On books.

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

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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...


01 May 2014

On Strathcarron on Twain on the Levant

As part of my serendipitous reading saga, I am actively pursuing what might be called Levant studies, not least with the goal of a visit to Israel. I am hoovering up useful travel and history commentaries on the region, and am hugely glad to have come across the remarkable Ian Strathcarron's valuable account of a journey he made in 2011 to recreate a journey made to The Holy Land by Mark Twain in 1867. Read more...


04 April 2014

1940: Poetic fighter pilots

I am working on portraits of various modern warriors, starting with memoirs by people who fought in WW1 or WW2, or - importantly - both. Two such strike me as breath-taking. They are accounts of the young pilots of the beginning of WW2. Read more...


22 February 2014

de Botton & misreading “The News”

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. Read more...


03 February 2014

London: the new Levant?

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. Read more...


03 January 2014

English adventure novelists as literature

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. Read more...


25 October 2013

Reading: serendipity, synchronicity, and the secondhand

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. Read more...


10 August 2013

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

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. Read more...


09 February 2013

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

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.... Read more...


07 February 2013

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

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.... Read more...


29 January 2013
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