Chaps and ladies

For once the dread word “reinvention” can be justified, when applied to Daniel Fish and Jordan Fein’s production of Oklahoma! At the Young Vic, so successful is this revival in both brightening and darkening familiar material. White trestle tables surround the acting area, bearing slow cookers ready for a cook-out and corncobs waiting to be … Read more

Books left ajar

Halfway through Vox (1992), Nicholson Baker’s great novel about phone sex, the male caller asks the female caller to tell him what she was thinking about the last time she had an orgasm. “Do you mean the image that made me come, or do you mean the image that I had in my head when … Read more

I went, but never left

Melvyn Bragg’s first novel, For Want of a Nail (1965), tells the story of a boy, born to a working-class family in Cumbria, who gains a scholarship to Oxford. There followed a trilogy – The Hired Man, A Place in England, Kingdom Come (1969-80) – that focused on three generations of a Cumbrian family remarkably … Read more

No left turn

Long-range commentary on Russian history often amounts to an endless rerun of the nineteenth-century debate between Slavophiles and Westernizers. Either Russia is defined by its Muscovite destiny as an autocratic empire nation with its own distinctively collectivist forms of social organization or it is on a long road to convergence with more or less liberal … Read more

On the precipice

Launching his new energy strategy in front of the scaffolding at Hinkley Point C this April, Boris Johnson pledged that he would build “one nuclear reactor every year, for eight years”, and declared the UK government was “bringing nuclear home”. Readers of Serhii Plokhy’s history of nuclear disasters, Atoms and Ashesmay feel that Johnson’s promise … Read more

He chose democracy

Few political philosophers may so fully enjoy the conceit that, as Alexis de Tocqueville once put it, they appeal to “many people whose ideals are contrary to my own”. Tocqueville’s prophetic self-assessment of his influence Democracy in America certainly accounts for no small share of his oeuvre’s enduring, seemingly timeless interest. Olivier Zunz’s superbly written … Read more

Work to live or live to work?

Jan Lucassen and James Suzman both think that there is, at this moment, a particular interest in work. They point to recent and possible future changes in work as reasons why this might be the case: the rise of the gig economy and the spectre of robotics and artificial intelligence. Lucassen aims to produce a … Read more

Exemplary devotion

In 1540 Pope Paul III gave his imprimatur to a new religious order founded by Ignacio de Loyola, a Spanish nobleman from the Basque country. A soldier by profession, Ignacio experienced a religious epiphany while convalescing from a battle wound. Trading his armour for a cassock, he established a religious order dedicated to an active … Read more

Everybody thinks they’ll be different

Readers whose tastes extend beyond the latest new releases are well served these days by a growing array of publishing ventures dedicated to recovering books that have fallen into undeserved obscurity: Persephone Books, Handheld Classics, the British Library’s Crime Classics and Women Writers collections, Dean Street Press, New York Review of Books Classics and, of … Read more

Playing games with philosophy

Macedonio Fernández (1874-1952), or just “Macedonio” as he is affectionately known, was an Argentine writer who had a significant influence on Jorge Luis Borges. Today he is not much remembered; for many, Borges overshadowed him entirely. But he deserves the twelve scholarly essays collected in this book. According to Borges, Macedonio was an unforgettable conversationalist … Read more