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Skripal x Litvinenko

For the last couple of days, the news has been dominated by the story of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, who fell ill in Salisbury a few days ago. The police are investigating this as attempted murder via a nerve agent, and there is much suspicion that the Russian state may be behind the crime. (One of the stranger things about delaying posts for a year is that you’ll know how this all turned out—I don’t!)

Many people are drawing comparisons between this case and the Alexander Litvinenko affair of 2006. There are two really great bits of writing on that affair which are well worth reading, and this seems as good an opportunity as any to recommend them again.

The first is a fantastic long-form article called Bad Blood by one of my favourite journalists, Will Storr. This is particularly good for setting Litvinenko’s murder in the historical context of murders of Russian dissidents, and—like everything Will writes—has fantastic prose. Re-reading this again today, I note that Will talks briefly about using nerve agents absorbed through the skin as a murder weapon, which would fit neatly with the public statements about the Skripal case so far. Will originally wrote this for Matter, a start-up by another favourite journalist of mine, Bobbie Johnson, concentrating on publishing long-form journalism. Matter has since ‘pivoted’ into Matter Studios, “a multi-platform content studio and incubator”, whatever that is.

The second is Guardian journalist Luke Harding’s extraordinary book, A Very Expensive Poison. This is one of the most arresting non-fiction books I’ve ever read. Harding gives a clear, detailed and compelling account, including all of the cack-handed bungling which humanises the Litvinenko affair and makes it that much more horrific. Harding also dives deeply into the investigation of the murder and the judgement of the subsequent public enquiry. It’s an absolute must-read.

On the other hand, absolutely not worth reading is this, by a pre-clinical medical student who thought he knew something about radiation, but clearly didn’t.


The rather lovely photo of magnolia blossom at the top (which was taken in Salisbury) is by rachelgreenbelt, edited and used under Creative Commons Licence.

This 2,398th post was filed under: News and Comment, Posts delayed by 12 months.

Some recently published posts

What I’ve been reading this month / September 2019, 6 minutes long

What I’ve been reading this month / August 2019, 7 minutes long

A flying visit to Copenhagen / July 2019, 9 minutes long

What I’ve been reading this month / June 2019, 6 minutes long

Reflecting on my first ten years as a doctor / June 2019, 8 minutes long

Some random old posts

Biblical Brother / June 2005, 1 minute long

Hasta la vista, Longhorn / July 2005, Less than a minute long

BBC scoops party leaders for live TV first / April 2005, 2 minutes long

Lovefilm and Blockbuster: Which online DVD rental service is better? / January 2012, 12 minutes long

The good ol’ TV debate issue / April 2005, 2 minutes long

Sky News to relaunch on October 24th / October 2005, 1 minute long


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