Maggie Fergusson

The man who loves volcanoes

Being a volcanologist demands a quiverful of skills. You need to be in command of multiple branches of science, including geophysics, geochemistry and seismology. But you must also understand people for whom science matters less than sorcery: people living near volcanoes, for whom they are sacred places, homes to ancestors, sites of miracles, mountains where

All the art you’d pay not to own

‘To my mind,’ Renoir once wrote, ‘a picture should be something pleasant, cheerful and pretty. There are too many unpleasant things in life as it is.’ What would he have made of Edward Brooke-Hitching’s The Madman’s Gallery? Of the 100-plus artworks it examines, few are cheerful and fewer pretty. Often you turn the pages of

Poor parenting is at the root of our failing schools

When it comes to education, I’m in two minds, maybe three. I was sent to private schools, including, for my ‘Oxbridge’ term, Eton, where the teaching was life-changing. But when it came to my children, no amount of cheeseparing was going to make private fees possible. From the age of three to 18, they went

Max Jeffery, Kate Andrews, Maggie Fergusson

16 min listen

On this week’s episode, we hear from Max Jeffery on his first impressions visiting Israel. (00:45) Then Kate Andrews on her difficult relationship with Newcastle Football Club. (04:58) And finally, Maggie Fergusson’s review of the new book Blacksmith: Apprentice to Master: Tools and Traditions of an Ancient Craft. (10:53) Produced and presented by Sam Holmes

Making feathers fly

They don’t look like a natural pair. First there’s the author, Kirk Wallace Johnson, a hero of America’s war in Iraq and a modern-day Schindler who, as USAID’s only Arabic-speaking American employee, arranged for hundreds of Iraqis to find safe haven in the US. In the process, he developed PTSD, sleepwalked through a hotel window,

Light at the end

It’s an irony of our secular age that the more we fear death, the more enticing we find it. The past few years have seen a slew of bestsellers on the subject — Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, Julian Barnes’s Nothing to be Frightened Of, Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm

The gull’s way

In 1978, Adam Nicolson received three Hebridean islands as a 21st birthday present from his father, Nigel. The Shiants, each about a mile long, were uninhabited, with just one rat-infested bothy: not everyone’s idea of paradise. But, precisely because human beings had neglected them, wild life flourished — the islands were ‘thick with the swirl

Tormented genius

Married as I am to an antiquarian book dealer, and living in a house infested with books and manuscripts, I’m constantly having to edit my own little library so as to be able to breathe. But three volumes have survived successive culls — Pax Britannica, Heaven’s Command and Farewell the Trumpets — Jan (or James

Doctor who?

On 25 July 1865, during a heatwave, Dr James Barry died of dysentery in his London lodgings. A charwoman came in to ‘lay out’ the body. She had known the deceased gentleman: a strange-looking fellow, about five feet tall, slight and stooped and with a large nose and dyed red hair. But nothing had prepared

That glowing feeling

On the morning of 15 October 1927, a dim, autumn day, a group of men foregathered at the Rosedale cemetery in New Jersey and picked their way through the headstones to the grave of one Amelia — ‘Mollie’ — Maggia. An employee of the United States Radium Corporation (USRC), she had died five years earlier,

The world of big brother

If the past is a foreign country, who governs it? Who has the right, particularly in dealing with his parents and siblings, to patent very private memories, and sell them to the public? These are questions that generally nag at the readers of family memoirs, and it is a measure of the quality of The