Browse books by title with CW new books archive feature.

Monday 30 December 2013

A hierarchy nevertheless

A Classless Society: Britain in the 1990s, by Alwyn W Turner, Aurum Press, 2013

Despite attempts by the centre-left to rebrand British values towards those held by what would eventually be described as the metropolitan elite, part of Britain yearned for old certainties, while a number of men relished the clear-cut masculinity displayed in nostalgia for the Second World War, and novels about the SAS (one wonders if that was true for some women, too).

An archaeology book to change your life

Time’s Anvil: England, Archaeology and the Imagination, by Richard Morris (Phoenix, 2013)

It takes courage to ask different questions, or accept that evidence may lead us into new paths and new ways of thinking. Time’s Anvil is a book that offers important insights into the processes that have shaped the history of England, and the processes that shape our own approach to the past.

Saturday 28 December 2013

Something far less cautious than justice

Unapologetic: Why , despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense, by Francis Spufford (Faber & Faber, 2012)

Unapologetic contains a fascinating précis of the story of that Hamlet-like figure Christ, and perhaps a less interesting apologia concerning the conservative politics of the Christian church, but it is Spufford’s examination of mercy that is key, since it opens up the philosophical area relating to truth, human values, and our sense of the infinite.

Saturday 21 December 2013

Not everyone gets to the dance floor

Club to Catwalk; London Fashion in the1980s, V&A, London

1980s New Romantic clubbing was notoriously hierarchical: ‘would you let yourself in, dear?’ was the question every clubber feared as he or she awaited admittance, at the whim of a mirror-wielding club host, to their chosen place of pleasure.

Flamboyance and hard work

Blitz As Seen in BLITZ: Fashioning '80s Style, by lain R Webb, (ACC Editions, 2013)

One thing, probably not intended by Webb, stands out from examining what’s on offer: the way in which fashion had, by the eighties, succumbed to what some might see as Modernism’s two defining principles; ‘sod the public’, and ‘will this go down well with my peers?’.

Saturday 9 November 2013

Clubbed out

Not Just Beer and Bingo! A Social History of Working Mens’ Clubs, by Ruth Cherrington (AuthorHouse, 2013)

Cherrington cites a late 19th century Lord Rosebery, CIU president at the time, declaring in a perennial debate about licensing, that working men are ‘not to be patronised, and fostered, and dandled.’ Their clubs must ‘be free from all vexatious, infantile restrictions on the consumption of intoxicating drinks and similar matters’. ‘All that is to be done for the working men is to be done by themselves’, insisted Rosebery.

Saturday 8 June 2013

The last throw of the dice?

Bang! A History of Britain in the 1980s, by Graham Stewart (Atlantic Books, 2013)

Stewart mentions how the Conservative Philosophy Group, involving Cambridge academics such as Roger Scruton, John Casey, Maurice Cowling and Edward Norman, helped to build a bridge between High Tories and classical liberal economists. But there is no discussion about why the conservatives as a whole failed even to try to change the intellectual as well as the economic culture of Britain, or indeed, if they saw any need for a hearts-and-minds campaign on this front.

Friday 7 June 2013

Single, but not alone

Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled, by Michael Cobb (New York University Press, 2012)

Cobb’s concept of ‘couplism’ is less comical than it sounds. Indeed, his coinage is politically serious. However, while I laughed with the author at the rest of this enjoyable book, I was ultimately unconvinced about being single in his sense.

Monday 1 April 2013

Posher, prettier, pricier, even perhaps more political

Bricks and mortar bookshops are fighting back against online and discount selling by redefining the printed book

The printed book, therefore, begins to be coded not as something uniform or production line but as almost artisanal – like spelt bread from a local baker as opposed to Hovis sliced white. And because of this it is changing from the often unconsidered vehicle for a text to an artefact in and of itself – something reflected not merely in the content of the book but in its physical form.

Bringing back working class values?

The Reward Society, by Tom Manion (Richer Publications, 2012)

Manion, for all his radical pretensions, is more orthodox than he imagines. His belief that public services should be redefined so that they ‘support and promote a safe, decent, healthy, responsible society’ is already in the mainstream of public service reform. The problems that he raises - both cultural and fiscal - are no less real and pressing for that, however, and he is to be commended for taking them seriously.

Monday 28 January 2013

Encountering modernity

From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against The West and the Remaking of Asia, by Pankaj Mishra (Allen Lane 2012)

Even with the facts in hand, it is a fantasy to expect that those who reject universalism - or who advocate its violent and oppressive forms - will be converted without the conscious efforts of human beings to persuade them. From the Ruins of Empire, beyond all the great names, famous battles and obscure sects that adorn its pages, can perhaps be read as a defence of the importance of argument and debate, or, at the very least, critical engagement.

Desire Under the Algarrobos

The White Goddess: An Encounter, by Simon Gough (Galley Beggar Press, 2012)

Margot Callas was six years older than Simon and 37 years younger than Graves. Surprise, surprise: Simon came down with a severe case of the hots, in its starry-eyed, mooncalf mode. Margo was strikingly lovely, and, in contrast with some of the other women elevated to a plinth in the Graves goddess gallery, intelligent and classy.

Pieties eviscerated

Museums Without Walls, by Jonathan Meades (Unbound, 2012)

In considering Westbourne Grove, he writes of its ‘empty launderettes, iffy supermarkets, sparsely furnished letting agencies, unreconstructed Indian restaurants, beer halls, booths offering rock-bottom price international phone calls, money exchanges, cheap carpet shops and heavily defended mini cab offices.’ With a complete lack of socio-babble we’re straight back into the Notting Hill of Colin Maclnnes’s early yoof novel Absolute Beginners, or the film Performance, as if the superficial sleekness of Cameronian gentrification had never existed.

Wednesday 31 October 2012

More to equality than income differentials

The Spirit Level, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (Penguin 2010)

It is Part Three, ‘A Better Society’, that really fails to live up to its promise. The opening chapter of this section, ‘Dysfunctional societies’, starts off reasonably enough, drawing attention to other possible explanations of the causes of the social problems discussed and showing how the evidence continues to point in the direction of income inequality as the major cause. After that, the authors descend into a highly dubious discussion of human nature and environmental thought that lets the book down.

The jury is still out

Obama and the Middle-East: The End of America’s Moment?, by Fawaz Gerges (Palgrave Macmillan 2012)

Gerges contends Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestine conflict has been a ‘striking policy failure’, which will be remembered as Obama’s ‘missed opportunity’. Indeed, in the end, he could not even curtail the hawkish Netanyahu’s desire for settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

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