Five Great Reads: the photo that stopped the world, hellish company towns, and the incredible expanding city |


Welcome to the end of a week that has veered from the awe-inspiring (that solar eclipse) to the head-scratching (that strip-club altercation) to the borderline grotesque (see item one below). If you missed the first two events, may I suggest signing up to our Morning Mail and Afternoon Update newsletters? They’ll keep you up to speed on weekdays.

For now, may I suggest finding the new Everything But the Girl LP on your platform of choice, pressing play (or dropping the needle on the record), and diving into some reads to invigorate the old brain noodles (not to be confused with murder noodles).

1. Look at this photograph

German photographer Boris Eldagsen with the prize-winning Pseudomnesia: The Electrician.
German photographer Boris Eldagsen with the prize-winning AI-generated image he submitted, Pseudomnesia: The Electrician. Photograph: Alex Schwander/Reuters

If you somehow slept on it, Pseudomnesia: The Electrician is the photo that took out one of the prizes in the Sony world photography awards. But its creator, Boris Eldagsen, subsequently revealed the image was generated using artificial intelligence and refused to accept the gong.

Whether it was designed to provoke – as its creator suggests – or just a publicity stunt is open for debate. In the meantime, Zoe Williams picks the brain of the photographer with an ever-so-slight Australia connection.

‘Promptography’ or ‘fauxtography’? Eldagsen suggests his craft should go by the former descriptor, but I think the Guardian commenter who offered up the latter may have an early word of the year candidate on their hands.

How long will it take to read: Three minutes.

2. Is Elon Musk creating a utopian city?

The idea of living in a town populated only by colleagues is about as appealing as living in a town with just my family (apologies to all concerned – it’s not you, it’s me).

The Tesla founder, however, is following in the footsteps of Britain’s Cadbury family and big tech contemporaries Google and Meta with Snailbrook, Texas. The company town’s population currently stands at 12. But “if there is a vision for Snailbrook,” writes Steve Rose, “it has yet to emerge.”

Lessons from the past: When the residents of a Colorado coal-mining town owned by John D Rockefeller went on strike over their conditions in 1913, the conflict turned violent. The National Guard attacked the strikers’ tent city on the company’s behalf, killing at least 19 people, including a dozen children.

How long will it take to read: Five minutes.

3. The sometimes difficult path off antidepressants

Illustration of white pills on a yellow background
Antidepressants are a critical intervention for millions of people and can be life-saving. But how well do we manage what comes next? Photograph: Tanja Ivanova/Getty Images

Antidepressants, to borrow a quote from Rick James, are a hell of a drug. About one in seven Australians take them, and countless others have come out the other side in a better place.

Kicking them isn’t always easy, though. About half of those coming off the drugs will experience withdrawal symptoms, from vomiting to insomnia. And one UK-based expert suggests Australia is in the “dark ages” when it comes to providing adequate support.

Notable quote: “I get countless emails now from people in Australia who want help coming off antidepressants,” says Dr Mark Horowitz. “The fact that they’re talking to some random research fellow in London for help and not their doctors, I think speaks volumes.”

How long will it take to read: Five minutes.

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4. What we can learn from watching grass grow

Stick with me here, because it turns out the abundance and diversity of grass is a magnificent evolutionary feat. You’ll have to delve into Andreas Wagner’s long read to find out exactly why it took tens of millions of years to thrive, but its story of slow-burn triumph suggests that success depends on the world into which a life form is born.

What’s the point? Wagner is fascinated by the concept of “sleeping beauties” – life forms that remained dormant before succeeding explosively. “A great number of innovations arrive before their time,” he writes, citing technologies like radar (initially ignored). “The sleeping beauties of nature can help us understand why creating may be easy, but creating successfully is beyond hard.”

How long will it take to read: Eight minutes.

5. The incredible expanding city

Aerial view of Melbourne from the suburbs towards the CBD
Melbourne’s growth has been outpacing Sydney’s for much of the past decade. Photograph: Charlie Rogers/Getty Images

Transformers fans of a certain age may remember Unicron, the robotic planet that devours other planets. Melbourne is following in the footsteps of the Orson Welles-voiced monstrosity, absorbing every stray suburb in its orbit to usurp Sydney as Australia’s most populous city.

What if the Victorian capital expanded forever? Would the airport rail link be finished by then? Anna Spargo-Ryan (only semi-seriously) ponders the imponderable.

Why should I care about this? ASR takes the topic on with a whimsical touch, but the city’s rampant, unfettered overdevelopment is never far from her incisive gaze.

How long will it take to read: Two minutes.

Further reading: The counting quirk that saw Sydney lose its title after more than a century.

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