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

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

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

Robinson Crusoe revisited

The Shortest Way With Defoe – Robinson Crusoe, Deism, and the Novel Michael B. Prince, University of Virginia Press, 2020, 328 pages, £26 Daniel Defoe’s 1722 novel Journal of the Plague Year has been much read recently, for obvious reasons. Cognoscenti have always read Roxana and Tour Thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain, while… Continue reading

Traditionalism redux

War for Eternity – Inside Bannon’s Far-Right Circle of Global Power Brokers Benjamin R. Teitelbaum, New York: Dey Street Books, 2020, pb, 315 pages Many critics have made attacks on President Trump and his intellectual influences, but Benjamin Teitelbaum is cleverer and fairer-minded than most. War for Eternity strives to show that many modern national… Continue reading

Can the Greens change their colours?

Greens often make conservatives and populists see red – or Reds. In 2004, Australian politician John Anderson called his country’s Greens ‘watermelons…green on the outside, and very, very, very red on the inside’. His fruity metaphor has become something of a conservative cliché. It is easy to see why. Green policies are frequently further to… Continue reading

Emperor of imagination

King and Emperor – A New Life of Charlemagne Janet L. Nelson, London: Allen Lane, 2019, 659 pages, £25 Charles the Great looms out of the swirling obscurity of post-Roman Europe like the Great Lighthouse of Alexandria, signalling simultaneously radical renewal and an alteration of everything that came before. As Janet Nelson illuminates in her… Continue reading

Unending journeys

The Unsettling of Europe – The Great Migration, 1945 to the Present Peter Gatrell, Allen Lane, 2019, 548 pages, £30 Few subjects arouse such atavistic emotions as migration – whether the arrivals come as conquerors or as kin, fleeing ordeals or seeking opportunities. For incomers, migration can represent a dream, a rational choice, an urgent… Continue reading

The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St. Clair

COLOURFUL TALES The Secret Lives of Colour Kassia St. Clair, John Murray: London, 2016, hb., 320pps. History can be refracted through countless prisms – cultural, economic, environmental, ideological, moral, national, racial, religious – but one has been oddly unexplored, despite being not just obvious, but ubiquitous. That prism is colour, an element that suffuses every… Continue reading

New light on the Lakes

NEW LIGHT ON THE LAKES We’d been dreaming about Andalusia. But plans sometimes must be altered, and so one August evening we found ourselves instead entering into Ulverston, thirteen hundred miles from Andalusia, and even more distant climatically, culturally, and historically. The Lake District – “England’s Switzerland”, Manchester’s playground, stamping-grounds of Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter,… Continue reading