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26 December 2023

The best New Statesman reviews and cultural essays of 2023

Our pick of the best writing and biggest moments from the year in culture.

By New Statesman

George Orwell in an age of moralists
By Rebecca Solnit
In a year when a clutch of new books revisited the life and work of George Orwell, the writer and activist – and author of Orwell’s Roses – Rebecca Solnit asked: should we stop measuring this great literary figure by today’s standards?

The Picasso problem
By Michael Prodger
As major retrospectives marked 50 years since Picasso’s death, the New Statesman’s art critic examined the cult of genius that disguised the painter’s “many and obvious flaws”.

Homer’s history of violence
By Rowan Williams
Published in September, Emily Wilson’s translation of the Iliad was hailed as an accomplished and accessible rendering of Homer’s epic. For Rowan Williams, it also revealed the poet’s bleak vision of the savagery of humankind.

Elon Musk’s death drive
By Quinn Slobodian
Amid the noise surrounding Elon Musk’s takeover and rebranding of Twitter, Quinn Slobodian discerned tragedy in the tech billionaire’s “bossism” and desire for “total control over everything around him”.

How racism shaped my critical eye
By Gary Younge
In a candid essay, the journalist and author Gary Younge described how growing up working-class and black in Seventies Stevenage honed his scepticism: “I entered journalism with a healthy, thorough contempt, embedded in my childhood, for the dominant narrative.”

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Rupert Murdoch’s portrait in the attic
By Tina Brown
A few days before Michael Wolff’s book The Fall: The End of the Murdoch Empire was due to be published in September, Rupert Murdoch announced he was stepping down as chair of Fox and News Corp. According to the magazine editor and author Tina Brown, Wolff’s account of Murdoch’s media hegemony presents an ugly, scurrilous tale of profit’s triumph over democracy.

Who runs the show?
By Jesse Armstrong
The creator of one of 2023’s most acclaimed TV shows, Succession – loosely based on the embattled Murdoch empire – reviewed Peter Biskind’s entertainment-industry exposé Pandora’s Box in November. In doing so, Armstrong gave us a first-hand insight into who holds the power in television in the age of streaming, and how they exercise it.

Inside the mind of Hilary Mantel
By Nicola Sturgeon
Scotland’s former first minister turned literary critic for the New Statesman in October. Her review of Hilary Mantel’s collected non-fiction – published posthumously as A Memoir of My Former Self – highlighted the novelist’s extraordinary range, depth and independence of thought.

What Prince Harry’s Spare reveals about the savagery of monarchy
By Tanya Gold
The royal memoir Spare proved the publishing sensation of the year. In it, wrote Tanya Gold, Prince Harry was seeking renewal – but his revelations about the cruelty of royalty were driven by rage.

How consultancy bleeds Britain dry
By Will Lloyd
In his review of The Big Con by Mariana Mazzucato and Rosie Collington, the New Statesman commissioning editor Will Lloyd explored management consultants’ increasingly damaging incursions into the public sector and the business of government.

Virginia Woolf’s living book
By Anna Leszkiewicz
Five volumes of Virginia Woolf’s diaries were published by Granta in the summer – and the New Statesman’s associate editor Anna Leszkiewicz read them all. They reveal, she writes, the author’s “manic inspiration”: “In the diaries, as in the novels, we feel the thrill of seeing her grasp the moment.”

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