spot in Chapter 3 that I hadn’t considered before. My writing wasn’t just enabled and encouraged by the clarity I had after my swims, but in fact, the process of swimming itself was a writing tool.

So anyway, from one person to another—from one person who can’t seem to sit still long enough to meditate to another—that’s my trick: Go for a swim. Maybe not every single day but incorporate it into your weekly routine at the very least.

Because swimming is good for the body and good for the soul and good for the mind.

Read more: https://thoughtcatalog.com/ryan-holiday/2017/09/forget-meditating-just-go-for-a-swim/

The British Library Has Fully Digitized 570 Pages of Leonardo da Vincis Visionary Notebooks

The British Library has fully digitized one of Leonardo da Vinci’s visionary notebooks, ‘The Codex Arundel’, and anyone is free to view and browse the prized historical artifact in amazing high-resolution detail.

The British Library has uploaded 570 high-res images of the notebook, which features a collection of papers written in Italian by Leonardo da Vinci (b. 1452, d. 1519), in his characteristic left-handed mirror-writing (reading from right to left), including diagrams, drawings and brief texts, covering a broad range of topics in science and art, as well as personal notes.

The core of the notebook is a collection of materials that Leonardo describes as “a collection without order, drawn from many papers, which I have copied here, hoping to arrange them later each in its place according to the subjects of which they treat”, a collection he began in the house of Piero di Braccio Martelli in Florence, in 1508. To this notebook has subsequently been added a number of other loose papers containing writing and diagrams produced by Leonardo throughout his career.

‘The Codex Arundel’ offers a glimpse into one of the most brilliant minds humankind has ever known. Da Vinci has been variously called the father of palaeontology, ichnology, and architecture, and is widely considered one of the greatest painters of all time. Sometimes credited with the inventions of the parachute, helicopter and tank, he epitomised the Renaissance humanist ideal. [source]

Many historians and scholars regard Leonardo as the prime exemplar of the “Universal Genius” or “Renaissance Man”, an individual of “unquenchable curiosity” and “feverishly inventive imagination”. [source]

Below you will find select pages from the fascinating notebook. You can see it in its entirety by clicking here.

Read more: http://twistedsifter.com/2017/08/leonardo-da-vinci-notebook-digitized-by-british-library/

Becoming by Fouad Azim

Becoming by Fouad Azim

Story Summary

This is a story of blooming love and betrayal, about children coming of age, of conscience and the sociopaths who lack it; it is a story about trust and how true love empowers and heals us. In the end, it is a story about humanity and the eternal struggle between good and evil.

Nyla and Junaid are classmates learning about the world around them and in the process discovering themselves. They must endure and survive a path fraught with confusion and peril if they hope to emerge victorious, though not necessarily unscathed. They will learn of innocence and its loss, about how budding love can be snuffed out if not cared for and its formidable power when nurtured and protected. They will become closely acquainted with evil, with its insidious presence in plain sight and how it mangles and corrupts those it touches. They will have to confront and defeat it if they can. If you think you recognize some of the characters described herein, it is only because the human experience around the world and in the different cultures is not unique, and we all share some of the same burdens and the joys of similar emotions and trials as we go about learning to find ourselves.

The setting is the foothills of the Margalla Mountain range, a part of the lesser Himalayas, north of Islamabad in Pakistan, during the 1990s.

http://amzn.to/2xwmgHB

Pacific Book Review

Author Fouad Azim has written Becoming, an emotionally gripping novel about young love in the1990’s Pakistan which will enthrall readers.

Becoming tells the story of classmates Nyla and Junaid. Junaid is a shy young man who comes out of his shell once he falls in love with the intelligent and independent Nyla. Their fledgling romance is threatened by the jealousy of Jahal, an emotionally unstable boy who is determined to break them up. Nyla and Junaid must overcome Jahal’s wicked actions and other obstacles to discover true love.

This book is a unique coming-of-age novel about young love in a land far away from the United States, which is still a universal story. Junaid’s sensitivity and devotion to Nyla is admirable and makes him a relatable protagonist. Nyla is a strong character that isn’t just a passive love interest for Junaid. She’s a self-sufficient young woman that is brave throughout Becoming as she fights the cultural traditions that try to keep her from Junaid. Jahal is the perfect antagonist as the psychologically disturbed villain of the novel. Though he commits horrific acts, Azim’s writing doesn’t limit him to a one-dimensional monster. Jahal is more of a wounded soul than a soulless anti-hero.

Azim’s writing is evocative and poignant. The hills and caves of Pakistan are described so vividly that readers can imagine they are in the rugged terrain of the South Asian countryside. He also easily captures the complicated social lives of teenagers and how fraught young relationships can be in Becoming’s dialogue. Though there are some cultural differences between Western and Eastern culture in the book, the universal themes of the novel comes through to the readers. Azim also expertly handles sweet romance and dangerous drama throughout the novel. This story has exciting and suspenseful moments which will leave readers wanting more.

