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Friday, August 31, 2012

Why would The Economist cut its best writing?

I know all the pieces in the Economist are unsigned but from time to time they produce passages of prose that you want to read more than once. A few days ago they published on their website an obituary of Neil Armstrong, which contained this paragraph:
Perhaps the most unexpected consequence of the moon flights was a transformation of attitudes towards Earth itself. Space was indeed beautiful, but it was beauty of a severe, geometrical sort. Planets and stars swept through the cosmos in obedience to Isaac Newton’s mathematical clockwork, a spectacle more likely to inspire awe than love. Earth was a magnificent contrast, a jewel hung in utter darkness, an exuberant riot of chaos and life in a haunting, abyssal emptiness. The sight had a profound effect on the astronauts, and photos of the whole Earth, which had never been seen before, nourished the nascent green movement.
I found the thought really striking and the image of the jewel hung in utter darkness particularly memorable. I tweeted about it. Quite a few people agreed and re-tweeted it.

This morning I was reading the print edition and there's the obituary. It's been cut, partly for fit, but also presumably to dampen down its lyricism. The above paragraph now reads:

Yet the flights had one huge unintended consequence: they transformed attitiudes towards Earth itself. He too had been astonished to see his own planet "quite beautiful", remote and very blue, covered with a white lace of clouds. 
I know Samuel Johnson said you should read your work back, find the bit you like best and strike it out, but this is ridiculous.