Learning to listen

18 September 2010
How Music Works John Powell

Particular Books, pp.264, 12.99

How Music Works opens with a blizzard of reassurances. First, John Powell establishes his ordinary-bloke credentials by means of a slightly tortured analogy between many people’s attitude to music (‘pleasure… Read more


A plague of infinities

11 September 2010
The Grand Design Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow

Bantam, pp.199, 18.99

Stephen Hawking is the most distinguished living physicist, who despite the catastrophe of motor neurone disease has been twice married, is a bestselling author and a media super-star. He is… Read more


In and out of every dive

23 June 2010
Noir Robert Coover

Duckworth, pp.224, 12.99

Robert Coover’s Noir is a graphic novel. Robert Coover’s Noir is a graphic novel. Not literally, in the contemporary sense in which the phrase is used to designate a highfalutin… Read more

Faith under fire

24 March 2010
Souls in Torment Giles St Aubyn

New European Publications, pp.590, 25

Giles St Aubyn, in this long, scholarly book, sets out to chronicle the shifts in the Christian churches from the scientific revolution of the 17th century, and the Enlightenment of… Read more


A cosmic comedy

10 March 2010
Solar Ian McEwan

Cape, pp.304, 18.99

Not long ago I had an email from a friend, wondering if I’d yet read the new Ian McEwan. Not long ago I had an email from a friend, wondering… Read more


Array of luminaries

27 January 2010
Seeing Further: The Story of Science and the Royal Society Bill Bryson (editor)

Harper Press, pp.490, 25

In November 1660, on a damp night at Gresham College in London, a young shaver named Christopher Wren gave a lecture on astronomy. In the clearly appreciative audience were 12… Read more


Addle-pated modernist

6 January 2010
How To Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Answers Sarah Bakewell

Chatto, pp.9780701178925, 16.99

In 1564 a book was published calculating that there were 7,409,127 demons at work in the world, under the administrative control of 79 demon-princes. Eight years later, Michel Eyquem de… Read more

The teacher you wish you’d had

14 October 2009
The Greatest Show on Earth Richard Dawkins

Bantam Press, pp.470, 20

Sometimes you can become too well known. For years Richard Dawkins was a more than averagely successful media don, an evolutionary biologist, fellow of New College, writer of popular science… Read more

Poisoned spring

6 May 2009
Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo Michael McCarthy

John Murray, pp.256, 16.99

Wings and Rings: A History of Bird Migration Studies in Europe Richard Vaughan

Isabelline Books 6, Bellevue, Enys, Penryn TR10 9LB (UK) Tel./Fax: (44) (0)1326 373602 e-mail:, pp.228, 19.95

Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo, by Michael McCarthy Wings and Rings: A History of Bird Migration Studies in Europe, by Richard Vaughan On a May night in 1967, walking home… Read more

Darwin — from worms to collops

1 April 2009
Darwin’s Island: The Galapagos in the Garden of England Steve Jones

Little, Brown, pp.307, 20

The Young Charles Darwin Keith Thomson

Yale, pp.276, 18.99

Mrs Charles Darwin’s Recipe Book Dusha Bateson and Wesley Janeway

Glitterati Incorporated, pp.175, $35

Remarkable Creatures Sean Carroll

Quercus, pp.331, 16.99

By all accounts a modest and retiring example of his species, Charles Darwin would surely have been more astonished than flattered by the honours done him during this year’s bicentennial… Read more


The romance of the jungle

25 March 2009
The Lost City of Z David Grann

Simon & Schuster, pp.339, 16.99

It is so sad to read about the Mato Grosso now, at least it is for anyone who, like me, was a boy in the 1950s. When the vast rain… Read more


Barking up the wrong tree?

18 March 2009
The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning James Lovelock

Allen Lane, pp.179, 20

He Knew He Was Right: The Irrepressible Life of James Lovelock and Gaia John Gribbin and Mary Gribbin

Allen Lane, pp.240, 20

The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning, by James Lovelock He Knew He Was Right: The Irrepressible Life of James Lovelock and Gaia, by John Gribbin and Mary Gribbin… Read more

Mind over matter

28 January 2009
Why Us? James Le Fanu

Harper Press, pp.303, 18.99

Why Us?, by James Le Fanu The past half-century has seen the most astonishing concentration of scientific discoveries in history. In physical terms, from the Big Bang to the Double… Read more

The origin of the theory

28 January 2009
Darwin’s Sacred Cause Adrian Desmond and James Moore

Allen Lane, pp.485, 25

Darwin: A Life in Poems Ruth Padel

Chatto, pp.141, 12.99

Darwin’s Sacred Cause, by Adrian Desmond and James Moore Darwin: A Life in Poems, by Ruth Padel In 1858, on the brink of publishing his theory of evolution, which I… Read more