Becoming would be best for fans of the Kite Runner and Khaled Housseni. The novels both have similar stories about friendships in South Asian countries and both authors write masterfully about love. This book would also be good for fans of historical fiction, especially of fiction set in countries outside America. The novel would be perfect for readers of all ages. Becoming could would be great for young Pakistani or South Asian culture in general will learn a lot from this book as well. Fouad Azim’s novel shows how love can conquer hate, making Becoming an unforgettable novel which all readers will love.

http://www.pacificbookreview.com/becoming/

Unlearning the myth of American innocence

The long read: When she was 30, Suzy Hansen left the US for Istanbul and began to realise that Americans will never understand their own country until they see it as the rest of the world does

My mother recently found piles of my notebooks from when I was a small child that were filled with plans for my future. I was very ambitious. I wrote out what I would do at every age: when I would get married and when I would have kids and when I would open a dance studio.

When I left my small hometown for college, this sort of planning stopped. The experience of going to a radically new place, as college was to me, upended my sense of the world and its possibilities. The same thing happened when I moved to New York after college, and a few years later when I moved to Istanbul. All change is dramatic for provincial people. But the last move was the hardest. In Turkey, the upheaval was far more unsettling: after a while, I began to feel that the entire foundation of my consciousness was a lie.

For all their patriotism, Americans rarely think about how their national identities relate to their personal ones. This indifference is particular to the psychology of white Americans and has a history unique to the US. In recent years, however, this national identity has become more difficult to ignore. Americans can no longer travel in foreign countries without noticing the strange weight we carry with us. In these years after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the many wars that followed, it has become more difficult to gallivant across the world absorbing its wisdom and resources for ones own personal use. Americans abroad now do not have the same swagger, the easy, enormous smiles. You no longer want to speak so loud. There is always the vague risk of breaking something.

Some years after I moved to Istanbul, I bought a notebook, and unlike that confident child, I wrote down not plans but a question: who do we become if we dont become Americans? If we discover that our identity as we understood it had been a myth? I asked it because my years as an American abroad in the 21st century were not a joyous romp of self-discovery and romance. Mine were more of a shattering and a shame, and even now, I still dont know myself.


I grew up in Wall, a town located by the Jersey Shore, two hours drive from New York. Much of it was a landscape of concrete and parking lots, plastic signs and Dunkin Donuts. There was no centre, no Main Street, as there was in most of the pleasant beach towns nearby, no tiny old movie theatre or architecture suggesting some sort of history or memory.

Most of my friends parents were teachers, nurses, cops or electricians, except for the rare father who worked in the City, and a handful of Italian families who did less legal things. My parents were descendants of working-class Danish, Italian and Irish immigrants who had little memory of their European origins, and my extended family ran an inexpensive public golf course, where I worked as a hot-dog girl in the summers. The politics I heard about as a kid had to do with taxes and immigrants, and not much else. Bill Clinton was not popular in my house. (In 2016, most of Wall voted Trump.)

We were all patriotic, but I cant even conceive of what else we could have been, because our entire experience was domestic, interior, American. We went to church on Sundays, until church time was usurped by soccer games. I dont remember a strong sense of civic engagement. Instead I had the feeling that people could take things from you if you didnt stay vigilant. Our goals remained local: homecoming queen, state champs, a scholarship to Trenton State, barbecues in the backyard. The lone Asian kid in our class studied hard and went to Berkeley; the Indian went to Yale. Black people never came to Wall. The world was white, Christian; the world was us.

We did not study world maps, because international geography, as a subject, had been phased out of many state curriculums long before. There was no sense of the US being one country on a planet of many countries. Even the Soviet Union seemed something more like the Death Star flying overhead, ready to laser us to smithereens than a country with people in it.

Boardwalk
Boardwalk empire a variety shop in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Photo: Michael S Williamson/The Washington Post

I have TV memories of world events. Even in my mind, they appear on a screen: Oliver North testifying in the Iran-Contra hearings; the scarred, evil-seeming face of Panamas dictator Manuel Noriega; the movie-like footage, all flashes of light, of the bombing of Baghdad during the first Gulf war. Mostly what I remember of that war in Iraq was singing God Bless the USA on the school bus I was 13 wearing little yellow ribbons and becoming teary-eyed as I remembered the video of the song I had seen on MTV.

And Im proud to be an American

Where at least I know Im free

That at least is funny. We were free at the very least we were that. Everyone else was a chump, because they didnt even have that obvious thing. Whatever it meant, it was the thing that we had, and no one else did. It was our God-given gift, our superpower.

By the time I got to high school, I knew that communism had gone away, but never learned what communism had actually been (bad was enough). Religion, politics, race they washed over me like troubled things that obviously meant something to someone somewhere, but that had no relationship to me, to Wall, to America. I certainly had no idea that most people in the world felt those connections deeply. History Americas history, the worlds history would slip in and out of my consciousness with no resonance whatsoever.

Racism, antisemitism and prejudice, however those things, on some unconscious level, I must have known. They were expressed in the fear of Asbury Park, which was black; in the resentment of the towns of Marlboro and Deal, which were known as Jewish; in the way Hispanics seemed exotic. Much of the Jersey Shore was segregated as if it were still the 1950s, and so prejudice was expressed through fear of anything outside Wall, anything outside the tiny white world in which we lived. If there was something that saved us from being outwardly racist, it was that in small towns such as Wall, especially for girls, it was important to be nice, or good this pressure tempered tendencies toward overt cruelty when we were young.

