William Leith rss

Why do footballers hug each other when a goal is scored? It’s all to do with grooming

Sense and sensibility: what your fingertips tell your brain

11 April 2015
Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind David J. Linden

Penguin, pp.272, £16.99, ISBN: 9780241184035

I used to think we had five senses — sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. And I used to think I knew how they worked. Using specialised instruments, such as… Read more


Vitamins are the oil keeping the human machine working — to be used sparingly

21 March 2015
The Vitamin Complex Catherine Price

Oneworld, pp.318, £11.99, ISBN: 9781780743462

Before I read this book about vitamins, I thought I knew what it would be like. It would be vaguely reassuring. It would tell me that I was consuming the… Read more


Your immune system’s war isn’t Saving Private Ryan — it’s Homeland

6 December 2014
Why Aren’t We Dead Yet?: The Survivor’s Guide to the Immune System Idan Ben-Barak

Scribe, pp.204, £12.99, ISBN: 9781922247667

Before I read this book, I imagined the immune system as a defensive force, like the Germans on the beaches at Normandy on June 6 1944. When you’re young and… Read more

Michael Palin performs on the closing night of 'Monty Python Live (Mostly)'

The hell of being Michael Palin

4 October 2014
Travelling to Work: Diaries, 1988–98 Michael Palin

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, pp.592, £25, ISBN: 9780297844419

In these diaries, which I found excellent in a very specific way, Michael Palin tells us about his life between the late 1980s and the late 1990s. At the start… Read more


A book about human nature that makes your head spin – in a good way

6 September 2014
How We Are Vincent Deary

Allen Lane, pp.261, £16.99, ISBN: 9780241005355

Vincent Deary is a therapist, and this book is the first part of a trilogy. How We Are is about human nature. Books two and three will be called How… Read more

Photo: Artpuppy/Getty

Having a moral compass just gets in the way of being smart

28 June 2014
Think Like a Freak: How to Think Smarter About Almost Everything Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Allen Lane, pp.288, £12.99, ISBN: 9781846147555

Steven D. Levitt was a Harvard economist who specialised in politics and spent a lot of time watching cop shows on TV. Then he had an idea: why not switch… Read more


The thrill of cutting into a human brain

22 March 2014
Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery Henry Marsh

Weidenfeld, pp.278, £16.99, ISBN: 9780297869870

In the first sentence of the first chapter of this book, Henry Marsh, a consultant brain surgeon, says, ‘I often cut into the brain and it is something I hate… Read more


Why you shouldn't keep elephants

8 February 2014
Jumbo John Sutherland

Aurum Press, pp.292, £14.99, ISBN: 9781781212445

On 15 September 1885, the world’s most famous elephant, Jumbo, was killed by a train. Jumbo, the star attraction at P.T. Barnum’s travelling circus, was crossing the track at a… Read more

Yaohnanen on Vanuatu's Tanna island, where men wear nothing but grass penis sheaths, and marijuana and tobacco grow wild, Prince Philip is worshipped as a god Photo: AFP/Getty

Why worship Prince Philip?

23 November 2013
Man Belong Mrs Queen Matthew Baylis

Old Street, pp.257, £10.99, ISBN: 9781908699640

In this travelogue, Matthew Baylis, the novelist and TV critic and former Eastenders screenwriter, goes to Tanna, a Melanesian island, where, he believes, the locals worship Prince Philip. This sounds… Read more

T E Lawrence (Photo - Getty)

Clumsy and heavy, Goliath never stood a chance

12 October 2013
David and Goliath Malcolm Gladwell

Allen Lane, pp.320, £16.99, ISBN: 9781846145810

When we think of David and Goliath, we think of a young man, not very big, who has a fight with a terrifying opponent, and wins. We think of David… Read more

Sane New World, by Ruby Wax - a review

20 July 2013
Sane New World Ruby Wax

Hodder & Stoughton, pp.272, £18.99, ISBN: 9781444755732

Ruby Wax, who is best known as a comedian, dedicates this book ‘to my mind, which at one point left town’. She says: ‘I am one of the one in… Read more


