On books.

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

“Scrap the BBC!”, 2020

In 2007 I wrote "Scrap the BBC!" for the Social Affairs Unit. It was subtitled, "10 years to set broadcasters free". Well, that didn't happen. The next big though interim discussion about the Corporation's future is set for 2022, preparatory for a new charter in 2027. What are the odds of major change within ten years?

I wouldn't bet on it, not with my record. Anyway, a much bigger set of questions arises. How are we to handle the new world of media? Read more...

Published

22 January 2020

Nature Writing Interrogated

You will find here a free download of a PDF, entitled Nature Writing Interrogated: 5000 years of nostalgia.

It's a longish essay (about 40,000 words) and explores the long history of writing about nature, beginning very roughly with the Gilgamesh epic and romping through to pieces in last month's Guardian. I have undertaken this task because for half a longish lifetime I have been growing in unease about the way nature has always been used as a repository for civilised mankind's regrets and yearnings. My feeling has been that it was ever thus and that in recent decades the result has worked against, rather than toward, a proper appreciation of nature. Read more...

Published

12 January 2020

Liminality: An interrogation

Liminal is a lovely word for what I find a very moving and rewarding set of ideas. Much as I like it, though, I find its use, including even my own use of it, may have got out of hand. This piece explores some of all that. I want to… Read more...

Published

26 September 2019

The Liminal Zone: a loose account

If you are reading this, something has made you curious about what liminality might be or mean. This piece discusses what I will call the Liminal Zone. It’s a wide imaginary territory where Loose Liminality roams free. I call it a zone because in 1988 I wrote an essay in… Read more...

Published

10 September 2019

“Howards End”, a reader’s guide

I saw the Merchant and Ivory movie of Howards End and the excellent recent TV adaptation before I dipped extensively into the novel. I had of course known its main themes. I had on my shelves a couple of Forster biographies and had dipped into them. I knew an older generation of literature graduates for whom "Morgan" was a familiar, fussy almost comical elderly figure in the Cambridge of their day and I may sloppily have picked up a little disdain from them. Because a young person I know was put to read Howards End, I thought I would too. That set me on some highways and byways of allied reading. I have enjoyed all this and offer what follows in case it's useful. Read more...

Published

10 September 2019

500 years of businesswomen

Royal and aristocratic women often wielded considerable power as mothers and widows. It is curious how other women, formally unable to own or control assets in their own right, did often inherit their late husband’s stake in the wider world, and run it. They had other routes to control as well. Read more...

Published

19 May 2019

Anne Lister & “Shirley” in business

There is a long tradition of women being successfull in farming, landowning and business. Here I look at Anne Lister (Gentleman Jack) and Charlotte Brontë's Shirley in that light.
Read more...

Published

19 May 2019

Edith Stein: A tentative look & some leads

This is an account of my attempts to discover and understand the 20th Century Jewish philosopher of empathy,  Edith Stein (Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross). It includes (listed below) what I hope are fruitful leads. I came across her as part of my work on the Carmelite order, in which she became a professed nun until the Nazis found and killed her. I have at last read the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre's short intellectual biography of Stein. It's invaluable, not least because his journey to and within Catholicism parallels hers but especially because he understands that her pgilosophical writings are alien in all sorts of way to an untutored English reader. I have also at last read her doctoral thesis, The Problem of Empathy, and much of her extraordinary memoir, Life In a Jewish Family. I don't yet know her theological writing and am looking forward to it. I hope you will remember that I am a failed Cambridge University philosophy undergraduate of the very early 1970s. I couldn't get my brain round analytic philosophy but came away as rather a snob about Continental Philosophy. My love of Wittgenstein, but not my understanding of him, deepened by the Cam. Edith could have handled the former and was a minor star of the latter. My love of Wittgenstein, but not my foggy understanding of him, deepened by the Cam. Read more...

Published

01 March 2018

Jack Reacher: Mythic hero who travels by bus

This has been been the sunny season when I lay on a lounger and read something like three-quarters of the 20-some Jack Reacher thrillers produced by the Englishman in New York, Lee Child. I think Reacher is a rare - possibly unique - type in the detective thriller, though it is quite common in Marvel comics and movies. In written form it is a story from over 3,000 years ago. It deploys the epic manner in telling stories about a mythic, and partly divine, figure. Read more...

Published

17 September 2017

Polite Modernism: Eric Parry & the Other Tradition

What Colin St John Wilson called "The Architecture of Invitation" or "The Other Tradition", I call "Polite Modernism". Its finest living exponent is Eric Parry, who is firmly in the CSJW tradition, both academic and creative. And now he has delivered what looks like an excellent successor to CSJW's British Library, and Denys Lasdun's Royal College of Physicians. Actually, his headquarters for the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers has a decent claim to be the ultimate in the genre so far. After the fold, there's an account of what Polite Modernism is, and how it fits into Brutalism and Modernism, and even post-modernism. Read more...

Published

28 June 2017
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