I was lucky that I had a mother who nourished my early-onset book addiction, an older brother with mysteriously acquired progressive politics, and a father who spent his evenings studying obscure golf antiques, lost in the pleasures of the past. In these days of the 1%, I am nostalgic for Walls middle-class modesty and its sea-salt Jersey Shore air. But as a teenager, I knew that the only thing that could rescue me from the Wall of fear was a good college.


I ended up at the University of Pennsylvania. The lack of interest in the wider world that I had known in Wall found another expression there, although at Penn the children were wealthy, highly educated and apolitical. During orientation, the business school students were told that they were the smartest people in the country, or so I had heard. (Donald Trump Jr was there then, too.) In the late 1990s, everyone at Penn wanted to be an investment banker, and many would go on to help bring down the world economy a decade later. But they were more educated than I was; in American literature class, they had even heard of William Faulkner.

TV
TV memories Lt Col Oliver North is sworn in before Congress for the Iran-Contra hearings, July 1987. Photograph: Lana Harris/AP

When my best friend from Wall revealed one night that she hadnt heard of John McEnroe or Jerry Garcia, some boys on the dormitory hall called us ignorant, and white trash, and chastised us for not reading magazines. We were hurt, and surprised; white trash was something we said about other people at the Jersey Shore. My boyfriend from Wall accused me of going to Penn solely to find a boyfriend who drove a Ferrari, and the boys at Penn made fun of the Camaros we drove in high school. Class in America was not something we understood in any structural or intellectual way; class was a constellation of a million little materialistic cultural signifiers, and the insult, loss or acquisition of any of them could transform ones future entirely.

In the end, I chose to pursue the new life Penn offered me. The kids I met had parents who were doctors or academics; many of them had already even been to Europe! Penn, for all its superficiality, felt one step closer to a larger world.

Still, I cannot remember any of us being conscious of foreign events during my four years of college. There were wars in Eritrea, Nepal, Afghanistan, Kosovo, East Timor, Kashmir. US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam were bombed. Panama, Nicaragua (I couldnt keep Latin American countries straight), Osama bin Laden, Clinton bombing Iraq nope.

I knew Saddam Hussein, which had the same evil resonance as communism. I remember the movie Wag the Dog, a satire in which American politicians start a fake war with foreign terrorists to distract the electorate during a domestic scandal which at the time was what many accused Clinton of doing when he ordered a missile strike on Afghanistan during the Monica Lewinsky affair. I never thought about Afghanistan. What country was in Wag the Dog? Albania. There was a typical American callousness in our reaction to the country they chose for the movie, an indifference that said, Some bumblefuck country, it doesnt matter which one they choose.

I was a child of the 90s, the decade when, according to Americas foremost intellectuals, history had ended, the US was triumphant, the cold war won by a landslide. The historian David Schmitz has written that, by that time, the idea that America won because of its values and steadfast adherence to the promotion of liberalism and democracy was dominating op-ed pages, popular magazines and the bestseller lists. These ideas were the ambient noise, the elevator music of my most formative years.

But for me there was also an intervention a chance experience in the basement of Penns library. I came across a line in a book in which a historian argued that, long ago, during the slavery era, black people and white people had defined their identities in opposition to each other. The revelation to me was not that black people had conceived of their identities in response to ours, but that our white identities had been composed in conscious objection to theirs. Id had no idea that we had ever had to define our identities at all, because to me, white Americans were born fully formed, completely detached from any sort of complicated past. Even now, I can remember that shiver of recognition that only comes when you learn something that expands, just a tiny bit, your sense of reality. What made me angry was that this revelation was something about who I was. How much more did I not know about myself?

It was because of this text that I picked up the books of James Baldwin, who gave me the sense of meeting someone who knew me better, and with a far more sophisticated critical arsenal than I had myself. There was this line:

But I have always been struck, in America, by an emotional poverty so bottomless, and a terror of human life, of human touch, so deep, that virtually no American appears able to achieve any viable, organic connection between his public stance and his private life.

And this one:

All of the western nations have been caught in a lie, the lie of their pretended humanism; this means that their history has no moral justification, and that the west has no moral authority.

And this one:

White Americans are probably the sickest and certainly the most dangerous people, of any colour, to be found in the world today.

I know why this came as a shock to me then, at the age of 22, and it wasnt necessarily because he said I was sick, though that was part of it. It was because he kept calling me that thing: white American. In my reaction I justified his accusation. I knew I was white, and I knew I was American, but it was not what I understood to be my identity. For me, self-definition was about gender, personality, religion, education, dreams. I only thought about finding myself, becoming myself, discovering myself and this, I hadnt known, was the most white American thing of all.

I still did not think about my place in the larger world, or that perhaps an entire history the history of white Americans had something to do with who I was. My lack of consciousness allowed me to believe I was innocent, or that white American was not an identity like Muslim or Turk.

