Steve Richards – The Rise of the Outsiders: How Mainstream Politics Lost its Way

Click here to buy the bookSteve 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.

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Robert Newman – Neuropolis: A Brain Science Survival Guide

Click here to buy the bookSince 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

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Tim Haigh – Z is for Zeugma

“Since his death in 1960, Timothy J Haigh has been widely recognised as the least gifted of the great mystery novelists of the golden age of travel writing…” So begins the introduction to Z is for Zeugma. Yes, Tim has killed himself off for fun.

Switching chairs for the purpose, he finds himself as interviewee rather than -er, for this playful little book. John Mindlin is obliged to step and ask the questions just this once.

In this not-really-a-novel-at-all Tim gives free rein to his propensity for embracing any joke that occurs to him in a loose narrative that sends up every cliché of crime writing, and quite a lot of several other genres.

“Z is for Zeugma is the first of (Tim Haigh’s) posthumous works. Let us hope there will be many more.”

If you’re outside the UK, please click on the book cover image to buy the book.

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Philip Norman – Paul McCartney: The Biography

Click here to buy the bookWhen Philip Norman published “Shout” in 1980, it quickly became and long remained the standard Beatles biography. It was noted at the time that there was a marked preference for Lennon over McCartney in that book and Philip was pretty much tagged anti-McCartney. In the years since then, he has reassessed his attitude and came to the conclusion that he had been unfair. McCartney, he now acknowledges, is colossally talented, nobody’s lightweight and is a better and more interesting man than he had been given credit for.

As it happens, Tim didn’t pick up on the bias in “Shout!” because he shared it and, like Philip, has followed a parallel path to a huge admiration fo Paul McCartney. Tim loved Philip’s recent biography of Mick Jagger so he was dying to read his superb full life of McCartney.

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Lawrence Block – The Girl With The Deep Blue Eyes

Click here to buy the book We last spoke to the great American crime writer, Lawrence Block, nearly two years ago. Although Larry is one of the world’s great travelers – he has visited something like 135 different countries – he was at home in New York on this occasion, while we are in London, England. We toyed with the idea of going to the shore and rigging up a transatlantic telephone with two tin cans and a very long piece of string, but opted instead for the technological wizardry of Skype.
The new book finds Larry very much on form: The Girl With The Deep Blue Eyes is a steamy noir thriller of sex and violence, reminiscent of James M Cain. We were intrigued by the moral ambiguity, the insalubrious setting of inland Florida, and especially the consummate skill with which he handles the pretty full-frontal erotica. But of course, Lawrence Block has form in that area…

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Jamie Cawley – Beliefs And The World They Created

Click here to buy the bookIt goes without saying that there is a difference in kind between what you “believe” and what I “know to be true”. Whether it is the True Religion (be it Judaism, Christianity or Islam), Dawkinsite scientific certainty or the Demonstrable Facts of realpolitik, we all have our cherished articles of faith, and it can be fighting talk to question the shibboleths. So you might think that Jamie Cawley is a brave man to undertake a panoramic discussion of belief as a recurring phenomenon in human societies. Between the worldwide emergence of polytheism and the contemporary creed of Environmentalism, he makes a brisk and entertaining tour of the high watermarks of belief around the world, which will almost certainly offend many, and that, in Tim’s opinion, is a noble ambition.

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Mike Ripley – Angels And Others

I first met Mike Ripley at a beano in 1990 to celebrate Collins Crime Club, for which occasion a special collection of stories was published. I can prove my claim about my whereabouts on that nefarious occasion in 1990, and by way of evidence we present  Exhibit #1, the bloodied corpse of my contemporary account of the assembly of (literary) killers for Collins Crime Club.

      1. Tim at the Collins Crime Club - 1990

I barely escaped with my life!

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I still have that book (well, of course I do!), and it contains the story which was my first encounter with Fitzroy Maclean Angel. It says something about the story that I have a remarkably vivid recollection of it. Mike has written fifteen novels about Angel, and, in that quarter century, a handful of short stories. I have read the novels, of course, but the rest of the stories are new to me. Angels and Others is, so to speak, the Complete Short Stories (since it includes all Mike’s non-Angel stories as well.)

You’ll have noticed that I have not really categorised the Angel books, because while broadly in the genre of crime writing, I’m not sure exactly in which sub-genre they sit. Happily, Mike knows, and he was able to set me straight.

 

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Mike Jay – High Society: Mind-Altering Drugs in History and Culture

Our High Societynoble species has a fraught relationship with intoxicants, narcotics, stimulants and hallucinogens. We crave their mind-altering powers, but once they become woven into the fabric of our cultures, we have to either come to terms with them, or make generally futile attempts to shun them. The range of substances is breathtaking, from the completely natural – peyote, alcohol, tobacco – to the explicitly synthetic – LSD, Ecstasy and the dazzling variety of contemporary designer drugs – but what is most striking is the ubiquity of the human embrace of the possibilities of getting out of our heads. We are a junkie species.
Books about drugs are catnip to Tim, so he tracked Mike Jay to an opium den in Turnham Green, to get his fix by discussing this succinct and beautifully illustrated overview of the relationship we have had with mind-altering substances. It was an intoxicating interview.

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Armin Navabi – Why There Is No God – Simple Responses to 20 Common Arguments for the Existence of God

Click here to buy the bookAs a youth in Iran, Armin Navabi was advised that if a Muslim boy died before the age of fifteen, God, in his infinite benevolence, would ensure that he went to heaven. Terrified that he would miss his step and fall into divine disfavour, Armin threw himself out of a window when he was fourteen, hoping to cash in on this guarantee. Happily he did not perish, although he spent many months in a wheelchair. This gave him a good deal of time to think, and the end point of his reflections was atheism.

Later he founded Atheist Republic, a non-profit organisation aimed at creating a worldwide community of atheists, and with the purpose of joining in the controversy that is raging these days about the status of religion in general. Why There Is No God is his primer for new participants in the debate. It is a good-natured book offering twenty arguments for the existence of God and adumbrating the atheist responses to them.

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Nicholas Wapshott – The Sphinx – Franklin Roosevelt, the Isolationists, and the Road to World War II

Click here to buy the bookSenator Burton K Wheeler put the question best: If the war in Europe was America’s war, why was she not fighting it? It was the vital question of its day. Should America join the European war or not?

There are various approaches to history where wars are concerned. One is military history – who shot whom. Much more interesting is the political intrigue – who came out on top, and how.

After the Great War, there was a strong, not to say, dominant strain of isolationism, a huge apprehension of the dangers of getting into another European war.

The isolationists were a mixed bunch, comprising principled constitutionalists liberals, and American Firsters, through to appeasers, defeatists, anti-semites, and outright fascist sympathisers. The cast includes Charles Lindbergh, Joseph Kennedy, Henry Ford, William Randolph Hearst, Father Coughlin, not to mention the politicians including Wheeler. The broad outline of the story is fairly well known, and has been tackled piecemeal by other historians, but it takes Nicholas Wapshott to tell the full sweeping story in beautiful lucidity of how Roosevelt subtly dealt with each of his opponents and transformed public opinion, and in fact, triumphantly, came out on top. I spoke with him on the eve of publication.

 

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