On books.

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

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

Hobo’s 79th Armoured Division insignia

This is the famous insignia of the 79th Armoured Division. It seems very likely that, like the 79th itself, it was designed by General Percy Hobart (Sir Percy, as he became). If so, he was as creative with a pencil as with his military planning. He was certainly close friends with writers and artists, including Eric Kennington, one of the best war artists of WW1 and WW2.
The Bull's Head insignia of the 79th Armoured Division
The Bull's Head insignia of the 79th Armoured Division
For more on this story, see below... Read more...

Published

28 August 2014

Stanley Kennedy North folk dance book, 1921

Stanley North, by then calling himself Stanley Kennedy North, in recognition of his marriage to Helen Kennedy, illustrated and (presumably) produced this marvellous little book, Mr North’s Maggot (so called after a folk dance formulation). It is dedicated to Helen and has a foreword by Cecil Sharp, the great revivalist… Read more...

Published

27 August 2014

Stanley North WW1 “Child’s ABC”, 1914

Sometime during the autumn of 1914 (I am presuming), my grandfather, Stanley North produced these marvellous images to illustrate Geoffrey Whitworth’s “Child’s ABC of the War”. It was in the spirit of much of the artistic and literary response to the declaration of war.

Here is a gallery of the… Read more...

Published

25 August 2014

Bernardine Bishop’s “Unexpected Lessons In Love”

This is a very fine book, and well merits the comparison with the writing of Penelope Fitzgerald, which Adam Mars-Jones drew in his Observer review. It's a comparison as to both classiness and type, and I hadn't made it, which was dumb of me, since I have been reading and loving Fitzgerald.. Read more...

Published

10 June 2014

RDN on Michael J Sandel

I meant ages ago to write a note about Michael J Sandel's What Money Can't Buy. I read it with mounting irritation and wanted just to mark people's cards as best I could as to what to watch out for when they come to it.... Read more...

Published

01 May 2014
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