The Peregrine by J. A. Baker
J. A. Baker
First posted on August 12, 2023

“The hardest thing of all to see is what is really there.” With these prophetic words, J. A. Baker began his 1967 volume entitled The Peregrine, a book that plays out in the Essex countryside over a ten-year period, having at its...

Foolproof - Why We Fall for Misinformation and How to Build Immunity
Sander van der Linden
First posted on April 19, 2023

Comparing misinformation to a virus, as Sander van der Linden does in Foolproof - Why We Fall for Misinformation and How to Build Immunity, is a smart move. After Covid-19, most of us are now armchair virologists who like to think we understand infection,...

Endless Forms - The Secret World of Wasps
Seirian Sumner
First posted on April 16, 2023

Esoteric subjects need enthusiastic guides, and one might struggle to find a guide with as much fizz and crackle as Professor Seirian Sumner (at UCL), author of Endless Forms - The Secret World of Wasps. Most readers might be pre-...

Words Onscreen - the Fate of Reading in a Digital World
Naomi S. Baron
First posted on February 24, 2023

The author of Words Onscreen - the Fate of Reading in a Digital World, Naomi S. Baron is not only a professor of linguistics at the American University in Washington, DC, she is also an engaging and entertaining writer. This...

Why Climate Breakdown Matters
Rupert Read
First posted on January 10, 2023

Let’s talk about climate breakdown. That’s right: not climate change or global warming, but climate breakdown, even climate chaos, so urges Rupert Read in his courageous and welcome Why Climate Breakdown Matters...

The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron
Robert Byron
First posted on December 27, 2022

If there is a template for travel writing from which the likes of Bruce Chatwin, Wilfred Thessiger, Patrick Leigh-Fermor and Eric Newby were shaped, perhaps it comes in the form of Robert Byron, the author of The Road to Oxiana. Chatwin himself, in the...

Reclaiming Conversation - The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle
Sherry Turkle
First posted on December 24, 2022

Conversation is not unlike a muscle: left unused, it can wither. Parents and teachers who help their charges exercise this muscle see the process close-up. In a supportive environment, they question what has just been said, gently encouraging the re-thinking and...

Regenesis by George Monbiot
George Monbiot
First posted on July 21, 2022

Midway through George Monbiot’s Regenesis: Feeding the World without Devouring the Planet, in conversation with Iain Tolhurst (‘Tolly’), a stockfree organic farmer in the Chilterns, Monbiot tells a joke against himself by quoting Tolly’...

The Insect Crisis by Oliver Milman
Oliver Milman
First posted on June 20, 2022

In his 1992 book The Diversity of Life the great American biologist Edward O. Wilson, who died last December, wrote the following chilling words:

So important are insects and other land-dwelling arthropods that if all were to...

How It Is by Samuel Beckett
Samuel Beckett
First posted on February 16, 2022

Beckett’s How It Is appeared first in French in 1961, then in 1964 after the author had translated it into English himself. Critics generally note that the book’s French title Comment c’est was a pun on Commencer, ‘to...

How Civil Wars Start And How to Stop Them by Barbara F. Walter
Barbara F. Walter
First posted on February 7, 2022

When a world expert, who has studied the factors that trigger civil wars globally, gradually realises that these same factors currently exist in the United States, we need to pay attention. So it is with Professor Barbara F. Walter in her book How Civil Wars...

Murphy by Samuel Beckett
Samuel Beckett
First posted on January 25, 2022

Beckett finished writing Murphy in June 1936. After 40 rejections by publishers, it was finally accepted in December 1937. At the time, the editor accepting Murphy said, “it is far too good to be a big popular or commercial success … [but] will...

Silent Earth by Dave Goulson
Dave Goulson
First posted on September 28, 2021

Dave Goulson’s Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse is something of a roller-coaster ride in that the first 250 pages of the book detail the evidence for insect and biodiversity collapse that is happening right now all around us, before...

