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The first woman senator

While I was racing through the tunnels that link the concourses at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, trying to make a tight connection, faces of famous Georgians adorning the walls flashed by. Among them I spotted Rebecca Latimer Felton and wondered how many other travelers might recognize her as the first woman to serve in the United States Senate. Not that her term lasted all that long. When the governor appointed her on October 2, 1922, the Senate was not in session. By the time it convened in November, an election had taken place that chose her successor.

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Very Short Introductions go online

By Luciana O’Flaherty
All those who have read and loved a Very Short Introduction know that they offer a short but sophisticated route into a new or slightly familiar topic. The series was launched in 1995 and has continued to offer new books each year (around 30 a year, at the last count) for students, scholars, and the avidly curious.

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When are bridges public art?

By David Blockley
The costly controversy over the abandonment of the ambitious Wear Bridge scheme and current plans by Sunderland City Council to ‘reduce down to a simpler design’ is a manifestation of what can happen when thinking about various forms of art is confounded.

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On the Man Booker Prize 2013 shortlist

By Robert Eaglestone
So here’s the first thing about the books on the Booker Prize lists, both short and long: until the end of August, it was hard-to-impossible to get hold of most of them. Only one was in paperback in July (well done, Canongate). And while some were in very pricey hardback, several hadn’t even been published. This begs the question: who is the Booker Prize for?

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The Reign of Terror

By William Doyle
Two hundred and twenty years ago this week, 5 September 1793, saw the official beginning of the Terror in the French Revolution. Ever since that time, it is very largely what the French Revolution has been remembered for. When people think about it, they picture the guillotine in the middle of Paris, surrounded by baying mobs, ruthlessly chopping off the heads of the king, the queen, and innumerable aristocrats for months on end in the name of liberty, equality and fraternity. It was social and political revenge in action. The gory drama of it has proved an irresistible background to writers of fiction, whether Charles Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities, or Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel novels, or many other depictions on stage and screen. It is probably more from these, rather than more sober historians, that the English-speaking idea of the French Revolution is derived.

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Zeroing in on zero-hours work

Stephen Fineman
The growth of zero-hours work contracts has grabbed the headlines recently. The contracts offer no guaranteed work hours and can swing between feast (over work) and famine (literally nil hours). Employees are expected to be available as and when needed; if they refuse (which in principle they can) they risk being labelled as unreliable and overlooked the next time round.

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Challenges of the social life of language

When we consider two obvious facts – that virtually everyone becomes a fluent speaker of at least one language, and that language is central to social life – we can see that most of us are quite sociolinguistically talented. Whether we’re consciously aware of it or not, we know quite a lot about many of the intricacies of “the social life of language.” This doesn’t mean, however, that our knowledge is complete or wholly accurate. Here are ten illustrations of the point.

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A lost opportunity for sustainable ocean management

Philip Mladenov
Russia has recently blocked the creation of two of the world’s largest marine protected areas at a special meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in Bremerhaven. These marine reserves would have been massive – covering more than 3.5 million square kilometres of the Southern Ocean off the coast of Antarctica.

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Wonga-bashing won’t save the Church of England

Linda Woodhead
We are living through a very significant historical change: the collapse of the historic churches which have shaped British society and culture. The Church of England, by law established, is no exception. A survey I recently carried out with YouGov for the Westminster Faith Debates (June 2013) shows that in Great Britain as a whole only 11% of young people in their twenties now call themselves CofE or Anglican, compared to nearer half of over-70s. The challenge facing the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is to address this decline. But the initial indications suggest he may be heading in the wrong direction.

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Kammerer, Carr, and an early Beat tragedy

Following last year’s release of On the Road, adapted by director Walter Salles from the legendary Jack Kerouac novel published in 1957, two more Beat Generation movies are on the way. Big Sur, a November release directed by Michael Polish, stars Jean-Marc Barr, Stana Katic, Anthony Edwards, and Radha Mitchell in a story based on Kerouac’s 1962 novel about his efforts to shake off inner demons at an isolated cabin near the California coast.

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What have we learned from modern wars?

Richard English
War remains arguably the greatest threat that we face as a species. It also remains an area of activity in which we still tend to get far too many things wrong. For there’s a depressing disjunction between what we very often assume, think, expect, and claim about modern war, and its actual historical reality when carefully assessed.

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Book groups and the latest ‘it’ novel

Robert Eaglestone
I’ve never been to a book group (although I was once invited to a Dad’s ‘Listening to the Album of the Month with Beer’ club) but I’ve always been afraid that it would be a bit of a busman’s holiday for me, or, worse, that – because I’m basically a teacher – it would turn me into the sort of terribly bossy know-it-all you don’t want drinking your nicely chilled wine. That said, I often get asked to recommend the current ‘it’ novel for book groups.

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Nelson Mandela: a precursor to Barack Obama

Not long before Barack Obama was first elected President of the United States, in October 2008, the African American novelist Alice Walker commented that the then still Senator Obama, as the leader in waiting of the most powerful nation on earth, might be regarded as a worthy successor to the towering figure of Mandela. She discerned within the American leader’s authoritative and crusading self-presentation the template of Robben Island’s most famous one-time resident.

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US Independence Day author Q&A: part four

Happy Independence Day to our American readers! In honor of Independence Day in the United States, we asked some of our influential American history and politics VSI authors to ask each other some pointed questions related to significant matters in America. Their passionate responses inspired a four day series leading up to America’s 237th birthday today.

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