White
White Americans are probably the most dangerous people in the world today author James Baldwin in New York, 1963. Photograph: Dave Pickoff/AP

Of this indifference, Baldwin wrote: White children, in the main, and whether they are rich or poor, grow up with a grasp of reality so feeble that they can very accurately be described as deluded.

Young white Americans of course go through pain, insecurity and heartache. But it is very, very rare that young white Americans come across someone who tells them in harsh, unforgiving terms that they might be merely the easy winners of an ugly game, and indeed that because of their ignorance and misused power, they might be the losers within a greater moral universe.


In 2007, after I had worked for six years as a journalist in New York, I won a writing fellowship that would send me to Turkey for two years. I had applied for it on a whim. No part of me expected to win the thing. Even as my friends wished me congratulations, I detected a look of concern on their faces, as if I was crazy to leave all this, as if 29 was a little too late to be finding myself. I had never even been to Turkey before.

In the weeks before my departure, I spent hours explaining Turkeys international relevance to my bored loved ones, no doubt deploying the cliche that Istanbul was the bridge between east and west. I told everyone that I chose Turkey because I wanted to learn about the Islamic world. The secret reason I wanted to go was that Baldwin had lived in Istanbul in the 1960s, on and off, for almost a decade. I had seen a documentary about Baldwin that said he felt more comfortable as a black, gay man in Istanbul than in Paris or New York.

When I heard that, it made so little sense to me, sitting in my Brooklyn apartment, that a space opened in the universe. I couldnt believe that New York could be more illiberal than a place such as Turkey, because I couldnt conceive of how prejudiced New York and Paris had been in that era; and because I thought that as you went east, life degraded into the past, the opposite of progress. The idea of Baldwin in Turkey somehow placed Americas race problem, and America itself, in a mysterious and tantalising international context. I took a chance that Istanbul might be the place where the secret workings of history would be revealed.

In Turkey and elsewhere, in fact, I would feel an almost physical sensation of intellectual and emotional discomfort, while trying to grasp a reality of which I had no historical or cultural understanding. I would go, as a journalist, to write a story about Turkey or Greece or Egypt or Afghanistan, and inevitably someone would tell me some part of our shared history theirs with America of which I knew nothing. If I didnt know this history, then what kind of story did I plan to tell?

City
City watch US army troops stand guard at a checkpoint in Baghdad, Iraq, in August 2007. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

My learning process abroad was threefold: I was learning about foreign countries; I was learning about Americas role in the world; and I was also slowly understanding my own psychology, temperament and prejudices. No matter how well I knew the predatory aspects of capitalism, I still perceived Turkeys and Greeces economic advances as progress, a kind of maturation. No matter how deeply I understood the USs manipulation of Egypt for its own foreign-policy aims, I had never considered and could not grasp how American policies really affected the lives of individual Egyptians, beyond engendering resentment and anti-Americanism. No matter how much I believed that no American was well-equipped for nation-building, I thought I could see good intentions on the part of the Americans in Afghanistan. I would never have admitted it, or thought to say it, but looking back, I know that deep in my consciousness I thought that America was at the end of some evolutionary spectrum of civilisation, and everyone else was trying to catch up.

American exceptionalism did not only define the US as a special nation among lesser nations; it also demanded that all Americans believe they, too, were somehow superior to others. How could I, as an American, understand a foreign people, when unconsciously I did not extend the most basic faith to other people that I extended to myself? This was a limitation that was beyond racism, beyond prejudice and beyond ignorance. This was a kind of nationalism so insidious that I had not known to call it nationalism; this was a self-delusion so complete that I could not see where it began and ended, could not root it out, could not destroy it.


In my first few months in Istanbul, I lived a formless kind of existence, days dissolving into the nights. I had no office to go to, no job to keep, and I was 30 years old, an age at which people either choose to grow up or remain stuck in the exploratory, idle phase of late-late youth. Starting all over again in a foreign country making friends, learning a new language, trying to find your way through a city meant almost certainly choosing the latter. I spent many nights out until the wee hours such as the evening I drank beer with a young Turkish man named Emre, who had attended college with a friend of mine from the US.

A friend had told me that Emre was one of the most brilliant people he had ever met. As the evening passed, I was gaining a lot from his analysis of Turkish politics, especially when I asked him whether he voted for Erdoans Justice and Development party (AKP), and he spat back, outraged, Did you vote for George W Bush? Until that point I had not realised the two might be equivalent.

Then, three beers in, Emre mentioned that the US had planned the September 11 attacks. I had heard this before. Conspiracy theories were common in Turkey; for example, when the military claimed that the PKK, the Kurdish militant group, had attacked a police station, some Turks believed the military itself had done it; they believed it even in cases where Turkish civilians had died. In other words, the idea was that rightwing forces, such as the military, bombed neutral targets, or even rightwing targets, so they could then blame it on the leftwing groups, such as the PKK. To Turks, bombing ones own country seemed like a real possibility.

Come on, you dont believe that, I said.

Why not? he snapped. I do.

But its a conspiracy theory.

He laughed. Americans always dismiss these things as conspiracy theories. Its the rest of the world who have had to deal with your conspiracies.

