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Why literary genres matter

By William Allan
One of the most striking aspects of classical literature is its highly developed sense of genre. Of course, a literary work’s genre remains an important factor today: we too distinguish broad categories of poetry, prose, and drama, but also sub-genres (especially within the novel, now the most popular literary form) such as crime, romantic or historical fiction. And we do the same in other creative media, such as film, with thrillers, horrors, westerns, and so on. But classical authors were arguably even more aware than writers of genre fiction are today what forms and conventions applied to the genre they were writing in.

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Statistics and big data

David J. Hand
Nowadays it appears impossible to open a newspaper or switch on the television without hearing about “big data”. Big data, it sometimes seems, will provide answers to all the world’s problems. Management consulting company McKinsey, for example, promises “a tremendous wave of innovation, productivity, and growth … all driven by big data”.

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Kerry On? What does the future hold for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

By Martin Bunton
It may be premature to completely write off the recent round of the US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The talks faltered earlier this month when Israel failed to release a batch of prisoners, part of the initial basis for holding the negotiations launched last July. The rapidly disintegrating diplomacy may yet be salvaged. But the three main actors have already made it known they will pursue their own initiatives.

It may be premature to completely write off the recent round of the US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The talks faltered earlier this month when Israel failed to release a batch of prisoners, part of the initial basis for holding the negotiations launched last July. The rapidly disintegrating diplomacy may yet be salvaged. But the three main actors have already made it known they will pursue their own initiatives.

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Very short talks

By Chloe Foster
We have seen an abundance of Very Short Introductions (VSI) authors appearing at UK festivals this year. Appearances so far have included at Words by the Water festival in Keswick, Oxford Literary Festival, and Edinburgh Science festival. The versitility of the series and its subjects means our author talks are popular at a variety of different types of festivals

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Writing as technology

In honor of the beginning of National Library Week this Sunday, 13 April 2014, we’re sharing this interesting excerpt from Contemporary Fiction: A Very Short Introduction. As technology continues to evolve, the way we access books and information is changing, and libraries are continuously working to keep up-to-date with the latest resources available. In this excerpt, Robert Eaglestone presents the idea of the seemingly simple act of writing as a form of technology.

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A question of consciousness

By Susan Blackmore
The problem of consciousness is real, deep and confronts us any time we care to look. Ask yourself this question ‘Am I conscious now?’ and you will reply ‘Yes’. Then, I suggest, you are lured into delusion – the delusion that you are conscious all the time, even when you are not asking about it.

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Is our language too masculine?

As Women’s History month comes to a close, we wanted to share an important debate that Simon Blackburn, author of Ethics: A Very Short Introduction, participated in for IAITV. Joined by Scottish feminist linguist Deborah Cameron and feminist psychologist Carol Gilligan, they look at what we can do to build a more feminist language.

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Ice time

Jamie Woodward
On 23 September 1840 the wonderfully eccentric Oxford geologist William Buckland (1784–1856) and the Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz (1809–1873) left Glasgow by stagecoach on a tour of the Scottish Highlands

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Thinking more about our teeth

By Peter S. Ungar
Most of us only think about teeth when something’s wrong with them — when they come in crooked, break, or begin to rot. But take a minute to consider your teeth as the extraordinary feat of engineering they are. They concentrate and transmit the forces needed to break food, again and again, up to millions of times over a lifetime. And they do it without themselves being broken in the process — with the very same raw materials used to make the plants and animals being eaten.

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Law and the quest for justice

By Raymond Wacks
The law is always news. It plays a central role of law in our social, political, moral, and economic life. But what is this thing called law? Does it consist of a set of universal moral principles in accordance with nature? Or is it merely a collection of largely man-made rules, commands, or norms? Does the law have a specific purpose, such as the protection of individual rights, the attainment of justice, or economic, political, and sexual equality? Can the law change society as it has done in South Africa?

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Best Original Score: Who will win (and who should!)

By Kathryn Kalinak
This year’s slate of contenders includes established pros (John Williams, Thomas Newman, Alexandre Desplat) along with some newcomers (William Butler and Owen Pallett, Steven Price). This used to be a category where you had to pay your dues, but no longer.

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Art and industry in film

With the Oscars round the corner, we’re delving into Film: A Very Short Introduction. Here’s an extract from Chapter 3 of Michael Wood’s book. In this extract he looks at the industry and the role of the moviegoer.

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The world’s revolutions [infographic]

How many revolutions have there been in the world’s history? Are they all violent? As revolutions around the world continue to make front page news, we asked Jack Goldstone, author of Revolutions: A Very Short Introduction, to help us pull together a timeline of the revolutions that have shaped the world.

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Is love real?

In honor of Valentine’s Day today, the holiday that celebrates love, we’re sharing an excerpt from Emotion: A Very Short Introduction by Dylan Evans. Evans presents us with the differing opinions on romantic love. Some believe it to be an invention, while others classify it as a universal emotion hardwired into the brain. As we open heart-shaped boxes of candy today, is it possible that the romantic love we feel is something we learned from the romantic stories we read and saw in our life?

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Nations and liberalism?

By Steven Grosby
Nationalism and nations have understandably been associated with the most illiberal treatment of human beings. History is replete with well-known examples of the murder of innocents in the cause of some nation. It continues today, for example, in Syria, Kurdistan, the Kashmir, and other places.

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