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Nicholas Low

Here is a cliché to start your day: superhuman feats of strength. You find them in disaster stories and war epics, where desperate, adrenalised men push beyond the limits of human ability. Rescuers lift impossibly heavy rubble off earthquake victims; soldiers carry wounded comrades miles to safety. Such feats crop up in more imaginative forms in comic books, where the need to fight crime or save the world spawns the ability to fly or dodge bullets. In Steven Amsterdam’s ingenious What the Family Needed, the idea of exceptional abilities for exceptional times is applied to the family. Amsterdam seems to have posed the question: ‘what super powers would a family develop to cope with the emotional crises of everyday life?’ The answer is best summed up as superhuman feats of empathy.

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