Marcus Chown – A Crack In Everything: How Black Holes Came in from the Cold and Took Cosmic Centre Stage

Black holes aren’t black!

If there is one thing everybody knows about black holes it is that they are so dense that even light can’t escape. And yet, as Marcus Chown explains, black holes are some of the most prodigiously luminous objects in space.  

So they’re not holes. And they’re not black.

But they are among the most fascinating and counter-intuitive objects in the universe. Not to mention that they are, in Marcus’s phrase, “the stuff of physicists’ nightmares.” Why? Because the maths tells us that any star a little bigger than the sun will eventually collapse into a singularity – a point of infinite density and infinite temperature. And physicists don’t like infinities. What are they like? How were they investigated? Who figured it all out? And what do we still not know about them?

We talked to Marcus Chown at his publisher’s offices in London.

Marcus Chown – Head Of Zeus – £20

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Scarlett Thomas – The Sleepwalkers

You tell yourself “It’s OK, it’s OK … ” but it’s really not!

Scarlett Thomas is a tricky novelist to categorise. She has a playful, restless, sleeves-rolled-up approach to writing, in which she seldom ducks the dark turn and the big idea. And you can’t doubt her commitment. She once earned an MSc in Ethnobotany by way of research for a book.

Tim has been a fan since the intriguing and dazzling The End Of Mr Y. BooksPodcast caught up with her at her publishers in London and sat down to discuss her new book, The Sleepwalkers.

Islands, secrets, betrayals, sinister goings-on, ambiguities, night-time chases, a disastrous wedding and a fraught honeymoon, there is a hint of the gothic about The Sleepwalkers. There is also the thrilling ambiguity of the (possibly) unreliable narrators.

It’s a hell of a ride … for all concerned.

Scarlett Thomas – Scribner UK – £16.99

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Death and the Victorians – Adrian Mackinder

The origins of modern death

Let’s face it – nobody did death like the Victorians. From Highgate Cemetery to the high drama of seances, from Jack the Ripper to Madame Blavatsky, from Waterloo Station to Brookwood Cemetery (there was an actual train!) the Victorians invented our modern response to death, its iconography and its – yes – romance.

The advent of industrialisation and the explosive expansion of the great cities had created an unprecedented problem – too many corpses, with all the squalor and disease that came with them. But alongside the practical requirements of disposal there was an increasingly sentimental attitude to the dear departed.

For the Victorians, the dead were only just out of reach, and might yet be contactable. The Society for Psychic Research boasted adherents including Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Arthur Balfour, W B Yeats and Arthur Conan-Doyle. These days we tend to think of spiritualism as batshit crazy, but it was, as Adrian Mackinder argues, a modernist response, using the technology and sensibilities of a scientific age to prove the existence of the afterlife and investigate the world beyond the veil.

Death and the Victorians takes a cheerful tour through all the facets of the Victorian approach to death, including resurrection men, ghost hunters, Ouija boards and the strange exhumation of Lizzie Siddal. It is all hugely entertaining.

Adrian Mackinder – Pen Sword Books RRP £25

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Alwyn Turner – Little Englanders – Britain in the Edwardian Era

End of Empire

History sometimes provides us with neat dividing lines. Queen Victoria helpfully died just weeks into the new century, making way for a new era, but the nightmarish Twentieth Century didn’t really get into its stride until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. Between those landmarks is the Edwardian era.

There is apprehension abroad. The nation is anxious about anarchists and terrorists. There is the looming possibility of war. The complacency of the Conservative hegemony is shattered by the Liberal landslide of 1906, not to mention the rise of the Labour Party, and the hangover of the Boer War has raised a question unfamiliar to the British: “Are we the baddies?” 

Alwyn Turner has a brilliant eye for the emblematic. The cheerful swindler and MP, Horatio Bottomley who “nursed his constituency with a devotion that bordered on bribery.” The creeping respectability of the music-hall (the first ever Royal Command Performance is in 1912). Sherlock Holmes getting mercenary: “I play the game for the game’s own sake”, he said while the old Queen was on the throne, but by 1901 he is accepting payment for his investigations.

