What We Are Reading Today: Eurovision! by Chris West

Updated 10 May 2018

What We Are Reading Today: Eurovision! by Chris West

  • Eurovision started in 1956 with just seven competitors performing before 200 people in Switzerland
  • Today the contest is watched by an audience of billions

For those who think the Eurovision Song Contest is just an evening of questionable tunes, dubious dancing and general over-the-top cheesiness, think again.

From its beginnings in 1956 with just seven competitors performing before 200 polite, but not terribly enthusiastic, people in Switzerland, the contest has been a mirror for cultural, social and political developments in Europe.

For the countries once imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain, it has been a voice of rebellion.

For regional minorities it has been a voice of liberation. It even triggered a national revolution.

And the notorious bloc voting by regional neighbors is so blatant that nobody is surprised any more.

Nowadays the contest is watched by an audience of billions. People throw Eurovision-themed parties.

The singers have not always come from the country they represent. Canadian Celine Dion competed for Switzerland in 1988, while Greek singer Nana Mouskouri sang for Luxembourg in 1963.

Even the “Euro” element of the contest is now very loosely interpreted, with Israel and Australia competing.

Eurovision! charts both the history of Europe and the history of the song contest over the past six decades and shows how seamlessly they interlink. Something to ponder while watching this Saturday’s cheese-fest from Lisbon.


What We Are Reading Today: Empires of Vice by Diana S. Kim

Updated 20 February 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Empires of Vice by Diana S. Kim

During the late 19th century, opium was integral to European colonial rule in Southeast Asia. 

The taxation of opium was a major source of revenue for British and French colonizers, who also derived moral authority from imposing a tax on a peculiar vice of their non-European subjects. 

Yet between the 1890s and the 1940s, colonial states began to ban opium, upsetting the very foundations of overseas rule — how did this happen? Empires of Vice traces the history of this dramatic reversal, revealing the colonial legacies that set the stage for the region’s drug problems today, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.

Diana Kim challenges the conventional wisdom about opium prohibition — that it came about because doctors awoke to the dangers of drug addiction or that it was a response to moral crusaders — uncovering a more complex story deep within the colonial bureaucracy. 

Drawing on a wealth of archival evidence across Southeast Asia and Europe, she shows how prohibition was made possible by the pivotal contributions of seemingly weak bureaucratic officials.