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RDN on books, fiction and non-fiction, old and new. I have often also reviewed at the Social Affairs Unit website.

de Botton & misreading “The News”

Posted by RDN under On books on 3 February 2014. No comments.

I have disagreed with most of what I have read of Alain de Botton’s work over the years and am not likely to read his latest, The News: A user’s manual. In case you do, here is my take on what I understand him to be saying, so you can judge for yourself. In other words, here’s a user’s manual to his book. More »

London: the new Levant?

Posted by RDN under Mind & body / On books on 3 January 2014. No comments.

I have been reading Robert Byron’s lovely, weird, The Byzantine Achievement (1929). I am drawn to the way the English mind admires the Hellenic as part of its being drawn to the Levantine. This Hellenophilia is a question of seeing Greece as something more, and more continuous, than merely having in its heyday been the birthplace of the Western mind. Besides, I like the way creative people like John Craxton (and the Durrell’s of course) and others were so keen on Greece. More »

English adventure novelists as literature

Posted by RDN under Mind & body / On books on 25 October 2013. No comments.

I am a fan of a certain sort of popular fiction: the English adventure story of the 1940s and 1950s. I take this type to include Nevile Shute, Hammond Innes, Nicholas Monserrat, Geoffrey Household and – a recent discovery for me – Nigel Balchin. All these writers seem to me far more richly satisfying than is commonly supposed. It is the last-mentioned who prompted the best bit of literary criticism attaching to this genre, by that master of popular culture, Clive James. More »

Reading: serendipity, synchronicity, and the secondhand

Posted by RDN under Mind & body / On books on 10 August 2013. No comments.

This summer, I have felt a strong need to change gear: especially to read fewer new books of argument which the books pages promote. So: more of the books in my late parents’ shelves; or found in charity shops; or in a holiday cottage… It’s gone exceptionally well so far. More »

Murray’s “Coming Apart”: A fix for US inequality?

Posted by RDN under Economic affairs / Mind & body / On books / Politics & campaigns on 9 February 2013. No comments.

This book bears a superficial resemblance to the rest of the angst literature on Anglosphere inequality, but it is much better than The New Few or The Spirit Level. Its use of evidence about the separations between top and bottom in US society seems fairer and brighter. Yet more to the point, though flawed where it most matters (in its proposed solutions), Charles Murray’s cultural and social arguments seem far more interesting than most. More »

Straw’s “Last Man Standing”: the fond politician

Posted by RDN under Mind & body / On books / Politics & campaigns on 7 February 2013. No comments.

Jack Straw’s autobiography, Last Man Standing, has been well-recieved, and justly so. At the risk of being patronising or condescending, it’s worth saying that it is a touching book. I fancied myself admiring its author. I had to remind myself that it might be – perhaps had to be, was perhaps inevitably – a touch self-serving. Here’s a little unpicking of all that…. More »

Update on inequality, “The Spirit Level”, and happiness

Posted by RDN under Mind & body / On books / Politics & campaigns on 29 January 2013. No comments.

In 2009, I reviewed the then-new book, The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in the Social Affairs Unit website. I thought the highly-influential and much-quoted work very flawed on just about every level. Until very recently, I hadn’t noticed that intelligent, informed voices had continued to attack the book’s handling of the inquality data. So I thought I’d now provide some sources which may prove useful…. More »

RDN on Mount’s “The New Few”

Posted by RDN under Economic affairs / On books / Politics & campaigns on 8 January 2013. One comment.

I had highish hopes of Ferdinand Mount’s book, The New Few. Here, after all, was a famously intelligent, civilised and well-informed conservative voice addressing a concern which is widespread: that Britain is badly run, and controlled by rather few people. Actually, the book made one wonder in what sense Mr Mount still feels he is of the right (if he does), not least since almost everything he says is commonly, and rather boringly, said by the left. The following looks at the book in some detail…. More »

RDN on Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind”

Posted by RDN under Mind & body / On books / Politics & campaigns on 19 December 2012. No comments.

RDN ploughs through this celebrated personal and intellectual exploration – and exoneration – of the moral psychology of the right and the righteous, and finds it surprisingly light on moral or any other kind of useful thinking. More »

In praise of Nevil Shute

Posted by RDN under Mind & body / On books on 6 May 2012. One comment.

The great thing is to go forth and get hold of the books of this very great middle to low brow writer of adventure romances, and read them. If this piece delays you in doing so, then ignore it. If it is what may push you into the Shute fan club, then please read on… More »

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