The Best of The Economist – December 2013

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Nelson Mandela: A hero, not a saintThe man who freed South Africa from apartheid has died, aged 95. We assess his claim to greatness. Who was the greatest of the statesmen of the 20th century? Discard the mass murderers such as Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong; set aside the autocratic nationalists like Gamal Abdel Nasser and the more admirable but probably less influential anti-communists like Vaclav Havel; then winnow the list to half-a-dozen names. On it would perhaps be Mohandas Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Charles de Gaulle, Jack Kennedy and Nelson Mandela.

Comcast’s future: Thinking outside the set-top boxAmerica’s largest cable company is becoming more like the firms it is battling against for the attention of couch potatoes. When Comcast, America’s largest cable operator, took a stake in NBCUniversal (NBCU) in 2009, “30 Rock”, a popular NBCU comedy, wove the deal into its plot.

The first world war: Look back with angstA century on, there are uncomfortable parallels with the era that led to the outbreak of the first world war. As new year approached a century ago, most people in the West looked forward to 1914 with optimism. The hundred years since the Battle of Waterloo had not been entirely free of disaster—there had been a horrific civil war in America, some regional scraps in Asia, the Franco-Prussian war and the occasional colonial calamity. But continental peace had prevailed.

On the road to Middle England: Midnight in NowheresvilleTwenty-four hours in a motorway service station. Midnight is for gamblers. They drive across from Nottingham and Derby to play the slot machines, replenished during the day by hurried amateurs. A one-armed bandit called Sizzling 500 churns out coins for a heavily tattooed, gold-toothed pro in a baseball cap and Bermuda shorts. “It’s all 10ps,” he grumbles.

A short history of hotels: Be my guestThe lobby of the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, regarded as one of the world’s finest hotels, smells of orchid blossom and money. In the late 19th century it was the only big hotel in Thailand. Malarial imperialists braved high seas and battled jungles to reach this outpost of modernity, with its electricity, billiards and baths.

Museums: Temples of delightMuseums the world over are doing amazingly well, says Fiammetta Rocco. But can they keep the visitors coming? Museums used to stand for something old, dusty, boring and barely relevant to real life. Those kinds of places still exist, but there are far fewer of them, and the more successful ones have changed out of all recognition.

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