Consolations of the Forest, by Sylvain Tesson - review

15 June 2013
Consolations of the Forest Sylvain Tesson

Allen Lane, pp.239, £16.99, ISBN: 9780149754721

In this book, the French writer Sylvain Tesson spends six months, mostly alone, in a log cabin in Siberia. ‘Cold, silence and solitude are conditions that tomorrow will be more… Read more

Théâtre de la Gaîté performers at Niagara Falls, 1892

The Society of Timid Souls, by Polly Morland - review

18 May 2013
The Society of Timid Souls Polly Morland

Profile, pp.256, £14.99, ISBN: 9781846685132

In this book about courage, Polly Morland talks to lots of people who should know what it is. She talks to soldiers, surfers, a matador, firefighters and professional daredevils. She… Read more

Destroying angel in the ether

23 February 2013
Give Me Everything You Have James Lasdun

Cape, pp.224, £14.99, ISBN: 9780374219079

A few years ago, James Lasdun wrote The Horned Man, a novel about Laurence Miller, an English lecturer in an American college who descends into paranoia. At first, he thinks… Read more

Safety in danger

8 December 2012
Antifragile: How to Live in a World We Don’t Understand Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Allen Lane, pp.544, £25, ISBN: 9781846141560

In his book The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb told us that the world is a much weirder place than we can bear to believe. It is full of occult forces… Read more

An exercise in torment

15 September 2012
The Yellow Birds Kevin Powers

pp.240, £14.99, ISBN: 9781444756128

In this intense, painful, excellent war novel, former Private John Bartle, a young man from rural Virginia, looks back on his tour of duty in northern Iraq in 2004. He… Read more

Torn in two by Tuggy Tug

21 July 2012
Among the Hoods Harriet Sergeant

Faber, pp.240, 14.99, ISBN: 9780571289172

This is a book about what we, as a society, should do with hoodies — the familiar hooded young men, black and white, who rob, stab, shoot and sell drugs.… Read more

Who needs money?

19 May 2012
Red-Blooded Risk Aaron Brown

Wiley, pp.432, 23.99

Debt: The First 5000 Years David Graeber

Melville House, pp.224, 21.99

I was racking my brains, trying to understand money, trying to grasp exactly what it is, when I came across these two books. One is written by Aaron Brown, who… Read more


A gruesome sort

31 March 2012
Circulation Thomas Wright

Chatto, pp.248, 16.99

Everybody knows that the heart pumps blood around the body, and that a man called William Harvey somehow discovered this fact. Before Harvey, people thought that blood moved around the… Read more

The view from the top

3 March 2012
Over the Rainbow Paul Pickering

Simon & Schuster, pp.303, 16.99

Halfway through this book, the veil lifted, and I thought: ‘I see! I see what he’s trying to do!’ Pickering gets his characters, and moves them along, and then, after… Read more

The Devil in the mirror

31 December 2011
The Locked Ward: Memoirs of a Psychiatric Orderly Dennis O’Donnell

Cape, pp.352, 16.99

As a kid growing up in Scotland in the 1950s, Dennis O’Donnell was aware of ‘loonies’, and the men in white coats who were supposed to take them away. Then,… Read more

Just One Catch by Tracy Daugherty

22 October 2011
Just One Catch Tracy Daugherty

Kirkus, pp.560, 25

Yossarian Slept Here Erica Heller

Vintage, pp.288, 8.99

In the second world war, Joseph Heller was an American airman based in Corsica. He flew 60 missions over Italy and the south of France. He was the guy who… Read more

Chaos and the tidy mind

24 September 2011
The Genius in My Basement Alexander Masters

4th Estate, pp.360, 16.99

In this book, Alexander Masters, the unusual biographer, is living in Cambridge, having written Stuart: A Life Backwards, the story of a homeless man with a disordered mind. Masters lives… Read more

Speak, Memory

4 June 2011
Moonwalking with Einstein Joshua Foer

Allen Lane, pp.307, 14.99

One day, the American journalist Joshua Foer is surfing the net, trying to find the answer to a specific question: who is the most intelligent person in the world? He… Read more


Don’t sleep on blocks of ice

21 August 2010
Wide Awake: A Memoir of Insomnia Patricia Morrisroe

Sceptre, pp.276, 16.99

I’ve only ever read one other book about sleep — the brilliant Counting Sheep, by Paul Martin, which collates and describes everything we know about sleep in a way that… Read more