More from Books

Are we all becoming hermits now?

Long before Covid, wi-fi and Deliveroo, Badger in The Wind in the Willows showed us how to live beyond the manifold fatuities of this gimcrack world. Cosily tucked into his burrow with a roaring fire and well-stocked cellar, he was unbothered by importunate weasels and other denizens of the Wild Wood. He padded his underground

John Deakin: the perfect anti-hero of the tawdry Soho scene

During the various lockdowns I found myself wondering how Iain Sinclair was coping with the restrictions. It seemed unthinkable that this unflinching punisher of pavements could be stuck with 30 minutes round the park. But, as it turns out, sequestering, in a fashion that only the Scots word ‘thrawn’ can do justice to, has resulted

A magnificent set of dentures still leaves little to smile about

John Patrick Higgins is unhappy about the state of his mouth. His teeth resemble ‘broken biscuits’, a ‘pub piano’, ‘an abandoned quarry’ and ‘Neolithic stones. It’s all I can do to keep druids from camping out on my tongue each solstice.’ So he invests in a series of expensive interventions. He has seven gnashers removed,

Mediterranean Gothic: The Sleepwalkers, by Scarlett Thomas, reviewed

Scarlett Thomas likes islands: either literal sea-girt territories or closed enclaves where this wickedly inventive novelist practises her richly enjoyable experiments in plot and form. If her recent Oligarchy found its sour-sweet spot in a grisly girls’ boarding school, The Sleepwalkers creates another insular possession: the Greek island of ‘Kathos’, which almost resembles Samos. Here,

What we owe to the self-taught genius Carl Linnaeus

Carl Linnaeus and Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon were both taxonomists, born in the same year (1707), but apart from that they had little in common and never met. Buffon was French, Linnaeus Swedish. Buffon was suave, elegant, tall and handsome (Voltaire said he had ‘the body of an athlete and the soul of a

Scrawled outpourings of love and defiance

To come across dates and names carved into a choirstall or ancient tree is to experience a momentary frisson, a startled connection with the past. Yet this practice of making ‘unauthorised’ personal graphic statements in public spaces is often thought of as antisocial, something to be erased immediately. Unless of course they are by Banksy,

Harping on the music of our ancestors

It’s one thing to sit in a comfortable armchair and see the world in a grain of sand. It’s quite another to hear it in a muddy shard of bone, a spool of wire or even an oddly shaped hole in the ground; to go searching for its voice on the sea bed, deep in

Are we finally beginning to understand gravity?

The question of why things fall has puzzled our species since we crawled out from the darkness of our primitive ignorance. Aristotle was the first to offer a serious theory. He proposed that each of the four elements (earth, air, fire, water) had a natural place to which it innately wanted to return. Fire and

There’s nothing shameful about hypochondria

The hypochondriac is the butt of jokes. Even his butt is the butt of jokes. A story doing the  rounds in the 16th and 17th centuries concerned a Parisian glassmaker who, believing himself to be also made of glass, fastened a cushion to his buttocks in case they broke when he sat down. His anxiety

Sir Roger Casement never deserved to hang

Telling the story of Sir Roger Casement’s life is a challenge for any biographer. In the land of his birth, he is remembered as a national hero. His remains lie in the Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin beside the graves of Daniel O’Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell. He is there because he was hanged in Pentonville

The secret of success in Formula 1

Formula 1 is having a moment. Its global popularity is soaring off the back of a wildly successful Netflix docuseries, Drive to Survive, and the launch of glitzy races in Miami and Las Vegas. It is even drawing attention away from other sports. The most significant move of European football’s January transfer window was Lewis