Use it or lose it: has the public library had its day?

I write this in a garret a few doors down from the public library in Muswell Hill, north London. It is a nice irony that a century and a half ago, on the site where the free-to-join municipal library now stands, was a villa owned by one Charles Edward Mudie. In the mid-19th century, Mudie had amassed a fortune by establishing a hugely successful lending library where subscribers could either pay a guinea a year to borrow as many books as they could read, or take the pay-as-you-go option of a shilling a book. For purely commercial reasons, Mudie was a staunch supporter of novels that were long enough (c.200,000

The cosmopolitan spirit of the Middle East vanished with the Ottomans

One of the most depressing vignettes in Michael Vatikiotis’s agreeably meandering account of his cosmopolitan family’s experiences in the Near East is when he, a former journalist with a sharp eye for detail, visits El Wedy, close to the Nile south of Cairo, where just over a century ago his great-uncle Samuele Sornaga built a hugely successful ceramics works employing 200 people. The factory no longer exists. It was nationalised, privatised, closed, and is now a vast construction site. After being harassed and prevented from taking photographs, Vatikiotis discovers it’s being developed as a resort — not for general tourists, mind, but for the army, whose presence looms menacingly everywhere.