I ignored him. I guess I have faith in American journalism, I said. Someone else would have figured this out if it were true.

He smiled. Im sorry, theres no way they didnt have something to do with it. And now this war? he said, referring to the war in Iraq. Its impossible that the United States couldnt stop such a thing, and impossible that the Muslims could pull it off.

Some weeks later, a bomb went off in the Istanbul neighborhood of Gngren. A second bomb exploded out of a garbage bin nearby after 10pm, killing 17 people and injuring 150. No one knew who did it. All that week, Turks debated: was it al-Qaida? The PKK? The DHKP/C, a radical leftist group? Or maybe: the deep state?

The deep state a system of mafia-like paramilitary organisations operating outside of the law, sometimes at the behest of the official military was a whole other story. Turks explained that the deep state had been formed during the cold war as a way of countering communism, and then mutated into a force for destroying all threats to the Turkish state. The power that some Turks attributed to this entity sometimes strained credulity. But the point was that Turks had been living for years with the idea that some secret force controlled the fate of their nation.

In fact, elements of the deep state were rumoured to have had ties to the CIA during the cold war, and though that too smacked of a conspiracy theory, this was the reality that Turkish people lived in. The sheer number of international interventions the US launched in those decades is astonishing, especially those during years when American power was considered comparatively innocent. There were the successful assassinations: Patrice Lumumba, prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1961; General Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, also in 1961; Ngo Dinh Diem, president of South Vietnam, in 1963. There were the unsuccessful assassinations: Castro, Castro, and Castro. There were the much hoped-for assassinations: Nasser, Nasser, Nasser. And, of course, US-sponsored, -supported or -staged regime changes: Iran, Guatemala, Iraq, Congo, Syria, Dominican Republic, South Vietnam, Indonesia, Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay and Argentina. The Americans trained or supported secret police forces everywhere from Cambodia to Colombia, the Philippines to Peru, Iran to Vietnam. Many Turks believed that the US at least encouraged the 1971 and 1980 military coups in Turkey, though I could find little about these events in any conventional histories anywhere.

But what I could see was that the effects of such meddling were comparable to those of September 11 just as huge, life-changing and disruptive to the country and to peoples lives. Perhaps Emre did not believe that September 11 was a straightforward affair of evidence and proof because his experience his reality taught him that very rarely were any of these surreally monumental events easily explainable. I did not think Emres theory about the attacks was plausible. But I began to wonder whether there was much difference between a foreigners paranoia that the Americans planned September 11 and the Americans paranoia that the whole world should pay for September 11 with an endless global war on terror.


The next time a Turktold me she believed the US had bombed itself on September 11 (I heard this with some regularity; this time it was from a young student at Istanbuls Boazii University), I repeated my claim about believing in the integrity of American journalism. She replied, a bit sheepishly, Well, right, we cant trust our journalism. We cant take that for granted.

The words take that for granted gave me pause. Having lived in Turkey for more than a year, witnessing how nationalistic propaganda had inspired peoples views of the world and of themselves, I wondered from where the belief in our objectivity and rigour in journalism came. Why would Americans be objective and everyone else subjective?

I thought that because Turkey had poorly functioning institutions they didnt have a reliable justice system, as compared to an American system I believed to be functional it often felt as if there was no truth. Turks were always sceptical of official histories, and blithely dismissive of the governments line. But was it rather that the Turks, with their beautiful scepticism, were actually just less nationalistic than me?

American exceptionalism had declared my country unique in the world, the one truly free and modern country, and instead of ever considering that that exceptionalism was no different from any other countrys nationalistic propaganda, I had internalised this belief. Wasnt that indeed what successful propaganda was supposed to do? I had not questioned the institution of American journalism outside of the standards it set for itself which, after all, was the only way I would discern its flaws and prejudices; instead, I accepted those standards as the best standards any country could possibly have.

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Red state Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoan attends a rally following a failed coup attempt last year. Photograph: Osman Orsal/Reuters

By the end of my first year abroad, I read US newspapers differently. I could see how alienating they were to foreigners, the way articles spoke always from a position of American power, treating foreign countries as if they were Americas misbehaving children. I listened to my compatriots with critical ears: the way our discussion of foreign policy had become infused since September 11 with these officious, official words, bureaucratic corporate military language: collateral damage, imminent threat, freedom, freedom, freedom.

Even so, I was conscious that if I had long ago succumbed to the pathology of American nationalism, I wouldnt know it even if I understood the history of injustice in America, even if I was furious about the invasion of Iraq. I was a white American. I still had this fundamental faith in my country in a way that suddenly, in comparison to the Turks, made me feel immature and naive.

I came to notice that a community of activists and intellectuals in Turkey the liberal ones were indeed questioning what Turkishness meant in new ways. Many of them had been brainwashed in their schools about their own history; about Atatrk, Turkeys first president; about the supposed evil of the Armenians and the Kurds and the Arabs; about the fragility of their borders and the rapaciousness of all outsiders; and about the historic and eternal goodness of the Turkish republic.

