Reviews By Me
BRITAIN AT BAY, by Alan Allport
The Epic Story of the Second World War
A no holds barred historical account of why Britain went to war, and what really happened when it did
Riveting so far…
UNDERLAND, by Robert MacFarlane
A Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller
It’s not often that I rave about a book, but I’m going to rave about this one. It has been an absolute privilege to spend time with Robert Macfarlane on his travels through what he calls the Underland of the world in this, his new book. I have never climbed a proper mountain, nor dared to enter deep into an underground cave, but because Macfarlane the writer draws you so deeply into his experience in Underland, I almost feel I have – or could.
I have several of Robert’s books in my library at home, including The Wild Places and The Old Ways, but it seems that his writing has reached even greater heights with his latest work. Macfarlane’s style has always been deeply lyrical, but now the lyricism has evolved into something more powerful. He has always drawn the reader expertly into his world through the lens of emotion as he delves into the geography and geology of a place. We still get that in Underland, but we also get a whole lot more. Consider this passage, which is at the opening of the book, “In a cave within a scarp of karst, a figure inhales a mouthful of red ochre dust, places its left hand against the cave wall – fingers spread, thumb out, palm cold on the rock – and then blows the ochre hard against the hand’s back. There is an explosion of dust – and when the hand is lifted its ghostly print remains…The prints will survive for more than 35,000 years. Sign of what? Of joy? Of warning? Of art? Of life in the darkness?” READ MORE HERE
THE PRECIPICE, by Toby Ord
EXISTENTIAL RISK AND THE FUTURE OF HUMANITY
The world is in the midst of what may be the most deadly pandemic of the past 100 years. Threats to humanity, and how we address them, define our time.
So, just how worried should we be, and about what exactly? Ecologists worry daily about the threats to other species of animal on the planet. We worry about the rhino, the elephant and the tiger. We worry about trees and plants and sometimes even insect life. But do we worry enough about our own future? It seems that we don’t, because we have constructed most of our societies according to the ‘live for today’ principle. As Toby Ord points out, ‘we forget the scale of the story in which we take part…Fuelled by technological progress, our power has grown so great that for the first time in humanity’s long history, we have the capacity to destroy ourselves—severing our entire future and everything we could become.’
Ultimately, the drive of this profound and fascinating book is to try to make us understand what is at stake, what is being done, and why it all matters. Such books form an essential part of the vital conversation that we should be having about the future. As we have recently discovered, preparedness is the key to our survival. And the more we understand that, the better. ‘Safeguarding humanity’s future is the defining challenge of our time’. But we have to do it wisely.
‘A book that seems made for the present moment…’
STORIES WE TELL OURSELVES, by Richard Holloway
Well, this is a turn up for the books, I must say. Author Richard Holloway was Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church. What is he doing writing a book about the difficulty of believing in God? Is this the most contradictory book of all time, or are we at last witnessing the Great Questioning of Faith, which seems to have taken an eternity to be given a proper airing by one of its own? Hard not to raise your arms up and cry Halleluiah to that.
The objective of this fascinating and deeply humane book is to answer the question, what story does the author want to live by, and what stories have we, as a Christian society in particular, really lived by? Is it the story of the Church or another, more sinister and convoluted story, and if so, what has it done for us?
Read more HERE
How to be Animal, by Melanie Challenger
MELANIE CHALLENGER, researcher and environmental philosopher, is the author of On Extinction: How we Became Estranged from Nature. Now she has written a second book on the subject of humankind’s relationship with nature. This book, How to be Animal, is in a way an exploration of what social distancing has meant for the animal kingdom. Psychologically, socially and even biologically we have gradually seen ourselves as more and more separate from other animals: a species apart and deserving of special consideration. There is a whole legacy within us, which is by definition animal. We are, in fact, living ‘inside a paradox’ in the sense that ‘it’s so blindly obvious that we’re animals and yet some part of us doesn’t believe it’. This is because for centuries we have seen ourselves as the chosen ones among the rest of creation. We have anchored these myths into the bedrock of religion right from the start and they are hard to pick apart. How to be Animal probes deep into these questions and gives us the science behind the answers. We need that science if we are to turn the page on our own arrogance and replace it with something more enduring.
A Tall History of Sugar, by Curdella Forbes
A Tall History of Sugar transports you to warm, colourful Jamaica, both in content and in style. It’s an antidote to depression, a book to escape with. Replete with lyricism on every page, it tells the story of Moshe Fisher, a boy born neither black nor white but blue. Moshe’s story is narrated by the girl who tries to protect him from the gaze of other people, which, significantly, is also coloured by his skin. This is a subtle book about racism in a post-colonial world, but it is also a beautiful, piercingly imaginative tale about transcendent love. The appearance of Moshe is a brilliant trope; a man with no definable skin colour cannot be a hostage to his history, but still he is.. …’ READ THE FULL REVIEW
Tragedy, The Greeks & Us, by Simon Critchley
Tragedy, the Greeks and Us, by Simon Critchley, is a thought provoking, academic book about all that we have taken from Ancient Greek culture concerning our understanding of tragedy, and all that we have either forgotten, or never understood. The quote that appears at the front of the book says it all. We have cultivated ourselves on the foundations of Ancient Greek culture and civilisation, but we are, in the end, fakes unless we dig deeper and really get to grips with the particular lessons we could take away from tragedy, because first and foremost, tragedy is not really about disaster or a fall; it is about fate and what we do with it….READ THE FULL REVIEW
Our Fathers, by Rebecca Wait
What kind of man kills his own family?’
A haunting novel set in the wild Outer Hebrides of Scotland
You can’t really read Our Fathers by Rebecca Wait and come away unscathed. This is one of those understated books that really gets under your skin. At first sight, it looks like a dark book; the cover is spectacular. Forebodingly dark and moody, it conjures up the sentiment of the novel. Being a story about a man who murders his family in cold blood, this is not a bedtime story or a jolly holiday ramble. But it is a book worth reading…How can Tommy, the child who survives, ever find a way of living with the past? That is the question this book asks. The answer is, he can’t, not really. But even as he replays the memory of that dreadful day and the few days that preceded it, the trauma doesn’t let him see it right. There is more than one secret in this tale and memory, so it seems, is quite deceptive. The past is a story we tell ourselves, says the narrator. Sooner or later you have to decide what kind of tale you want to hear, or what version of the story you can live with..
The Goodness Paradox, by Richard Wrangham
In the middle of the eighteenth century, a group of ‘wild children’ was discovered roaming the woodlands of Europe (and by wild I mean not Ibiza party wild, which would barely raise an eyebrow, but ‘savagely’ wild in the Tarzan sense). The discovery fuelled a debate already in progress about how people had evolved. At the heart of this debate was the ‘nature/nurture’ question: were we born with certain characteristics, which defined us as a species, or could we be conditioned by environment? The legend of Tarzan was lapped up by Victorians, providing us with one of the best-loved characters of popular fiction and a gut busting calling card. Were we innately wild or tame, savage or civilised, good or evil? READ THE FULL REVIEW.
How Democracy Ends, by David Runciman
Democratic politics,’ says Author David Runciman “has become an elaborate show. Mature, Western democracy is over the hill”. Mr Runciman is Professor of Politics at Cambridge and so he must be right. It is in fact hard to read this book without being persuaded that we are on the brink of democratic collapse. How weary a word has democracy actually become, and why is it over the hill? READ THE FULL REVIEW
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