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Stupid Questions

Laleh Khalili: Battlefield to Boardroom, 24 February 2022

Risk: A User’s Guide 
by Stanley McChrystal and Anna Butrico.
Penguin, 343 pp., £20, October 2021, 978 0 241 48192 9
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... of newspapers and star as the dark and brooding heroes of motivational war fiction.Listen to Laleh Khalili discuss this piece with Thomas Jones on the LRB ...

Red Sea Attacks

Laleh Khalili, 22 February 2024

... On​ 19 November, a helicopter operated by the Houthi-controlled Yemeni navy hovered over the vehicle carrier Galaxy Leader, which was passing through the Red Sea south of Jeddah. Masked and armed men rappelled down to the deck, raised Yemeni and Palestinian flags, and directed the ship to the nearby port of Hodeida. Galaxy Leader has remained there ever since, becoming a selfie hotspot and a backdrop for TikTok videos by Yemeni influencers ...

Short Cuts

Laleh Khalili: In Sharm El-Sheikh, 1 December 2022

... COP27​ was held in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh, at the tip of the arid Sinai Peninsula, just around the corner from the world’s busiest shipping lane. Ursula von der Leyen showed up early to make deals for the European Union. She signed a contract to buy rare minerals from Kazakhstan; made a timber deal – presented as a plan for the ‘sustainable development and management’ of forests – with Congo, Guyana, Mongolia, Uganda and Zambia; bought hydrogen from Egypt, and lithium and cobalt from Namibia ...

In Clover

Laleh Khalili: What does McKinsey do?, 15 December 2022

When McKinsey Comes to Town: The Hidden Influence of the World’s Most Powerful Consulting Firm 
by Walt Bogdanich and Michael Forsythe.
Bodley Head, 354 pp., £20, October 2022, 978 1 84792 625 8
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... laissez-faire fantasies, but see homo economicus as the last word in modern selfhood. Listen to Laleh Khalili and Tom Jones discuss ‘class warfare mercenaries’ on the LRB ...

Guano to Guns

Laleh Khalili, 16 February 2023

The Last Colony: A Tale of Exile, Justice and Britain’s Colonial Legacy 
by Philippe Sands.
Weidenfeld, 208 pp., £16.99, August 2022, 978 1 4746 1812 0
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... Among​ the most peculiar alibis the world’s maritime powers used for their programme of conquest and occupation was guano – seabird excrement rich in nitrogen, potassium and phosphates, sought after as fertiliser. As with other colonial enterprises, resources were extracted to feed the maw of capital in the metropole, in this case large-scale agricultural capital ...

Showing Off

Laleh Khalili: Superyachts, 9 May 2024

Superyachts: Luxury, Tranquillity and Ecocide 
by Grégory Salle.
Polity, 122 pp., £12.99, January, 978 1 5095 5995 4
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... According​ to a gushing photo-essay published in Life magazine in 1969, Prince Karim Aga Khan was an ‘outrageously wealthy young man, written off by many as a mere playboy’, who had proved his critics wrong with a display of business acumen – a vast real-estate venture in Sardinia. Sailing across the Mediterranean on one of his yachts, the Aga Khan had fallen in love with its wind-eroded granite shorelines, pink sandy coves and velvety green waters ...

How to Get Rich

Laleh Khalili: Who owns the oil?, 23 September 2021

The World for Sale: Money, Power and the Traders Who Barter the Earth’s Resources 
by Javier Blas and Jack Farchy.
Random House Business, 410 pp., £20, February, 978 1 84794 265 4
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... Rotterdam​ city centre sits a few miles inland from the North Sea, its skyscrapers and office buildings lining the New Meuse River, a tributary of the Rhine. A ferry tour takes you past ship repair yards, grain silos, terminals receiving coal and iron ore for Ruhr Valley industries, and even a massive orange juice storage facility that receives its cargo from Latin America ...

We blitzed it

Laleh Khalili: Inhabiting the Oil World, 4 August 2022

Disorder: Hard Times in the 21st Century 
by Helen Thompson.
Oxford, 384 pp., £20, February 2022, 978 0 19 886498 1
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... The​ #IdleNoMore movement against Keystone XL – a long-planned pipeline that would have carried petroleum from the oil sands of Alberta and the shale fields of the Dakotas to refineries in Illinois and Texas – began in December 2012. Three years later there were more protests, this time against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which crosses the Standing Rock Sioux reservation ...

