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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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...

Published

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...

Published

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...

Published

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...

Published

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...

Published

29 January 2013

RDN on Mount’s “The New Few”

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.... Read more...

Published

08 January 2013

RDN on Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind”

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. Read more...

Published

19 December 2012

In praise of Nevil Shute

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... Read more...

Published

06 May 2012

Is Rosamond Lehmann the star pre-War woman writer?

I would love to pose the question: Is Rosamond Lehmann the best of the mid-20th Century female novelists? I am nowhere near well-enough-read to opine very certainly. I am thinking of the world before Iris Murdoch (my mother's favourite during the 1950s and 1960s) and Muriel Spark (whose books I loved in the 1970s). Lehmann's core competition comes from Stella Gibbons, Betty Miller, Jean Rhys,  Rose Macaulay, Elizabeth Bowen. Viriginia Wolf ought to be in there, but perhaps the point is that Lehmann and the others are middlebrow and Woolf's highbrow competition doesn't count. Read more...

Published

06 May 2012
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