Prospect identifies the world’s 50 leading writers, scientists and thinkers for these strange timesby Tom Clark / July 20, 2020 / Leave a comment
Downing tools for the summer usually provides a rare chance to stop, take stock and—if need be—rethink. Ordinarily it’s a brief but precious window, unmatched at any other time except, perhaps, new year. How different things are in 2020. The summer “break” for many of us will involve staying in the same home where we have, in effect, been “paused” since the first stirrings of spring.
In many respects—financial, medical, social—we will be counting the cost for a long time. But like any really big disruption, the effects are not uniform: there will be silver linings to the deadly Covid-19 cloud. Some are immediately obvious, like rediscovering the forgotten joys of our local neighbourhood and the possibility, at least, of kicking our climate-endangering aviation addiction.
But those long months with more than the usual time to read and think have, it turns out, also proved to be important ones for the life of the mind. In this Summer Special double issue, Prospect identifies the world’s 50 leading writers, scientists and thinkers for these strange times and, as I explain in introducing the choices, it is a completely new set—with not a single holdover from last year. The emergency has put a new premium on more practical minds and ideas, and the variety is something to marvel at. You can vote to crown the top thinker of all, as well as telling us who you think we missed. We’ll report back in the next issue.
As well as settling on new priorities, locked-down minds would seem to be given to wrestling with old demons. Having flared up as a straightforward response to US police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement spread with striking rapidity across the Atlantic (Colin Grant), and soon morphed into a disruptive discussion about the stories that both Britain and the United States tell themselves about their pasts. Sarah Churchwell opens our trio of essays on “the history wars” by taking us back from the statues being toppled in Washington, Bristol and London this summer, and into the origins of the myth of “Anglo-Saxon” supremacy. This might surprise you, but an awful lot of the trouble turns out to be down to Sir Walter Scott—when you read her piece, you’ll find a meticulous case for his prosecution.
Fiery debates about “who we are” as a country can easily lapse…