Daphne Caruana Galizia

Posted on by David Gelber

To mark World Press Freedom Day last month, PEN and other international organisations sought to focus their attention once more on the brutal murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. A prominent investigative journalist and blogger, Caruana Galizia was assassinated on 16 October last year after leaving her home in Bidnija, Malta, in a targeted car bomb […]

Petrel Head

Posted on by David Gelber

Very early in his career as a seabird biologist, Michael Brooke discovered the truth about puffins: ‘They are horrible to handle. The beak is strong and sharp, as are the claws. It is all but impossible to hold them in a way that leaves one’s hand safe from biting beak and scratching claws.’ So much […]

Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them

Posted on by David Gelber

Among much else, Graham Hoyland is a mountaineer. As such he has no doubt spent many vivid waking moments wondering if that little flake of ice will support his weight as he swings out over the abyss. His approach to matters of fact is, as a consequence, robustly practical. The first 169 pages of his […]

Terrible Work If You Can Get It

Posted on by David Gelber

David Graeber has written a book about a problem that, as he puts it, ‘most people don’t even acknowledge to exist’. The problem is that of ‘bullshit jobs’, which Graeber defines as ‘a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence’. Bullshit jobs […]

Just So Stories

Posted on by David Gelber

In one episode of the adult cartoon Rick and Morty, drunken scientist, Rick, derides his grandson, Morty, for imagining that he can put up shelves using his ‘sad, naked caveman eyeball’ and a ‘bubble of air’ – that is, using a spirit level. He decides to demonstrate ‘true level’, and uses a variety of arcane […]

Poles Apart

Posted on by David Gelber

Many people, envisaging the future of this planet, see a dark, dysfunctional world in which humans have destroyed the environment and superheated the climate. Others regard technology, along with the constant ability of humans to innovate, as a panacea that will cure every ill. It seems our future will resemble either Blade Runner or Star […]

Hold the Front Page

Posted on by David Gelber

Is Seymour Hersh America’s greatest living reporter? Hersh’s dispatches often lack the memorable phrasing you find in the work of, say, Hunter S Thompson or Tom Wolfe, or even the stylistic felicity that allowed I F Stone, the great radical journalist who served as both model and mentor to Hersh, to take the week’s news […]

The Unauthorised Version

Posted on by David Gelber

David Bentley Hart is an Eastern Orthodox theologian who has made waves in his own sphere through his radical atavism (he refers often to the early Church fathers’ concept of the divine), his sympathy for and grasp of the languages and cultures of the ancient world and his unsqueamish, ferocious attacks on modern atheism. Perhaps more relevant to this readership

Growing Pains

Posted on by David Gelber

Benjamin Taylor’s childhood memoir is founded on the smart conceit of encompassing the experiences of a lifetime within the framework of a single year. It is his intention, he observes at the outset, ‘to wrest from the stream of time what happened to the Taylors and the nation between November 1963 and November 1964. But […]

The Colossus of Big Sur

Posted on by David Gelber

As anyone who has tried to write about him knows, Henry Miller is a difficult subject. Besides his reputation for pornography and sexism – both partially justified and always requiring explanation – there’s also always the nagging sense of this defiantly anti-academic writer hovering, disapprovingly, over the critic’s shoulder. In his preface to On Henry […]

What the Doctor Ordered

Posted on by David Gelber

There must be more books about Dr Samuel Johnson than any other figure in English letters apart from Shakespeare. And the first one written remains the best. Nevertheless, Henry Hitchings’s contribution is a worthy addition, a sprightly companion and guide, full of enjoyable surprises and learned digressions even for those who think they know all […]

Their Struggle

Posted on by David Gelber

Few of the ordinary citizens of Europe born in the 1920s lived their lives entirely untouched by the tumultuous events of the mid-century period. Depression, extremism, violence, war, regime change and renewal provided the chaotic backdrop against which people sought to build and sustain homes, careers, families and futures. Depending on where, when and to […]

Zealous Minds

Posted on by David Gelber

The title of a book is often the last thing that the author works on, usually under the ‘guidance’ of the publisher, who wants something eye-catching that sweeps up as large an audience as possible. The title of this book suggests a confrontational polemic designed to inspire rage and confirm prejudices, so I approached it […]

Occupational Hazards

Posted on by David Gelber

In the history of warfare, The Iliad apart, sieges have tended to appear less glamorous or decisive than pitched battles. Yet success or failure in seizing enemy cities has proved militarily pivotal: in modern times, think of Leningrad or Stalingrad. In the Middle Ages, sieges of towns and castles dominated military strategy and practice in […]

A Polite People?

Posted on by David Gelber

Many decades ago I marked exam scripts with Keith Thomas. The arrangement was that if two examiners gave materially different marks to a script they would sit side by side and go through it in search of agreement. Reading with Thomas was like experiencing seriously fast bowling for the first time. I was still grappling […]

Poppy Power

Posted on by David Gelber

In the belief that a language impenetrable to European adults might be acquired spontaneously by someone of tender years, in 1736 a small boy was landed at the foreign trading concession now called Shamian Island on the riverfront at Canton (now Guangzhou) in southeast China. The boy’s name was James Flint and he would not […]

Massacre of the Innocents

Posted on by David Gelber

‘Kishinev’s pogrom may well be the best known of all moments in the Russian Jewish past and the one most persistently, lavishly misunderstood,’ writes Steven J Zipperstein at the start of this book. His gripping account of the great Kishinev pogrom of 1903 tells a story that has never before been related in such detail. […]

Facing the Void

Posted on by Tom Fleming

When my husband’s father was admitted to hospital with lung cancer in 1974, his doctors made no attempt to tell his family that the condition was terminal. His death came as a complete shock to his wife and her two teenage children – my husband, then eighteen, and his younger sister. Five years ago, when […]

Prescription Pushers

Posted on by Tom Fleming

James Le Fanu is our most incisive medical journalist, and in his excellent new book he turns his attention to the dangerous and expensive phenomenon of overprescribing. We have long passed the stage when there was a pill for every ill: we have progressed to the stage when there is an ill for every pill. […]

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