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

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

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

Eager for beavers

Bringing Back the Beaver Derek Gow, London: Chelsea Green, 2020, hb, 208 pages, £20 Conservationists are frequently criticised for focusing on glamorous species at the expense of others equally important, but unluckily uglier – pandas rather than pangolins, birds rather than bats, and monkeys rather than mole-rats. Europe’s frankly lumpy largest rodent, the European beaver,… 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

Epitome of his generation

Thanks A Lot Mr Kibblewhite Roger Daltrey,  London: Blink, 2018, hb., 345 pages, £20 In 1839, the topographer Thomas Faulkner found the little Middlesex village of Shepherd’s Bush a “pleasant” rustic retreat, centred on quiet Gagglegoose Green – an outlier of the once highwayman-haunted Hounslow Heath. Today, the pleasant settlement is a dubious London suburb,… Continue reading