Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Economist on Richard III.

Before my job at the long defunct UMI Data Courier back in '88, I didn't know what The Economist was. It still isn't entirely clear, given that the Brits call it a newspaper, and to Americans, it looks like a magazine. Maybe I saw a few issues in college while amassing information for my term paper on Eurocommunism. At any rate, once I began abstracting  The Economist, I was hooked. Apart from a few fallow periods when money was tight, I've been a subscriber to the print edition since 1989.

What continues to impress these many years later is the uniform style; numerous contributing writers with distinctive voices, but written and edited into a "house voice." Prior to my immersion into the Internetz, The Economist was my weekly recap of the planet: Current affairs, politics, economics, science, books, and the very first article I read upon arrival, the obituary at the very end.

This week's essay about the deceased exemplifies the publication's sense of both style and humor: Richard III (Richard Plantagenet), dead since 1485, but whose bones recently were rediscovered and positively identified, having spent the past five centuries in a shallow grave beneath the stones of an abbey, itself long since transformed into a parking lot. The obituary fuses history, literature and science into a clever but respectful summary of a life relinquished in the distant past.

I appreciate good writing, and this is good writing.

NO VIPER, toad or hedgehog; no unformed bear-whelp, or lump of foul deformity. Instead, the man dug up from the car park of Leicester Social Services in September had, for the most part, an ordinary shape. His height was a little above average for the time when he had lived. His limbs were regular and delicate—almost feminine, the scientists said. Pace Shakespeare, there was no withered arm. There was, however, a severely sideways-twisted spine, the result of scoliosis that had probably emerged in adolescence. It would have put one shoulder higher than the other, making him stand shorter than he was. He might have needed extra cushions in his chairs, and extra tugs when putting on those robes of green velvet and crimson cloth of gold so lovingly detailed in his orders to the Wardrobe. But then a king would get that sort of help anyway.

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