Michael Bywater

The stuff of life

‘I didn’t realise we were carbon,’ said a friend to whom I mentioned this book. She was the first of several. It’s odd to think of clever and educated people not knowing that we are made of such stuff. But The Many Lives of Carbon is an odd book to come to grips with. Its

Deeply mysterious

The human urge for personal hygiene has had many improbable side-effects, and I can confidently assert that through the ages, sponge-divers have punched consistently above their weight. Bronze-age tools, 10th-century Islamic glassware, a Byzantine ship whose plunge to the bottom was cushioned by the fourth-century Roman wreck it alighted upon, anchors, amphorae, sculpture: if it’s

Caves of ice

Summertime, and the living is… variable. Depends who you ask. People come to mind, of course: one in hospital, waiting for an MRI scan; another just come out of hospital having had two little frosted ova thawed out and implanted, so with a bit of luck she’ll have a baby at last. One old chap,

The book that made me (almost) believe in bitcoin

Bitcoins are digital money ‘mined’ from satanically difficult mathematical problems. Madness, obviously. But five years ago, while the rest of us were saying ‘Huh. Geeks. Money in cyberspace’, or ‘Y’what?’ a young doctor I know bought a few quids’ worth for fun. Sold it later for £800. Now she’s out on a hillside in the

A flashlight into the cellar of the lawless ‘dark net’

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the world wide web, and I wonder whether its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, would still have given it away had he known where it would be now. Had he foreseen Google and Facebook and Twitter, the conquest of web porn and the normalisation among teen-agers of misogyny and sodomy,

Stephen King – return of the great storyteller

Stephen King’s latest novel, Mr Mercedes, is dedicated to James M. Cain and described as ‘a riveting suspense thriller’ — a phrase so closely approaching 100 per cent semantic redundancy (a non-riveting thriller? A thriller entirely free of suspense?) that it tells us precisely nothing. All it does is declare that the reader will keep