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.
The invocation of divine status leads Bloom to claim that Shakespeare’s intellect is greater than that any other writer, including ‘the principal philosophers, the religious sages, and the psychologists from Montaigne through Nietzsche to Freud’ (p.2). I offer the suggestion that Bloom may be over-stating his case here. Worse, in the process of assigning Shakespeare divinity, Bloom decouples him from his rightful place in the history of literature and art.
The difference between seeing a manuscript illustration in a book and seeing the real thing is almost absolute. Medieval manuscripts are immensely tactile: the smoothness of the parchment (usually calfskin) on which the hair follicles can sometimes be made out, the richness and vibrancy of the colours based on rare pigments such as lapis lazuli, and above all the astonishing glow of gold leaf.
Two aspects of the book stand out. One is the sheer excitement of the search, the traditional longing of mankind to know more and to discover more, although Jayawardhana has to record the failures as often as the successes. The other is the way that planet-searching has become a huge aspect of astronomic research in the last two decades. Jayawardhana names project after project, most of them using existing ground-based telescopes and facilities.
This book’s importance is simply justified. There are only two possibilities: either the Earth is the only planet in the universe to harbour sentient life, or it is not. Each of these possibilities is, as Arthur C. Clarke famously noted, so astonishing as to verge on the incredible.