It is different in the United States, I once said, not entirely realising what I was saying until the words came out. I had never been called upon to explain this. We are told it is the greatest country on earth. The thing is, we will never reconsider that narrative the way you are doing just now, because to us, that isnt propaganda, that is truth. And to us, that isnt nationalism, its patriotism. And the thing is, we will never question any of it because at the same time, all we are being told is how free-thinking we are, that we are free. So we dont know there is anything wrong in believing our country is the greatest on earth. The whole thing sort of convinces you that a collective consciousness in the world came to that very conclusion.

Wow, a friend once replied. How strange. That is a very quiet kind of fascism, isnt it?

It was a quiet kind of fascism that would mean I would always see Turkey as beneath the country I came from, and also that would mean I believed my uniquely benevolent country to have uniquely benevolent intentions towards the peoples of the world.

During that night of conspiracy theories, Emre had alleged, as foreigners often did, that I was a spy. The information that I was collecting as a journalist, Emre said, was really being used for something else. As an American emissary in the wider world, writing about foreigners, governments, economies partaking in some larger system and scheme of things, I was an agent somehow. Emre lived in the American world as a foreigner, as someone less powerful, as someone for whom one newspaper article could mean war, or one misplaced opinion could mean an intervention by the International Monetary Fund. My attitude, my prejudice, my lack of generosity could be entirely false, inaccurate or damaging, but would be taken for truth by the newspapers and magazines I wrote for, thus shaping perceptions of Turkey for ever.

Years later, an American journalist told me he loved working for a major newspaper because the White House read it, because he could influence policy. Emre had told me how likely it was I would screw this up. He was saying to me: first, spy, do no harm.

Main photograph: Burak Kara/Getty Images for the Guardian

Adapted from Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World by Suzy Hansen, which will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux on 15 August

Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/08/unlearning-the-myth-of-american-innocence

Apple removes VPN apps from the App Store in China

The Chinese governments crackdown on the internet continues with the news that Apple has removed all major VPN apps, which help internet users overcome the countrys censorship system, from the App Store in China.

The move was first noted by ExpressVPN, a provider based outside of China,which said in a blog post all major VPN apps including its own had been purged from Apples China-based store. The company shared a note from Apple (below) explaining that its app was removed because it includes content that is illegal in China.

The app continues to be available for users across the world outside of China, the company said.However, the process to create an App Store account in a different country is unknown to many users, so it is unlikely to fill the void of the missing Chinese app.

Another provide, Star VPN, tweeted that its app had also been removed.

Apple had not replied for comment at the time of writing.

ExpressVPN shared a note from Apple notifying it of the removal of its app in China

The App Store purge is hugely impactful because VPNs represent the only way that a China-based individual can bypass state censorship controls to access the internet without restrictions. The Chinese government effectively illegalized VPNs when new rules issued in January required them to receive government approvalin order to operate. That appears to be why Apple was forced to remove ExpressVPN and others like it.

Apple may believe it is best for its business to co-operate with requests from Beijing, but this App Store purge just created one of the biggest setbacks for the free internet in Chinas history.

Were disappointed in this development, as it represents the most drastic measure the Chinese government has taken to block the use of VPNs to date, and we are troubled to see Apple aiding Chinas censorship efforts. ExpressVPN strongly condemns these measures, which threaten free speech and civil liberties, ExpressVPN wrote on its blog.

Todays news is the latest in a series of developments against the free internet from China.

Two popular VPN services were forced offline in China earlier this monthleaving their users, which included professionals who require access to the global internet for work, without an alternative. Government officials denied a story from Bloomberg that the countrys mobile operators had been told to ban VPN apps by early 2018, but other steps have clearly been taken.Reuters reported earlier this month that the Great Firewall, the term for Chinas internet censorship apparatus, had been upgraded with new capabilities.VPN services subsequently found that they had been hit by the most sophisticated attacks from China to date. High-end hotels have even ceased offer VPNs to guests.

Those new capability apparently also made it possible for the government to interfere with messaging apps. While now blocked entirely, WhatsApp users found that they were unable to send videos and photos through the chat app and issues seemed to extend to WeChat, Chinas most popular messaging service. The censorship seemed to be linked tothe response to the death of dissidentLiu Xiaobo, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, who lost a battle to liver cancer earlier this month having been denied permission to leave custody to seek medical treatment overseas.

Going direct to Apple is becoming an effective way to enforce censorship since the U.S. firmcontrols what apps are available in China.The tactic proved successful for China earlier this year whenApple removed the New York Times app from the local Chinese App Store. The Times and Wall Street Journal are among a number of international news sites blocked in China,according to censorship monitoring service Great Fire.

Its unclear whether similar action has been taken with Android stores in China. The Google Play Store is not present in China, where a handful of third-party app stores are the most influential distributors of Android apps.

Not-for-profit group GreatFire offers censorship-proof alternatives like its Android VPNFreeBrowserand other services that includea collaboration with The New York Times, but Apples iOS doesnt permit similar options.

