Category Archives: Cultural History

Robert Kuttner – Can Democracy Survive Globalisation?

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 … Continue reading

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Toby Litt – Wrestliana

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 … Continue reading

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Grady Hendrix – Paperbacks From Hell

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 … Continue reading

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

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 … Continue reading

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Robert Newman – Neuropolis: A Brain Science Survival Guide

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. http://media.blubrry.com/timhaighreadsbooks/p/www.green-shoot.com/podcast/green-shoot_thebookspodcast_robertnewman-neuropolis.mp3Podcast: Play in new window | Download | EmbedSubscribe: Android | Email | RSS | Subscribe BooksPodcast

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Philip Norman – Paul McCartney: The Biography

When 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 … Continue reading

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Jamie Cawley – Beliefs And The World They Created

It 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 … Continue reading

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

Our noble 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, … Continue reading

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

Senator 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 … Continue reading

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Alwyn W turner – The Last Post

No Man’s Land is already littered with books on the Great War, and there will be many more hurled into the fray, but not many of them will be as original as this thoughtful and engaging treatment by the historian Alwyn W Turner. Ostensibly a history of the bugle call that came to symbolise the honour of a military death, it ranges very much more widely, taking in all the main symbols of remembrance (all associated with the First War rather than the Second) and serves also as a history of the development of social attitudes towards the soldier, and of public opinion in locating the significance of war. http://media.blubrry.com/timhaighreadsbooks/p/www.green-shoot.com/podcast/green-shoot_thebookspodcast_alwynturner-thelastpost.mp3Podcast: … Continue reading

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