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William Leith rss

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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

Books

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

Jumbo

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

Siberia

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

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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

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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

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Brutal and brutalising

10 March 2010
Eating Animals Jonathan Safran Foer

Hamish Hamilton, pp.352, 20

In this book, Jonathan Safran Foer, the American novelist, tries to make us think about eating meat. He ate meat, then became a vegetarian, then ate meat again, then got… Read more

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Behind the net curtains

13 January 2010
Waking Up in Toytown John Burnside

Cape, pp.262, 15.99

The Freedoms of Suburbia Paul Barker

Frances Lincoln, pp.240, 25

Waking Up in Toytown, by John Burnside The Freedoms of Suburbia, by Paul Barker Finding himself in a lunatic asylum, and then at a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, John Burnside… Read more

Gut instincts

9 September 2009
Cleaving Julie Powell

Penguin, pp.294, 12.99

Julie Powell wrote Julie and Julia, a book (and now a film) in which she described her attempts to cook a huge number of recipes by the cookery writer Julia… Read more

Not so special

22 April 2009
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work Alain de Botton

Hamish Hamilton, pp.329, 18.99

Alain de Botton recently said that he’d been congratulated on his prescience for writing a book about the nature of work in these times of economic woe. But he wasn’t… Read more

Beyond the wildest dreams

12 December 2008
Collections of Nothing William Davies King

University of Chicago Press, pp.163, 10.50

Collections of Nothing, by William Davies King At the start of this memoir, the author, a college professor in California, describes a scene from his divorce. He walks into the… Read more