Turner turns a powerful spotlight on this neglected decade (and a half.) Our most entertaining historian characteristically finds the mood of the nation in popular songs and novels as much as newspapers and parliamentary debate. In his company the Edwardian era comes alive.

This episode was recorded in front of a live audience at the Dublin Castle Pub in Camden.

Alwyn Turner – Profile Books     £25:00

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Howard Jacobson – What Will Survive of Us

Being in love is an act of carelessness of your own safety. It’s risk!

Sam and Lily are middle-aged lovers in Howard Jacobson’s new novel and, in bed, they talk as much as anything else. Jacobson is rightly celebrated for his dialogue and, as so often before, it is rich with allusion and steeped in his passion for English literature. The novel is explicitly and unabashedly a love story and love was what Howard most wanted to talk about when we met.

           “The minute you fall deeply in love … melancholy strolls into the garden”.

For Lily and Sam love strikes with a thunderclap. Lily is in love at first sight. Sam takes a couple of days longer. Both in relationships past their sell-by date, they embark upon an extraordinary affair that they are convinced will last forever.

Howard Jacobson seems incapable of writing a bad sentence (although he tells us that it’s just that we don’t get to see them.) His latest book shows him still in full literary flight.

Howard Jacobson Jonathan Cape RRP £18.99

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Philip Norman: George Harrison: The Reluctant Beatle

Was George Harrison really the “Economy Beatle”?

Philip Norman wrote Shout!, the first grown-up biography of The Beatles, shortly before John Lennon was murdered. People told him he was crazy, that The Fabs were yesterday’s news, that everybody already knew everything there was to know about the band. He wasn’t crazy. Fifty-three years after they broke up The Beatles are still an industry, or as Philip puts it, practically a religion.

Even today there is passionate disagreement about George Harrison. There are those who point to the triumphant first solo album, All Things Must Pass, as proof that he was always Lennon and McCartney’s equal and was unfairly sidelined in the band. And others will argue that anybody would have been overshadowed by the powerhouse songwriting partnership, and that he doesn’t need to be John or Paul to be an indispensable part of The Greatest Show On Earth.

John Lennon said that Something was the best song on Abbey Road. Here Comes The Sun is the most downloaded Beatles track. On the other hand, you have to be a real George fan to hear anything worthwhile in Only A Northern Song or Blue Jay Way.

So how did the fourteen year old kid who fought for his place in the Quarrymen become the Beatle most resistant to playing live? How did he come to break the First Commandment of the Beatle fraternity? How did he become one of the most important British film producers of the 1980’s? Philip Norman calls him ‘The Economy Beatle’ and he has written a beautiful life of the study in contradictions that was George Harrison.

This episode was recorded in front of a live audience at 21Soho, in association with Walthamstow Rock n Roll Book Club. With help from various parties, including

Philip Norman ‎  Simon & Schuster UK £25.00

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The Dictionary People  –  The Unsung Heroes Who Created The Oxford English Dictionary

A goldmine of nutters, obsessives, murderers, vicars and, above all, readers!

Click here to buy the book

In a time before the internet, the compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary was the Wickipedia of its day, crowdsourcing its contributions from thousands of readers across the world.

Over decades, millions of slips inscribed with words and quotations poured into a metal shed in an Oxford garden to be assembled into the magnificent, comprehensive, authoritative dictionary that was a wonder of the age.

It is understandable that attention has tended to focus on the principle Editor, James Murray, who devoted thirty-six years to the project (he got it to the letter T), but a chance discovery sent Sarah Ogilvie on a quest for the unpaid contributors to the O.E.D., and it was a gold mine of nutters, obsessives, murderers, vicars, and above all, readers.

Dr Ogilvie fell in love with them and has gleefully made a book packed with more lurid and remarkable stories than you could shake a philologist at.

Sarah Ogilvie             Chatto & Windus          £22:00

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Mike Jay – Psychonauts: Drugs and the Making of the Modern Mind

Don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it! 😉

We are familiar with some of the names: William Burroughs in the 1950’s. Timothy Leary in the ‘60’s, Hunter S Thompson in the ‘70’s, those two guys who started the craze for smoking cane-toad venom in ‘90’s. Investigators who became their own guinea pigs.