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Muriel Barbery
First posted on June 23, 2021

That Muriel Barbery’s 2006 novelThe Elegance of the Hedgehog has sold like proverbial hot cakes is no surprise. It is woven with references to philosophers as one would expect from a teacher of philosophy (reminding me of Robert M. Pirzig’s 1974...

We are Bellingcat by Eliot Higgins
Eliot Higgins
First posted on March 14, 2021

If you’ve been following the work of Eliot Higgins, you’ll not need to read the accounts of his exposés of Syrian, Libyan and Russian atrocities in this seminal book We are Bellingcat: An Intelligence Agency for the People. If you aren’t...

Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrak
Merlin Sheldrake
First posted on January 16, 2021

When Hamlet admonished Horatio by saying “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy”, fungi could well have been one of them, as Merlin Sheldrake’s scintillating book Entangled Life: How Fungi Make our Worlds...

Patrick White
First posted on December 17, 2020

As the near-blind matriarch Elizabeth Hunter, the central character of Patrick White’s 1973 The Eye of the Storm, lies dying for five hundred and fifty pages of this long and complex novel, we are also reading about the writer’s own mother, Ruth...

The Captain and the Glory by Dave Eggers
Dave Eggers
First posted on November 1, 2020

Anyone familiar with George Orwell’s Animal Farm will appreciate how satire shifts the reader one remove away from a subject to gain a better appreciate of that subject. The farm’s animals, bitingly depicted by Orwell, illuminated the political...

The Cockroach by Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan
First posted on October 11, 2020

Franz Kafka comes to Downing Street in Ian McEwan’s glorious satire The Cockroach. A comic parable, the novella inverts Kafka’s 1916 Metamorphosis in which Gregor Samsa ‘awoke’ to find himself ‘transformed’ into ‘a gigantic insect’ so...

The Vivisector by Patrick White
Patrick White
First posted on July 29, 2020

Patrick White’s The Vivisector, the writer’s longest novel, explores the nature of artistic creativity and the link between a painter’s character and the work that it gives rise to. As with all White’s novels, scenes from the author...

The Solid Mandala by Patrick White
Patrick White
First posted on June 2, 2020

In a letter to the writer Ingmar Björkstén in early 1973, the Australian novelist Patrick White wrote that he felt very close to The Solid Mandala “because it conveys a certain nightmarish quality of life which I have experienced, though the incidents in...

Riders in the Chariot by Patrick White
Patrick White
First posted on May 2, 2020

Compassion. Compassion towards the outsider, the foreigner, the misfit, the ugly, the plodder: this is the central theme of Patrick White’s 1961 novel Riders in the Chariot. Read it for his view of Australian culture emerging from the Second World War...

Voss by Patrick White
Patrick White
First posted on March 17, 2020

Towards the end of Patrick White’s novel Voss, White observes for one of his characters that only “the supreme torturer would have tweaked the curtain of illusion” (and thus caused her to imagine her childhood garden to be reflected in the face of her...

The Tree of Man by Patrick White
Patrick White
First posted on March 2, 2020

It was quite possibly the recent Australian bushfires that subconsciously put Patrick White’s extraordinary fiction back onto my reading list. Those terrifyingly vivid tongues of fire and crisped lives were images I’d already encountered in his writing....

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
Herman Melville
First posted on February 15, 2020

I have just been floored by Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. It is a novel wrought of elemental stuff with a style honed with so much more craft than ever I had expected. It’s not a what-happens-next page-turner; that’s already known. I felt...

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin book jacket
Ursula K. Le Guin
First posted on January 21, 2020

Placing this book in the ‘science-fiction’ category probably deters many people from reading it. Yes, it’s a story set on an imaginary world (the paired planet of Urras and its moon Anarres). Yes, there’s something arguably scientific in the form of ‘the...

Underland by Robert Macfarlane
Robert Macfarlane
First posted on January 19, 2020

I have previously written that I consider Robert Macfarlane to be “able to assess risk before exposing himself to it” but having now read his immensely impressive Underland, my fears for his...

