Seven of the week's best reads

Illustration depicting the human brain in colourful sections Little grey cells, and how even a brain surgeon finds his job strange

Seven articles published elsewhere on the web this week, as selected by Bob Trevelyan, editor of The Browser.

1. I often have to cut into the brain

Henry Marsh | Granta | 3 September 2012

This is a fascinating and remarkably candid account of life as a brain surgeon. Of operating, Marsh says: "The idea that I am cutting and pushing through thought itself, that memories, dreams and reflections should have the consistency of soft white jelly, is simply too strange to understand and all I can see in front of me is matter. Nevertheless, I know that if I stray into the wrong area, into what neurosurgeons call eloquent brain, I will be faced with a damaged and disabled patient afterwards."

2. The gangster princess of Beverly Hills

Sabrina Rubin Erdely | Rolling Stone | 31 August 2012

She claimed to be a model, a popstar, even heiress to the Samsung electronics fortune. Her home was in Los Angeles and she called herself the Korean Paris Hilton. By all accounts she looked the part too, playing "the spoiled socialite, with two Bentleys, a purse-size lap dog and a commanding, petulant personality that kept her posse of sycophants in check". But then the US Drug Enforcement Administration caught her out. And the bizarre story of drug trafficker Lisette Lee came tumbling out into public view.

3. Diary: Brighton Beach

Peter Pomerantsev | London Review of Books | 5 September 2012

New York's Russian community is 1.6 million-strong after a wave of immigration in the 1990s and, on this telling, the con-men and gangsters of old have given way to a scene of louche vitality. "The older communities grumble: Russians are either vulgar arrivistes or inherently shady. But the Russians see themselves as the latest incarnation of the American dream. Doctors I talked to turned out to have a line in real estate; the lawyers were also importing wine; the waiters were music impresarios who could fix you up with cartons of knock-off Viagra."

4. Mitt Romney's Fair Share

Joseph Stiglitz | Project Syndicate | 3 September 2012

Start Quote

If presidents and those around them do not pay their fair share of taxes, how can we expect that anyone else will?”

End Quote Joseph Stiglitz

On the importance of paying taxes. With specific reference to Mitt Romney and the US but Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate and former World Bank chief economist, says this goes far beyond petty politics or indeed America. "Economies in which government provides public goods (such as education, technology and infrastructure) perform far better than those in which it does not," he says. But public goods must be paid for. "If presidents and those around them do not pay their fair share of taxes, how can we expect that anyone else will? And if no-one does, how can we expect to finance the public goods that we need?"

5. The Rev Sun Myung Moon

Anonymous | Telegraph | 3 September 2012

I find that the Telegraph publishes some of the most enjoyable obituaries around and this journalistic send-off for the founder of the Moonies is no exception. Here's how it describes the origins of the Unification Church: "Moon, a South Korean multi-millionaire businessman, discovered his vocation as the 'second Messiah' in 1936, when he claimed to have met Jesus Christ on a Korean hillside, recognising Him from His picture. Jesus informed Moon that He had been unable to complete His mission on earth due to unforeseen circumstances, so Moon (Jesus went on) had been chosen to succeed Him and to establish the Kingdom of Heaven upon Earth."

6. Marathon man

Mark Singer | New Yorker | 6 August 2012

This engrossing piece was behind a paywall when it was first published several weeks ago but the New Yorker made it available for all this week when Paul Ryan's fibs about his marathon times suddenly gave it currency. The story concerns a dentist from Michigan called Kip Litton, who's racked up a series of impressive times in marathons around the US but is widely suspected of cheating. Disgruntled rivals, and Mark Singer, have been in dogged pursuit, trying to work out how, and why, he does it.

7. Beyond a joke: The truth about why we laugh

Robert Provine | Observer | 2 September 2012

An investigation into the psychology of laughter. Provine, a professor of psychology and neuroscience, says laughter isn't normally a response to jokes; it's a social signal, not an egocentric expression of emotion. That said, it's also involuntary - we can't laugh on command. Says Provine: "The relationship between laughter and speech is akin to punctuation in written communication... Amazingly, we somehow navigate society, laughing at just the right times, while not consciously knowing what we are doing."

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