Why the London Review of Books is Absolutely Essential Reading

What most of my flights look like

What most of my flights look like

Of all the things you could read in the world, why the London Review of Books? And why is it particularly important for those who practice debating? 

1. Global Historical Context

There is not one writer for this publication that is not an expert in the context and history of whatever book they are reviewing or essay they are writing. They are not an expert in the fantasy-themed expertise of the debater, but in a broader sense - they can tell an incredibly comprehensive, incredibly rich story based on the information that helps you wrap your head around something as complex as Korean history or Medieval practices of art or archaeology. This is a model of how to assemble information into a form that someone can easily digest in a very limited amount of time. The books are reviewed within the context of history and other opinions, so you get a very complete story of the person, time period, or the issue that the book is about.

2. High Quality Argumentation

It's crucial to understand these are not just summaries of books but very complex arguments about the value of the book in consideration, bringing all available means of measurement to the table that will help you see if it is any good. Aside from that, the long form journalism and the essays that regularly run show you how to develop an argument, support it, and predict some responses and questions from an audience that is both intelligent, public, and inaccessible. This is the hardest form of argumentation in the world to make work and the correspondents do it beautifully issue after issue.

3. What Journalism Should Be

This publication is master storytelling by the best journalists in the world who have total control of your attention by offering the perfect blend of their positionality, the scene, the players, and the story. The recent piece on Mosul was a heartbreaking story of what has been lost there, both personally and internationally. The writer was able to accomplish this by pulling back to give us the global view as a moment within personal stories of individuals trying to stay alive in a city under siege. These stories are hard to read but captivating. I am always moved by the reporting in the LRB in ways that traditional newspapers cannot begin to touch. I think that this style should appear more frequently in debates. I'm afraid it won't - it requires more work than the debate world is willing to give to putting arguments together. 

4. The Don't Know Factor

I believe that if you regularly read the London Review of Books you significantly reduce the chance that you'll be hit by the "don't know" factor at a competition. So incredibly frequently a reviewer will drop some point of analysis, or some evidence or reference to another system of thought or thinker in their piece it becomes invaluable to read them all. I've received a number of good authors, books, and ideas from asides in the reviews alone. The emphasis on contextualizing the new book within the larger conversation is responsible for this I think. So many things are connected in so many ways that it's hard to just try to brainstorm on your own about how things are put together. These writers can help with that, and if you pay careful attention you'll find that you'll know more things to say on a number of topics as well. And that's what you want when you are debating. 

5. Value

The subscription is only $50 for the year, that's all the print issues. They are great, easy to carry, light, like a newspaper. But that's not the best part. You also get access to the archive which is searchable. So if you would like to read everything that the LRB has written about health care or Israel or Russia, you can do so. This is an amazing resource for prep and something that I think you'll turn to year in and year out for perspective, model arguments, and supporting ideas for the big claims that you want to run, that are fun, and that get the attention of the judges. 

6. International Perspective

Not written by neoliberal professional journalists nor by Americans who want to get wealthy as showboating journalists or fake public intellectuals, the LRB occupies a rare spot in the newsstand. It's a British point of view, I would say, but not in an exclusive way. For the debater it's great because it shows you what the go-to examples to support an idea would be for a British audience. This can broaden your range on making up arguments and being convincing. Further, they review books about things that American and other neo-liberal news sources avoid - older stories. You get a good perspective of arguments about the modern economy from a discussion of the colonization and exploitation of India, or a few examples of military planning and national identity conflicts from a book about the Boer War. This is an amazing nexus of ideas that only serves to enrich your ability to make connections, put things in a larger historical context, and apply a number of examples when the audience needs it. 

I leave most of mine on planes so now you know where to go find free ones. Good hunting!