The Lives of the Surrealists
Desmond Morris
First posted on November 8, 2019

Desmond Morris is better known for his book The Naked Ape, which he wrote in 1967 (and which ranks amongst the top 100 bestsellers of all time), than he is for his surrealist paintings. Both of these amply qualify him for writing about some of the major...

Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett
Samuel Beckett
First posted on November 1, 2019

Samuel Beckett’s ‘Trilogy’ is preceded by its reputation for being bleak, difficult and perhaps nihilistic. My advice is to set that aside and, to use T.S. Eliot’s phrase, “suspend your disbelief”. The cover of Vivian Mercier...

James Joyce, Ulysses
James Joyce
First posted on August 26, 2019

Everything and everyone is in Joyce’s Ulysses (even my very un-Irish surname, page 308), which is no suprise given that Joyce once confided that he had “put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing...

Samuel Beckett Watt
Samuel Beckett
First posted on August 25, 2019

Having completed Joyce’s Ulysses last week, an experience that began with a lengthy uphill incline, I have followed on with a re-read of Samuel Beckett’s Watt which has been a gentle downhill glide of immense fun. Gratitude goes to my...

Wilding: The return of nature to a British farm
Isabella Tree
First posted on February 1, 2019

You might think that a book about a farm in West Sussex could not be capable of exploring ideas of truly global importance. Equally, you might think that a book that does advance such lofty ideas could not be sufficiently anchored in hard-won experience. On both...

LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media
P. W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking
First posted on January 27, 2019

“Once every village had an idiot. It took the internet to bring them all together”, are the memorable words of U.S. Army colonel turned historian Robert Bateman, quoted by the authors of LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media...

Reader, Come Home by Maryanne Wolf
Maryanne Wolf
First posted on November 10, 2018

Maryanne Wolf’s recently-published Reader, Come Home would have had less authority for me had I not read her Proust and the Squid: the Story...

Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf
Maryanne Wolf
First posted on October 23, 2018

It is over twenty-two years since I had the privilege of sitting amongst youngsters to help them combat their dyslexia and more than that since I have fully read a densely-referenced book on the subject, but I wanted to prepare for reading Maryanne Wolf’s...

C.F. Tunnicliffe
First posted on October 3, 2018

Michael McCarthy in his Moth Snowstorm cited Charles Tunnicliffe as being, in his opinion, “the pre-eminent British bird artist of the mid-twentieth century” and his ...

Michael McCarthy
First posted on August 30, 2018

Moth snowstorm is a powerful and heart-felt meditation on the Great Thinning that mankind is wreaking on nature. The author draws on his personal experiences - from his earliest years onwards - expressed in close and personal terms, lining these up...

The Seabird's Cry
Adam Nicolson
First posted on May 25, 2018

Adam Nicolson’s The Seabird’s Cry is a work of such intelligence, such passion and such craft that you may never think of seabirds in the same way again. It is a volume dense with experience, sifted research, anecdote and dogged explanations...

The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane
Robert Macfarlane
First posted on August 22, 2016

Some of my worst reading habits include adding marginalia and/or scribbling page-numbered notes in a book’s end leaves. As a student, I did this in ink, sometimes slavishly underlining entire passages. Now, not just because there’s an excellent second-...

The Clock of the Long Now by Stewart Brand book jacket
Stewart Brand
First posted on February 8, 2014

This book is about a Clock, a Library and a way of thinking. Stewart Brand quotes Danny Hillis, who conceived the Clock: “I would like to propose a large (think Stonehenge) mechanical clock, powered by seasonal temperature changes. It ticks once a year, bongs once a...

In The Rainforest by Catherine Caufield
Catherine Caufield
First posted on February 8, 2014

Written in 1984, In The Rainforest had the effect on me that Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring had on the previous generation. Here, in shocking detail, was an account of the beauty of the tropical rain forests of the world together with a...