When we use the word ‘philosophy’ what we usually mean is “western philosophy’. But as the philosopher and bestselling author Julian Baggini points out in his new book, western philosophy accounts for only around 20% of the world’s population. Other peoples have other philosophical traditions, and as Dr Baggini argues, the underlying philosophical assumptions inform and shape the ways we think and live, even if we never consider them.
Tim is perhaps the ideal reader for this book, insofar as he is
fairly parochial in his philosophical outlook, and he found it stimulating to
be asked to consider the bigger picture and see how other traditions chime
with, contrast with, and shine a light on the western outlook. He found it
rewarding and enlightening, and he couldn’t wait to tackle some of the issues
in conversation with the writer, and also to take up the cudgels on behalf of
“Many people ask what are Beatles? Why Beatles? We will tell you. It came in a vision – a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them ‘From this day on you are Beatles with an ‘A’. Thank you, mister man, they said, thanking him.” So wrote John Lennon, shortly before he became the most famous man on the planet.
And that’s all the background you’re getting. Tim is a self-confessed Beatles anorak. Many people have Chekhov’s Revolver on their mantelpiece, but only Tim has Stanislavski’s Sgt Pepper and Dostoevsky’s Rubber Soul as well. And he is only too delighted to delve into the minutiae of John Lennon’s life with a fellow… anorak.
There are countless Lennon biographies, which variously just map out the events of his life, or in lurid terms portray a monster, or a broken child or a grotesque. Being John Lennon is not a memoir, but a full-scale life by a man who knew Lennon well, as a friend, and shows him as a human being. Ray Connolly met the Beatles when they were making Magical Mystery Tour, and he was one of the journalists Lennon regularly turned to when he wanted to talk. And Lennon loved to talk. About the Beatles, about Paul McCartney, about Yoko Ono, about May Pang, and everything else in his life. But mostly about John Lennon.
On the personal level Tom Kirkham was already having a bad year. He was feeling his mental health wobbling. And Tom Idolised Prince. He was devastated. He felt the urgent need to do something to give his life structure and purpose. So he decided to attend a live music gig every week for the next year. Music is Tom’s balm and his passion. And with this plan he at least knew what he had to do. No matter how he felt, he had to get to that gig. Pop Life is a heartfelt, funny, ever so slightly crazed chronicle of that intense year.
John Maynard Keynes said, “Above all, let finance be primarily national.” Keynes understood the dangers of unfettered finance, and if he’d had his way the Bretton Woods system of international controls would have been still stronger. In his new book, the distinguished journalist and commentator, Robert Kuttner, writes, “Government needs to explicitly assert its right to prevent global laissez-faire forces from undermining its capacity to devise and broker a decent social compact at home.”
Kuttner’s book brilliantly sketches the construction before and after the Second World War of a system in which capitalism was effectively regulated and delivered widespread benefits, at least within the western democracies, and its dismantlement in the period since the mid-70’s. He shows with admiral lucidity how and why the free-trade shibboleths captured the centre-left and acquired the power to hugely favour a tiny and very narrow section to the disadvantage of the overwhelming majority.
We can see the results in the election of President Trump, in Brexit and in the rise of ultra-nationalist far-right parties in Europe and beyond. The dangers are obvious, and Kuttner draws disturbing parallels with the rise of fascism in the thirties. Can democracy survive? Tim was hoping to ask him that very question.
When we visit Toby Litt in his office at Birkbeck University of London he tells us that all the books in the building have had to be removed because the Georgian building can’t take the weight. All, it seems, except those in his office, which appears to be single-handedly keeping the faith. This seems right. Toby is very much a man of literature – he teaches creative writing at Birkbeck and he has published thirteen fine novels and collections of stories. But Toby’s new book is not fiction. It is by turns a meditation on his ancestry, the meaning of being a father, an examination of the neglected sport of Cumberland and Westmoreland Wrestling, an essay on writing and a treatise on masculinity. Somehow it all adds up..
You might think it eccentric to speak of a golden age of satanic possession, murderous infants, flesh-eating crustaceans and Nazi leprechauns, but for enthusiasts of paperback horror novels, the 70’s and 80’s were the glory days. This was a time of the most lurid nightmares spawned, it seemed, from the very bowels of Hell. This was a time when books were proud to be horror rather than ‘chiller’ or ‘thriller’, and when the word Satan on the cover was a guarantee of sales (even if there was nothing supernatural inside). Grady Hendrix has written a hugely entertaining history and celebration of this splendid time. We talked to Grady via skype from a restaurant kitchen in downtown New York. At least that’s where he said he was… we haven’t visited our basement since. Continue reading →
Christopher Fowler is a good friend of this site, having appeared with us three times already. But then, he will keep writing books that we find irresistible. This time he has assembled an Aladdin’s Cave of writers who have been neglected in one way or another. Some of them have been completely forgotten, as the title suggests – Rosalind Erskine anybody? – but then there are the writers whose names are familiar, but whose books we have forgotten to read – Ronald Firbank, Leslie Charteris? – or who have fallen out of favour (or print) – Dennis Wheatley, Sven Hassell, Barbara Pym?
This is catnip to Tim. He dived into the contents list like a kid in a sweetshop, finding the authors he has read, noting the ones he should have, and discovering some he is certainly going to. He got together with Chris in his palatial, minimalist flat to discuss their shared enthusiasm over a cup of tea.
You might think a man who had a couple of Dr Who serials under his belt (1980’s – the Sylvester McCoy era), might rest on his laurels, but like the rest of us Ben Aaronovitch has a living to make. Ben has a solid CV of writing for television and TV spinoffs, but he has recently been making serious waves with his series of supernatural police procedural novels and graphic novels, starting in 2011 with Rivers Of London. He allows that the success of these Peter Grant books has considerably exceeded his expectations. But we’re not surprised. There is always room for well-written, funny, urban fantasy, right?. We met Ben at his publishers in Blackfriars to discuss the latest instalment – The Furthest Station. Continue reading →
Steve Richards has presented a series of half hour broadcasts for the BBC about British prime ministers, which he delivers as live and without a script or even notes. They are brilliantly insightful, and wonderfully fluent. With characteristic modesty, Steve says that any of us might have made these programmes, on the grounds that we all lived through those times. He is wrong. He is among our most distinguished and trenchant political journalists, and I doubt that there are six people in the country who could have made them.
His new book considers the most fascinating development of recent politics – the rise of the outsider. A loss of trust and faith in the mainstream, he says, is a trend and he considers how the political mainstream has lost its mojo while the agenda has been hijacked by individuals and organisations that in times past would never have come close to power. Essentially, says Steve, the centre-left and the centre-right in one case abandoned ideology and in the other lurched into incoherence. In this interview, we discuss how this happened, what it is doing and what it is going to mean.
Since his Entirely Accurate Encyclopaedia of Evolution, Robert Newman’s entirely iconoclastic re-examination of the evidence has excited readers and listeners with its unashamed linking of the science with wider issues, specifically socio-political ones. In his latest book, Neuropolis – a brain science survival guide, Newman targets a sub-species of pop-neuroscience that he dubs bro-science – a pessimistic, denigrating take on the brain that is based more on macho posing than on research. He sets out to destroy it using proper science. Continue reading →