The enigmas of islands

Phantom Islands – In Search of Mythical Lands Dirk Liesemer, trans. by Peter Lewis, London: Haus Publishing, 2019, £14.99 Dirk Liesemer is a writing Wandervögel, an epistolary inheritor of the romantically- imagined movement that flourished in Germany between the late nineteenth century and 1933. The ‘wandering birds’ took their inspiration from medieval myths, and made… Continue reading

Realms of fiction

The Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien – The Places That Inspired Middle-Earth John Garth, Frances Lincoln, 208 pages, £25 Authors have always imagined alternative universes, but in the bulging gazetteer of authorial Erewhons, from the transient town of Abaton via Atlantis, Earthsea and Hogwarts to Zyundal in the Isles of Wisdom, none attract such… Continue reading

Glories of geography

Antarctic Atlas: New Maps and Graphics That Tell the Story of a Continent Peter Fretwell, Particular Books, 2020, 208 pages, £35 Strata. William Smith’s Geological Maps Foreword by Robert Macfarlane, Thames & Hudson, 2020, 256 pages, £50 ‘Tis the season of complacency, when we sit in warmth and shiver vicariously with Mary and Joseph out… Continue reading

Times of Troubles

Say Nothing – A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland Patrick Radden Keefe, London: William Collins, 2019, pb, 511 pages In May 1169, an Anglo-Norman expeditionary force landed in Wexford to help the King of Leinster subjugate a revolt – an episode mythologised as inaugurating eight centuries of English oppression of Ireland…. Continue reading

Sowing the seeds of future farming

A Small Farm Future Chris Smaje, Chelsea Green, 2020, 297 pages Chris Smaje is almost certainly the only sociologist-turned-farmer in Somerset, and probably in England. This unusually ecologically-aware agriculturist hopes the sobering effects of COVID can encourage global radical rethinking that can reset society by restructuring rurality. More of us now see the fragility of… Continue reading

Mediterranean refugee crisis

“The masters of the Mediterranean are fellaheen today” James Joyce, Ulysses On watch – In a long slow timeless wash Reflux of freighted waters Slim frigates ride – Grey grace the warping waves bestride And fall and rise again like Greeks Upreared on dolphins (That classic life still breathing Like a soul trapped in a… Continue reading

Looking at the looker-on

10,000 Not Out – The History of the Spectator 1828-2020 David Butterfield, London: Unicorn, 256 pages Everyone has seen The Spectator. Few other journals have cut such a dash through history and culture, and no others have lasted as long. Contributing editor David Butterfield has immersed himself to excellent effect in the magazine’s billion-word digitized… Continue reading

Innocence and experience

Humankind – A Hopeful History Rutger Bregman, London: Bloomsbury, 2020, 463 pages, £20 Humankind opens in evangelical style – This is a book about a radical idea. An idea that’s long been known to make rulers nervous. An idea denied by religions and ideologies, ignored by the news media and erased from the annals of… Continue reading

‘History’s’ victims

Small Men on the Wrong Side of History – The Decline, Fall, and Unlikely Return of Conservatism Ed West, London, Constable, 2020, 426 pages The story of conservatism since 1945 has been one of failure wrapped up in frequent electoral success. While anatomising this oft-noted conundrum, Ed West outlines excellently the intellectual and stylistic differences… Continue reading