Apple justannounced Isabel Ge Mahe as the first managing director for its Chinese businessand, beyond battling a sales slump in China, the long-time Apple executive is tasked with the difficult job of managing a relationship with Beijing.The U.S. firm recentlyannounced plansto develop its first China-based data center, a move that is thought to be related tothe countrys new cybersecurity laws which went into effect June 1.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/07/29/apple-removes-vpn-apps-from-the-app-store-in-china/

10 Old Fashioned Dating Habits We Should Make Cool Again

1. Coming to the door to pick someone up.

I think we’ve all had it with the incredibly unromantic “here” text, and meeting up always seems to be more casual and platonic than the alternative. Of course, meeting someone from online or any circumstance like that would probably be the exception to this rule, but generally: the 30 seconds it takes to get out of a car or cab and knock on the door makes a huge difference.

2. Trying to dress really nicely for a date.

“Nicely” means different things for different people, so I think it’s just a matter of putting effort into how you put yourself together to go out with someone. It’s not about wearing suits and petticoats again, but just realizing that, whether or not we like to accept it, appearance does count for something, and we should do our best to make sure that our appearance says something about us, in whatever way we’d like it to.

3. Bringing flowers or other tokens of affection to the first date.

Now, many lucky ladies (and some men) I know get this regularly, and in fact, I have myself as well, but only ever with people I’d been dating for a while. I think there’s something to be said for bringing flowers to the door on your first date. It’s become uncool because it’s forward and it’s a gesture that confirms their interest, but we should definitely get past that idea and worry more about how we’re going to let someone know we really do care and appreciate that they want to spend time with us.

4. Going dancing that’s not grinding on a grimy club floor.

Whatever happened to this? Dancing for the sake of dancing, like fun, not essentially sex on a dance floor dancing. What’s a better way to literally shake off nerves than seeing them bust a really dorky move on a dance floor? And the art of slow dancing has generally been lost, though I’ve been one to do it in my living room with my slightly coerced significant other, and I’ll tell you he’s said on numerous occasions it ended up being one of the most romantic nights we had together.

5. Straightforwardly asking someone out and not calling it “hanging out.”

Or, as is very popular these days, “talking.” “Oh, we’re just… talking.” As in, seeing one another and speaking frequently as to get to know each other? So… dating? We’ve found these really convenient ways to skirt around the issue of having to put our hearts on the line, but honestly, it just ends up being messy and confusing for all parties involved. There’s no need to go back to the idea of courting or anything, unless you want to, but simply being direct about whether or not you’d like to go on a date with someone is a truly lost art, one that really shouldn’t be.

6. Additionally, being clear about when you’re “going steady.”

Oh, the awkward, “so… are we… you know… what are we?” talk. Classic. We should go back to asking one another if the other person would like to “go steady” or something. There’s something about asking them if they’d like to rather than assuming that you are or aren’t anything that’s just very cute, in my opinion.

7. Romantic gestures like writing poems.

Writing poems may not be for you, I know mine would look something like “Roses are red, violets are blue, I hate poetry but I love you.” I literally just made that up thank you please quote me when you inevitably post that gem on Tumblr. But seriously, like a handwritten letter in the mail or just surprising them with something you made even if it looks like the macaroni necklace you made when you were 5 is cute just because you tried and were thinking of them.

8. Turning electronics off and just being with one another.

I’m not sure there is anything worse than the person who picks up their phone and starts staring at it in the middle of dinner, or at any point while you’re together and having a conversation. I’m not anti-technology here (hello, I work for the Internet) but I am saying that there comes a time to turn it off and disconnect and remember what actually matters. People.

9. The general concept of asking permission for things.

It used to be principle for people to say: oh, when can I see you? Or, when could I call you? Rather than just assuming they can at any point. But I think that old concept could be applied to our modern world by just assuming that, unless told otherwise, you should ask permission to you know, touch them , take them out, call them at a certain time, etc. Once you’re in a relationship these things usually don’t require asking anymore, but some do, especially when it comes to sexuality. I once knew a person who said that they asked permission before so much as touching a girl’s thigh, and that always stuck with me.

10. Not assuming sex is to be had at point in time.

Now, I’m certainly not saying it should go back to being a taboo that’s unspoken of, but we certainly shouldn’t expect it from someone on the third date, on the first date, because they’re being flirty, because you know they’re into you, or even because they agreed to go out with you. A date does not have to be a precursor to sex, and you shouldn’t be disappointed if it isn’t because you should never assume that it will be. It depends on the person you’re with and what they want to do.

Read more: http://thoughtcatalog.com/kate-bailey/2013/12/10-old-fashioned-dating-habits-we-should-make-cool-again/

100 best nonfiction books: No 80 – The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne by Gilbert White (1789)

This curates beautiful and lucid observations on the wildlife of a Hampshire village inspired generations of naturalists

The Rev Gilbert White was that now extinct species, the unmarried Oxbridge don in holy orders. A lifelong curate and a fellow of Oriel College, White devoted himself to observing flora and fauna at large in the natural world, a sequence of observations for which he became world famous.

In 1755, after the death of his father, he returned to the family home in Selborne, settling for comfortable obscurity in a remote Hampshire village, an enviable career move. On the face of it, the passage of his declining years would be tranquil and serene, with no greater vicissitudes than bad weather or poor harvests.

