The Poet of Everything

Posted on by David Gelber

With close to five hundred records relating to his life surviving and the prospect of still more being found, Geoffrey Chaucer remains one of the best-documented premodern Britons. The commanding size and actuarial precision of the surviving Chaucer archive speaks volumes about the dedication of medieval society to tallying, record keeping and categorising: we know […]

Going off Scripture

Posted on by David Gelber

The Bible is the central book of Western culture. It has deeply influenced our literature, music and art, as well as our history and institutions. Every year Oxford University Press sells a quarter of a million copies of the Authorised Version alone. Yet most people in the UK now probably find it a strange and […]

The Ride of Her Life

Posted on by David Gelber

Which women have made the biggest breakthroughs in sport? Some might select Serena Williams for her twenty-three Grand Slam tennis titles or Nadia Comăneci for achieving the first ‘perfect ten’ in gymnastics. Historians might choose Alice Milliat, who organised a Women’s Olympiad in the 1920s, at a time when the founder of the Olympics, Baron […]

Star Tracks

Posted on by David Gelber

The NASA website shows how far the space probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have travelled from Earth since their launch in 1977. At the time of writing, Voyager 1 is 13,487,119,000 and Voyager 2 11,147,711,000 miles away. Their primary purpose was to beam back data about the outer planets in our solar system, but […]

An American in Florence

Posted on by David Gelber

The façade of the Palazzo Rucellai in Florence is a hidden Renaissance gem. Embedded in a maze of small streets, it’s hard to get a proper perspective; those who make the effort usually know their architectural history. This harmonious marriage of classical architecture to the civic philosophy of humanism was the brainchild of Leon Alberti, […]

Stitches in Time

Posted on by David Gelber

Clare Hunter tops and tails her book about the long history of textile work, of stitching, embroidering and quilting, with a visit to the Bayeux Tapestry in Normandy and to The Dinner Party, Judy Chicago’s 1970s feminist installation in the Brooklyn Museum. Both works are very large – the Bayeux Tapestry an astonishing 230 feet […]

Shaggy Dog Story

Posted on by David Gelber

From Marley & Me to Old Yeller, most books about owning a dog are pretty mawkish affairs, a cynical tug at your heartstrings as you follow the journey from cute puppy to faithful friend to tearful final farewell at the canine equivalent of Dignitas. But this memoir, about a coked-up journalist who only finds true […]

A Riot in Two Parts

Posted on by David Gelber

Over a century after its legendary premiere in Paris in 1913, Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring remains an essential work of modernism. It has been performed on numerous occasions across the world and has been recorded more than 150 times; it has been bastardised and plagiarised in the scores for such films as Fantasia […]

Shelf Reflection

Posted on by David Gelber

Last June, Tim Waterstone was awarded a knighthood for ‘services to bookselling’. But what is bookselling nowadays? The walk-in system, which has endured since William Caxton sold his wares in his Westminster shop, is now being crushed between the Scylla of Amazon and the Charybdis of AbeBooks. ‘What are you going to do about the […]

Steeple Chase

Posted on by David Gelber

Not only does Armagh have two cathedrals, but they are both called St Patrick’s. One, belonging to the Church of Ireland, crouches on Druim Saileach (or Willow Ridge). Here, some think, St Patrick built a church in AD 445. The other, the Catholic cathedral, stands half a mile away on Tealach na Licci (or Sandy […]

Readers, Digest

Posted on by David Gelber

The starting point for Bee Wilson’s latest book is the fact that we face an unusual crisis in food and eating. No longer are we struggling to grow enough food to feed the world. Instead we have tipped into a situation where we are consuming so much junk food that poor diets have become the […]


Posted on by David Gelber

When Christopher Logue died in 2011, his modernist interpretation of Homer’s Iliad, War Music, remained unfinished. But in the forty-two years separating Patrocleia (1963) and Cold Calls (2005), respectively its first and final instalments, Logue’s project drew a great deal of admirers, including George Steiner, Louis MacNeice and Henry Miller, to name only a famous […]

Silvio Screen

Posted on by David Gelber

Obsessed as we are with blaming Donald Trump for merging demagoguery and celebrity and thus putting paid to liberal democracy, there’s a certain sad comfort in being reminded that he is not entirely a novelty. The orange ogre has a forerunner, though – given his vainglorious egomania – he would probably deny it. As Paolo […]

Living in Hope

Posted on by David Gelber

When the third instalment in Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet intruded though my south London letter box, the daffs on the balcony were waning and the tulips were warming up on the touchline to take their place. The book seems to do more or less what the last two did: apply a certain rough magic to the events of the present and the recent past in a

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All Too Human

Posted on by David Gelber

Ian McEwan’s new novel guides us into the foothills of science fiction. The reader is thrust into an alternative vision of the 1980s, ‘the autumn of the twentieth century’. In a parallel dimension more technically advanced than our own, email and the internet have arrived early, Alan Turing is the most famous and influential living […]

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Strange Meeting

Posted on by David Gelber

Where Reasons End, the sixth book by the Chinese-American author Yiyun Li, contains many heartbreaking moments, but the saddest occurs in its dedication: ‘in memory of Vincent Kean Li (2001–2017)’. It’s impossible to read this story of an unnamed Chinese-American author reckoning with the suicide of her sixteen-year-old son except in the shadow cast by […]

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Under Western Eyes

Posted on by David Gelber

The first tiny green shoots of a subgenre are emerging. Call it the Post-Traumatic Trump Novel. A denizen of the liberal urban archipelago – innocent, arrogant, voted for Hillary – ventures forth into the land of the Trump supporter, where his or her assumptions about America are dismantled in a series of comic (or violent) […]

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Presumed Dead

Posted on by David Gelber

In a powerful scene in the middle of The Remainder, Felipe remembers how, as an orphan of about ten or twelve, he ran away from home. Picked up by the police, he is taken to the station and asked his name. The policeman makes a call to check, then puts down the phone, red-faced and […]

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To See Paris and Live

Posted on by David Gelber

In the summer of 1897, two aspiring Greek poets, who were also brothers, ended their brief tour of Europe by spending three days in Paris. For the younger brother, Constantine Cavafy, those three days would constitute an unforgettable and liberating experience, while for the elder, John, they were little more than a pleasant distraction from […]

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A Foot in Both Camps

Posted on by David Gelber

‘Write what you know’ is the clichéd advice meted out to many aspiring authors. While Damian Barr’s Eighties memoir Maggie & Me (2013) indicated that the young Scotsman may have taken the suggestion to heart, You Will Be Safe Here, his first novel, sees him change course. Set in South Africa in different periods, the […]

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