England in infra-red

Nightwalking – Four Journeys Into Britain After Dark John Lewis-Stempel, Doubleday, 2022, hb, 104pps, £9.99 John Lewis-Stempel is nearly as prolific as the natural world about which he writes so famously, and so well. His voice is welcomely distinctive – a traditional agriculturist of lyrical articulacy, an observant ecologist who finds mythopoeic magic in everyday… Continue reading

The goodness of King George

George III – The Life and Reign of Britain’s Most Misunderstood Monarch Andrew Roberts, London: Allen Lane, 2021, 758pps, £35 Andrew Roberts is renowned for Winston Churchill scholarship, starting with the lacerating Eminent Churchillians of 1994 and culminating in 2018 with his exemplary Churchill: Walking with Destiny. But he has always had other interests, as… Continue reading

A painter’s peregrinations

Field Notes: Walking the Territory Maxim Peter Griffin, London: Unbound, 132pps, hb., £16.99 Several years ago, when I was thinking about writing a book about Lincolnshire, I found a strikingly original Twitter account. Almost every day, the seemingly tireless Maximpetergriff posted pictures painted during or after apparently endless walks across Lincolnshire, in all weathers and… Continue reading

Deptford dreaming

Aircraft always overhead, trains pulling in and out, traffic backed up along the New Cross Road, pulsating rap from open windows, plastic bottles in the gutter, pigeons with fungus-eaten toes, gang tags on gritty walls, smells of exhaust, fast food, sweat and the shower-gel of the highly made-up, high-heeled woman who just clicked by oblivious,… Continue reading

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