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In the Critics: The Centenary Issue

A.S Byatt on Terry Pratchett, Mark Damazer on Charles Emmerson’s history of the year 1913 and new fiction from Ali Smith.

New Statesman

In the Critics section of the centenary edition of the New Statesman, our “Critic at large” is the novelist A.S Byatt. Byatt explores her longstanding admiration for the Discworld novels of Terry Pratchett. “As a wartime child in the 1940s,” she recalls, “I was already puzzling over an image of a domed world poised on the backs of three elephants that stood on a monstrous turtle.” Byatt considers the latest in Pratchett’s series of books, co-written with the mathematician Ian Stewart and the biologist Jack Cohen, dealing with the science of Discworld. “Both Pratchett’s storytelling and the resolutely universe-centred perspective of the scientists make me happier to be human,” Byatt writes. “I look forward to the next volume.”

In the latest in a series of essays on visual art for the NS, the poet, critic and novelist Craig Raine writes about Picasso’s realism. Picasso “could be beautiful,” Raine argues, “but mostly he chose to be realistic … part of Picasso’s greatness is bound up with the idea that equivalence is more effective than literal representation, dull mimesis.” At its best, Raine concludes, his art is “reality tweaked”.

Our lead book reviewer is the historian Norman Stone, who reviews Brendan Simms’s Europe: the Struggle for Supremacy, 1453 to the Present. Stone is struck by Simms’s “unrepentantly old-fashioned” approach. This works best, he suggests, when Simms writes about Germany, “the history of which he knows inside out”. Simms’s book reminds us, Stone writes, that “much of modern history can only be made sense of if you accept that Germany went ape”.

Also in Books: Jon Cruddas, MP and coordinator of Labour’s policy review, considers David Goodhart’s analysis of the costs and benefits of immigration in postwar Britain. “I was fearful of reading this book,” Cruddas admits. “However, I found greater nuance and texture than before”. In The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-War Immigration, Cruddas concludes that Goodhart has made an important contribution to a “durable ‘one nation’ politics” of the kind Ed Miliband is trying to develop.

Will Hutton reviews Ben S Bernanke’s brief history of the 2008 financial crisis and Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig’s manifesto for banking reform, The Bankers’ New Clothes: “The question of how capitalism is to be better organised … is surely the issue, more than any other, that the New Statesman needs to address in its centenary year.”

PLUS: Mark Damazer on Charles Emmerson’s history of the year 1913; Claire Lowdon on Emma Brockes’s memoir of her mother, She Left Me the Gun; Robert Service on Stalin’s Curse by Robert Gellately; Douglas Hurd on Six Moments of Crisis by Gill Bennett; and Leo Robson on Saul Bellow’s Heart: a Son’s Memoir by Greg Bellow.

Elsewhere in the Critics: NS culture editor Jonathan Derbyshire looks back at his predecessors in the literary editor’s chair; Labour MP Tom Watson shares his views on the Xbox’s latest game BioShock Infinite and Kate Mossman reviews James Blake’s new album.

PLUS: poems from the NS archive by W B Yeats and Philip Larkin feature alongside new poems by Christopher Reid and Wendy Cope; and The Human Claim, an exclusive new short story about the perils of credit card fraud by Man Booker Prize-shortlisted author Ali Smith