Horatio Clare

Saviours of souls: the heroism of lifeboat crews

Our summer holidays by the sea were the thrill of the year and the lifeboat was the thrill the holidays. Whissh-crack! went the maroon, sending the dauntless crew and their punchy little vessel off into the waves to save souls. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution has been doing this for 200 years. Mariners and all

Seeing the dark in a new light

True darkness, it turns out, can be experienced but does not exist. If you have been down a deep mine where the guide tells you to turn off your lamp you will have seen – in not seeing – something close to it: an utter nothingness in which your body and mind seem to shrink

A poet finds home in a patch of nettles

Towards the end of a long relationship – ‘resolved to have a conversation about the Future, which meant Separating’ – Nancy Campbell’s partner suffered a stroke. Campbell’s life then became a hell of hospital visits, supporting and fearing for the brilliant Anna, an intellectual who worked with virus analysts in Moscow, reduced by brain insult

The treatment of mental illness continues to be a scandal

There is much more desperation in this searching and enlightening history than there are remedies. Andrew Scull is a distinguished sociologist and scholar of psychiatry. He comes across as wise, sanguine and unsurprised by his findings in this survey of how American – for which also read British – psychiatry has understood and treated the

Another fallen idol: the myth of Ferdinand Magellan debunked

Who would you choose to judge you long after your death? How about a professional historian? How about Felipe Fernández-Armesto? Much lauded and read, this professor of history at Notre Dame, Indiana is the author of many books including short histories of humankind and the world and longer ones of exploration, Hispanic America and the

The strange solidarity of hill walking

On a gauzy wintery day I am half way up Scafell Pike in the Lake District in an effort to climb the tallest peaks of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland and discover what so many seek up there. I am not alone. Over a million people climbed one of the peaks this year, with 700,000

A whale of a time with Albrecht Dürer

Great books make genres jump. It happened with W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, which looked like a travelogue, claimed to be a novel and felt like neither. Albert and the Whale by Philip Hoare, which recalls and converses with Sebald, is such a work. An antic and original creation, it is not exactly a

Horatio Clare: Heavy Light

36 min listen

My guest in this week’s Book Club podcast is Horatio Clare – whose superb latest book is about going mad. Heavy Light: A Journey Through Madness, Mania and Healing, tells the story of Horatio’s recent breakdown and forcible hospitalisation – what he experienced, how he recovered, how it pushed him to investigate the unquestioned assumptions

The problem with pills: The Octopus Man, by Jasper Gibson, reviewed

Having a breakdown? Try this pill, or that — or these? Built on the 1950s myth of a chemical imbalance in the brain, long since debunked, modern psychiatry still pours pills on trauma. While their general mechanisms are hypothesised, the specific consequences of different psychotropic drugs for individual brains remain haphazard. ‘We prescribe by side-effect,

Heated debate over Franklin’s doomed Arctic expedition

How refreshing in a time of general sensitivity to find a book intended to infuriate and debunk. Welcome to the desolate Canadian Arctic, to the mystery of the Franklin expedition, which disappeared in 1845 seeking the North-West Passage, and to a world of disagreement about what happened to it. Ernest Coleman’s story of his search

Man’s first instinct has always been to return to the sea

Travelling the Indus valley late in the third millennium BC you would have been awed by two Bronze Age megacities, 320 miles apart, ‘massive and tightly planned, very similar in layout’, their bricks and measures standardised, evidence of rigid authority. Their trade goods included Afghan lapis lazuli, Omani vases, legal seals from Sumeria, carnelian beads,

The ice was all around

‘We had seen God in his splendours, heard the text that nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man.’ Ernest Shackleton’s lines unscroll through both these complementary books. David Grann’s The White Darkness is all-man, the gripping story of mighty but quite straightforward struggles. The Library of Ice, brimming with men, women, ships,

In the footsteps of Bach

It was in his organ loft at Arnstadt that I began my acquaintance with Johann Sebastian Bach — with JSB, with the young man, with the writer, the fighter, the lover. After the great walk of his in 1705 that we would follow, and after his return trek in February 1706, he would be caught

Pirates on parade

Avast there, scurvy dogs! For a nation founded on piracy (the privateer Sir Francis Drake swelled the exchequer by raiding the Spanish, who were in no doubt that he was a pirate), it is appropriate that Britain should give the international archetype of the pirate his language. The language of the Victoria & Albert’s exhibition

In the eye of the storm

‘We are globalisation,’ a senior executive at the shipping company Maersk told me. ‘We enable it, and we have questions about it too, but we ask them in isolation.’ He then granted me leave to travel on Maersk vessels wheresoever I wished in order to write a book about shipping and seafarers, promising that Maersk’s

Poison in Paradise

Eton turns out prime ministers of various stripes and patches, but it also forges fine explorers. It seems to prepare its alumni perfectly for flying snakes, scorpions so large you can put leads on them and leeches in waving battalions; titanic drinking and dancing ceremonies (our explorer, Robin Hanbury-Tenison, suffers repeated blistering on the dance

The worst things happen at sea

This horrifying and engrossing book could scarcely be improved upon. In this age of HRHs Harry, William and Kate-led openness about our mental health, I declare an interest: diagnosed as cyclothymic, and having known more than two attacks of depression and hypomania in the past 30 years, I would have been disqualified from passage as

Formidable black talons…

I often feel slightly sorry for the British nature writer. It’s not an attractive emotion — it sounds patronising — but reading David Cobham’s Bowland Beth: The Story of an English Hen Harrier I felt it again strongly. Your nature writer now has a hungry market, keen and generous publishers and a shelf in the