Growing Pains

Laleh Khalili: New Silk Roads, 18 March 2021

The Emperor’s New Road: China and the Project of the Century 
by Jonathan E. Hillman.
Yale, 294 pp., £20, October 2020, 978 0 300 24458 8
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... In​ a short story called ‘The Chinese Road’ written in the 1970s by the Yemeni-Ethiopian Mohammad Abdul-Wali, a Yemeni man befriends a Chinese construction worker on the new road from the port of Hodeida on the Red Sea, ‘cutting through the mountain’, to the capital, Sanaa, more than two hundred kilometres away. Abdul-Wali describes the competent and friendly Chinese labourers who live in tents with the Yemenis ...

Agent Untraceable, Owner Not Responding

Laleh Khalili: Abandoned Seafarers, 30 March 2023

Cabin Fever: Trapped On Board a Cruise Ship When the Pandemic Hit 
by Michael Smith and Jonathan Franklin.
Endeavour, 259 pp., £20, July 2022, 978 1 913068 73 8
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Dead in the Water: Murder and Fraud in the World’s Most Secretive Industry 
by Matthew Campbell and Kit Chellel.
Atlantic, 268 pp., £10.99, May, 978 1 83895 255 6
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... Over​ a fifty-day period each spring, Khamsin winds from the Sahara blow transversely across the Suez Canal, making transit under sail almost impossible. Even motorised navigation is subject to the whims of the weather. That is why two experienced pilots from the Suez Canal Authority board every ship that enters the canal. Their knowledge of winds and currents reduces the chance of ships running aground ...

Woke Capital

Laleh Khalili, 7 September 2023

The Key Man: How the Global Elite Was Duped by a Capitalist Fairy Tale 
by Simon Clark and Will Louch.
Penguin, 342 pp., £10.99, February, 978 0 241 98894 7
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Icarus: The Life and Death of the Abraaj Group 
by Brian Brivati.
Biteback, 349 pp., £9.99, January 2022, 978 1 78590 733 3
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Our Lives in Their Portfolios: Why Asset Managers Own the World 
by Brett Christophers.
Verso, 310 pp., £20, April, 978 1 83976 898 9
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... When​ the conspiracy theorists, diehard Trumpers and (white) natalists gathered in London in May for the UK National Conservatism Conference, one fascinating sideshow was the brawl over the carcass of Margaret Thatcher. A few weeks before the event, Ryan Bourne, an economist at the libertarian Cato Institute, had warned those attending the conference against ‘importing the worst American narratives into British politics’ and in the process abandoning Thatcher’s free market legacies ...


John Lanchester, 22 April 2021

Sinews of War and Trade: Shipping and Capitalism in the Arabian Peninsula 
by Laleh Khalili.
Verso, 368 pp., £20, April 2020, 978 1 78663 481 8
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... has played a role in world-historical conjunctures and disjunctures. In Sinews of War and Trade, Laleh Khalili tells the story of the canal and of the historical and economic currents which have flowed through it and been enabled by its presence. The book focuses on the Saudi peninsula, whose centrality to questions of trade between east and west is ...

Day 5, Day 9, Day 16

LRB Contributors: On Ukraine, 24 March 2022

... Peter Geoghegan, Jeremy Harding, Owen Hatherley, Abby Innes, Mimi Jiang, Thomas Jones, Laleh Khalili, Jackson Lears, Donald MacKenzie, Thomas Meaney, James Meek, Pankaj Mishra, Azadeh Moaveni, Jan-Werner Müller, Vadim Nikitin, Jacqueline Rose, Jeremy Smith, Daniel Soar, Olena Stiazhkina, Vera Tolz, Daniel Trilling Sofia ...

Where do we touch down?

Jeremy Harding: Bruno Latour’s Habitat, 15 December 2022

On the Emergence of an Ecological Class: A Memo 
by Bruno Latour and Nikolaj Schultz, translated by Julie Rose.
Polity, 80 pp., £9.99, November 2022, 978 1 5095 5506 2
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After Lockdown: A Metamorphosis 
by Bruno Latour, translated by Julie Rose.
Polity, 180 pp., £14.99, September 2021, 978 1 5095 5002 9
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... fuel companies pretend to sue for peace and greenery as they push forward with extraction. (As Laleh Khalili noted in the last issue of the LRB, ‘more than six hundred fossil fuel lobbyists, the most at any COP conference, registered as delegates’ at Sharm El-Sheikh – ‘a quarter more than the year before’, according to the ...

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