However, around 1767, he got into correspondence, first with Thomas Pennant, a prominent zoologist, and then with Daines Barrington, another important British naturalist. His exchanges with these men would form the basis of his Natural History, a compilation published in the year of the French Revolution. There could scarcely have been a more stark contrast between the timeless, resilient stability of English country life and the bloody metropolitan dramas of France. Where Rousseau and Robespierre championed the rights of man, White celebrated the earthworm, a small and despicable link in the chain of nature, which, if lost would make a lamentable chasm.

Its claimed that Whites Natural History is the fourth most-published book in the English language, after the Bible, Shakespeare and Bunyan, and it has certainly been in print since first publication, while the benign White himself is now recognised equally as a great stylist and a pioneer ecologist. His work, in literature and in nature studies, coincides with a pivotal moment in the reign of George III when zoology and botany were at the cutting edge of scientific inquiry. The young Charles Darwin would grow up with Whites Antiquities of Selborne at his side as a guide, philosopher and friend.

Whites book reveals him to have been a man of profound general knowledge, with an appetite for medieval civilisation that was far in advance of his times. He was also a beady-eyed student of nature. As many critics have noticed, the zoology and botany of the Natural History replaced the fabulous folklore and bizarre traditions of previous countryside writers, with Whites scrupulous observations and beautifully expressed summaries:

The titmouse, which early in February begins to make two quaint notes, like the whetting of a saw, is the marsh titmouse: the great titmouse sings with three cheerful joyous notes, and begins about the same time.

Whites specificity is at once magisterial and enchanting, for example, in this report on the survival instincts of the squirrel and the nut-hatch:

There are three creatures, the squirrel, the field-mouse, and the bird called the nut-hatch (Sitta Europaea), which live much on hazel-nuts; and yet they open them each in a different way. The first, after rasping off the small end, splits the shell in two with his long fore-teeth, as a man does with his knife; the second nibbles a hole with his teeth, so regular as if drilled with a wimble, and yet so small that one would wonder how the kernel can be extracted through it; while the last picks an irregular ragged hole with its bill; but as this artist has no paws to hold the nut firm while he pierces it, like an adroit workman, he fixes it, as it were in a vice, in some cleft of a tree.

The
The Wakes, Gilbert Whites house in Selborne, Hampshire. Photograph: Joana Kruse/Alamy

Whites letters are full of such felicities, uniting into an unforgettable portrait of country life thats also the record of a new kind of zoology, scientific, precise and based on the steady accumulation of detail the fruit of a quiet life conducted by a leisured, well-to-do, middle-aged gentleman of cultivated tastes and habits, happily cut off from the noise and irritation of urban, industrial life. As such, he is the indispensable precursor to those great Victorians who would transform our ideas about life on Earth, especially in the undergrowth Lyell, Spencer, Huxley and Darwin.

Charm is a dangerous literary gift, but Whites work is conspicuous for its philosophical equanimity and moderate spirit. As a writer, he is the readers lovable companion, with whom its not impossible to imagine a conversation about cobwebs, the common rush (Juncus effusus), brown owls, stinking hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) or possibly the vernal migration of the ring ouzel.

As a garrulous country parson, White is comparable in the degree of self-revelation to the infinitely more worldly (even corrupt) figure of James Boswell (no 77 in this series). He offers a similar kind of colloquial familiarity, but with this difference. Where Boswell has his eye firmly on the judgment of posterity, and on his readers approval of his sensibility (a key Augustan English requirement), White wants only to celebrate the beautiful beech woods of his village, its rooks and magpies and, of course, the weather. Thus goes Whites immortal summary of that revolutionary year, 1789:

To January 13, hard frost. To the end of the month, mild, with showers. To the end of February, frequent rain, with snow showers and heavy gales of wind. To 13th March, hard frost, with snow. To April, heavy rain, with frost and snow and sleet. To the end of April, dark, cold weather, with frequent rains. To June 9, warm spring weather, with brisk winds and frequent showers. From June 4 to the end of July, warm, with much rain. To August 29, hot, dry, sultry weather. To September 11, mild, with frequent showers. To the end of September, fine autumnal weather, with occasional showers. To November 17, heavy rain, with violent gales of wind. To December 18, mild, dry weather, with a few showers. To the end of the year, rain and wind.

Plus a change, plus cest la mme chose.

A signature sentence

In the court of Norton farm-house, a manor-farm to the north-west of the village, on the white malm, stood within these twenty years a broadleaved elm, or wych hazel, ulmus folio latissimo scabro of Ray, which, though it had lost a considerable leading bough in the great storm in the year 1703, equal to a moderate tree, yet, when felled, contained eight loads of timber; and, being too bulky for a carriage, was sawn off at seven feet above the butt, where it measured near eight feet in the diameter.

Three to compare

Izaak Walton: The Compleat Angler (1653)

Charles Darwin: The Voyage of the Beagle (1839)

Richard Mabey: The Cabaret of Plants (2015)

The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne by Gilbert White is published by Penguin (7.99). To order a copy for 6.79 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/aug/14/100-greatest-non-fiction-books-all-time-natural-history-and-antiquities-of-selborne-gilbert-white

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