Lead book review

Food for thought | 7 July 2016

Elisabeth Luard has a fascinating and rich subject in the relationship between food and place. Humans eat differently according to where they live. Their diets both in daily life and in feast-day magnificence are influenced by seasonal and regional availability, sumptuary laws, convention, history and even political diktat. I was in Norway last week, and

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Good clean fun | 7 July 2016

The Detection Club is rather like the House of Lords of British crime writing, though considerably more select. (I should declare an interest: I’m a member of the club, so it’s possible I may be biased.) Founded in 1930 by Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers among others, the club chooses new members by secret

We’re all curators now

In January 1980 Isaac Asimov, writer of ‘hard science fiction’, professor of bio-chemistry and vice-president of Mensa International, penned a column for Newsweek magazine in which he addressed a prevailing ‘cult of ignorance’ in America. ‘The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life,’ he wrote,

Back from the front

In his preface Sebastian Junger tells us that this book grew out of an earlier article. It obviously didn’t grow much, since the main text is still only 138 (small) pages long, less than half the length of its predecessors The Perfect Storm and War, though it comes armed with a list of sources amounting

MPs and DTs

In 1964, a newly elected Labour MP was put in charge of the House of Commons kitchen committee. (An unpromising start to a review, I appreciate, but bear with me.) His idea of selling off the House’s rather splendid wine cellar duly appalled some MPs, but was accepted as a useful money-making scheme. Only later

Music, love and all things human

When James Kelman won the Man Booker prize for How Late it Was, How Late, one judge stormed out, calling it ‘crap’ and the award a disgrace. A columnist counted the number of ‘fucks’ — apparently 4,000. This was 1994 and savage Glaswegian vernacular replete with rhythmic obscenities was terra incognita to English readers. Kelman

Godly swingers

There were two communist manifestos of 1848. One had no influence whatsoever on the revolutions of that year, but now symbolises the struggle against bourgeois capitalism. The other secured a small readership, and is almost forgotten today, but it also laid the foundations of a business that catered to bourgeois propriety. The gestation of Marx’s

A trick of the light

There is a moment at the start of most authors’ careers when it is hard to get anything published, and there is a moment towards the latter stage of some authors’ careers when it is hard to stop everything being published. A.S. Byatt is in the latter stage of her career, and however great the

Defeat by tweet and blog

The Wake, Paul Kingsnorth’s Booker-longlisted debut novel, was set just after the Norman Conquest, and was told in an odd hybrid of pseudo-Anglo-Saxon and modern English. Its narrator, Buccmaster of Holland, being displaced by the incoming Frenchies, gathered a group of fighters to resist, holding them together by the strength of his personality. But something

Piety and savagery

First a confession. Like many modern British readers, I have contracted a severe case of Jihad Overload Syndrome. Symptoms of this unhappy condition include bouts of despair, melancholy, lassitude, irritation and impatience, and an ostrich-like tendency to pretend none of it is really happening. These can be regularly triggered by Muslim taxi drivers attempting to