More from Books

How much of a saint?

Most biographies are written against a sketchy background of historical events drawn with just enough broad strokes of the brush to provide context for a life. Martin Crowe’s book, apart from the affecting last chapters on the autumn of Schindler’s life, is just the opposite. The milieu in which Oskar Schindler, the famous saviour of

The frozen, unruly north

John Gimlette is a writer of vivid comical prose, whose first travel book appeared under the title At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig. For his second, he has followed an ancestral trail, padding along in the footprints of his great-grandfather, Eliot Curwen. Curwen, a doctor, set off for Newfoundland and Labrador in 1893, ‘lands

The cutting edge of medicine

In 1767, John Hunter, a 39-year-old surgeon, performed an experiment on venereal disease. In order to prove the hypothesis that gonorrhoea was the same disease as syphilis, he dipped a lancet into a festering venereal sore, and then injected it into a penis. He took careful notes, observing the classic symptoms of gonorrhoea, which then

The grass below, above, the vaulted sky

It was soon after he finished work on Flora Britannica, his hugely successful book about the wild plants he had spent his life exploring, that Richard Mabey fell ill. It began as a nagging feeling of ‘ill- fittedness’, being out of kilter with his surroundings, and with the loss of all taste and hunger for

Stories about story-telling

The story that John Barth has to tell is that he had planned a book, to be entitled Ten Nights and a Night, in which he would reprint ten already published stories, interweaving them with a new story about his relations with his Muse. The purpose would have been to put these tales into a

The way of the world

This book stands in an ancient intellectual tradition. Its theme dates back to the year 1798, in which the English economist Thomas Malthus published his famous theory of demography. Human population, Malthus reasoned, grows exponentially, as each extra couple multiplies itself in turn; whereas food production can increase only arithmetically, and beyond a point not

School for scandal

The time is the late 1990s; the setting a boarding school called Hailsham. This being a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, the narrator, Kathy H., who attended the school, is looking back after some years and trying to make sense of her story. The school, it is quickly made clear, is not quite like other schools,