Europe, from Cretaceous to Anthropocene

Europe: A Natural History Tim Flannery, London: Allen Lane, 2018, 346 pages, £20 Seen from space, much of nighttime Europe blazes with light, evidence of industry, urbanism, and an existential restlessness that has long impelled Europeans to impose modernity on themselves and the world. Australian palaeontologist-ecologist Tim Flannery, amongst much else author of The Future… Continue reading

The bounding, boundless main

The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans David Abulafia, Allen Lane, 2019, 1,050 pages, £35 David Abulafia’s 2011 The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean set a standard in Middle Sea scholarship, charting a course from 22,000 BC to today, combining careful detail with epic sweep. This dazzlingly ambitious companion-piece looks… Continue reading

Gloucestershire’s genius loci

Down in the Valley: A Writer’s Landscape, Laurie Lee, Penguin, 2019 Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie (1959) is a classic of English rural writing, lauded for its evocation of Gloucestershire’s Slad Valley in the early 20th century, and the last days of an intensely-experienced, millennium-old way of life. This slender but well-conceived volume revisits some… Continue reading

A Home Counties St George

Hollow Places – An Unusual History of Land and Legend Christopher Hadley, William Collins, £20 Early one 1830s morning, workmen were uprooting an ancient yew near Brent Pelham in Hertfordshire when the tree fell unexpectedly – exposing a huge cavity, and evoking superstitions of ‘Piers Shonks’, who slew a dragon and defied the Devil. So… Continue reading

Solar power

King of the World: The Life of Louis XIV Philip Mansel, London: Allen Lane, 2019, 568 pages, £30 British historian Philip Mansel is fascinated by splendour and eclipse – the firework ascent of cities and courts, their fizzling out and falling to earth. After the Bonapartes, Louis XVIII, and the entire Levant, now it is… Continue reading

Spirit guide

Ghostland, Edward Parnell, London: William Collins; 2019, £16.99 ‘Always the ghosts’, Edward Parnell remembers, looking back over his Lincolnshire childhood. After the daydreaming 1960s, the sudden uncertainty of the 1970s manifested itself in bitter tension and a fascination with all things folkloric and paranormal. Into an unsettling world of candle-lit houses and angry political noises… Continue reading

New Country Life and Quadrant reviews…

The 30th October issue of Country Life carries my review of Edward Parnell’s Ghostland – British eeriness seen through a deeply personal prism. Perfect reading for the season (or any other time). The November issue of Australia’s renowned Quadrant carries my jumbo review of Philip Mansel’s brilliant Louis XIV biography, King of the World. Really… Continue reading

Latest Irish Times review

David Abulafia’s The Boundless Sea – review The 26th October 2019 issue of the Irish Times carries my review of David Abulafia’s The Boundless Sea – his compendious and learned exploration of the separate and intermingling histories of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans from prehistory to today. An absorbing and useful resource for anyone… Continue reading

Stream of national consciousness

Mudlarking Lara Maiklem, Bloomsbury, 2019 The 1950 B-film The Mudlark tells of an urchin who ekes out an unpleasant existence scavenging the slimy Thames foreshore. He finds a coin bearing the head of Queen Victoria, and creeps into Windsor Castle to see the sequestered sovereign for himself. Through sheer goodhearted pluck, he succeeds where sophisticated… Continue reading

Territorial waters

The Way to the Sea Caroline Crampton, Granta, £16.99 The Frayed Atlantic Edge David Gange, William Collins, £18.99 Seawater pulses through the veins of our islands, the tang of open water reaching to the furthest points inland. Insularity has always been our destiny, determining daily life and deepest meanings even before Albion loomed out of… Continue reading