But “the heroic tradition of discovery”, as Mike Jay puts it, has a much longer and more interesting history. The second half of the Nineteenth Century in particular saw the introduction of most of the substances discussed in this book, and was perhaps the golden age of getting stoned for science.

The problem, of course, is that there is no way of investigating the experiential effects of narcotics, stimulants, analgesics, hallucinogens, etc, except by becoming one’s own subject. Combining introspective investigation with scientific rigour in experiment – what could possibly go wrong? Even Sigmund Freud, who thought that he had discovered a miracle cure-all in cocaine, drifted over from research to recreation, although he never became an addict.

Others were less disciplined.

Yale University Press          £20:00

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Neil Jordan – The Well Of Saint Nobody

Have you never forgotten someone you’ve slept with?

Neil Jordan is best known as an internationally famous film director, of course – The Crying Game, Mona Lisa, Interview With The Vampire and many others. But he is also an accomplished novelist.

The Well Of St Nobody is a story of legend, of music and eroticism, of consequences and of identity.

“The girl who had walked her mother through those dry stone walls decorated with crutches was not the girl who had lost her virginity on the living-room floor of Tonglee Road; was not the girl who rattled out her Bach fugues in front of the Rachmaninov virtuoso…” The virtuoso is William Barrow, and for him the encounter has little significance. He doesn’t even recognise her when they meet again. But years later Tara is a piano teacher scratching a living in a little village in west Ireland, and the famous pianist turns up in her village and doesn’t know her. But she knows him. She takes up a position as housekeeper for him and begins to invent a legend around the well in his garden, and bit by bit the gears of story begin to grind and the past comes crashing into the present.

Head Of Zeus   £20.00

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Cathi Unsworth – Season Of The Witch: The Book Of Goth

Margaret Thatcher and Goth Culture

It was the Age of Thatcher, and beyond the playgrounds of the red-braces wide boys and the Sloane Square privileged, it was grim. Unemployment was a weapon in the class war. The Yorkshire Ripper ran riot. Bitter industrial disputes divided communities, while the police was brutally remade into a national instrument to break the miners.

And maybe you remember the pop music of the time: Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Madonna, Michael Jackson. Wham!

But there was a more intense musical response to the wretchedness of the times, more intense and more appropriate. Punk had come to a sticky end, but it inspired a new generation of malcontents who had plundered their older siblings’ record collections and steeped themselves in literature of darkness and dismay. Bands like The Cure, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Joy Division, and poster girl Siouxsie Sioux with her Banshees erupted in a hundred different scenes to vent their anger and frustration, to record their nightmares, and in some cases to chase that elusive #1 and an appearance on Top Of The Pops.

It was the season of the witch.

Nine Eight Books    £22:00

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Lawrence Krauss – The Known Unknowns: The Unsolved Mysteries of the Cosmos

Lawrence Krauss – Head Of Zeus – £20.00

Click here to buy the book.

Professor Lawrence Krauss has made major contributions to the field of theoretical physics and is one of the world’s great scientific communicators with a gift for illuminating complex ideas.

His new book, The Known Unknowns makes a tour d’horizon of the frontiers of current knowledge, touching on such questions as: Is infinity real? Does the multiverse actually exist? Is quantum mechanics true? Can we create consciousness? And lots more. It is an exhilarating read, and as he writes, “Focusing on the edge of knowledge provides an opportunity to explain how far we have come…”

He is also, incidentally, a dazzling close-up magician so you might say that reality and perception are meat and drink to him. We spoke to him at his publishers during a brief visit to the UK, and it made for a lively chat.

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Barry Forshaw – Simenon: The Man, The Books, The Films: A 21st Century Guide

Barry Forshaw – Oldcastle Books – £12.99

Click here to buy the book

Is there any man or woman in England who knows more about crime writing than Barry Forshaw? Here at The Books Podcast he is our go-to man. He is also delightful company.

Simenon’s Maigret books are the most successful non-anglophone crime series in the world. Easily up there with Sherlock Holmes and Philip Marlowe, but with an entirely different approach to detection. Maigret is closer to psychologist or priest than sleuth.

But Simenon regarded his romans dur – hard novels – as his real writing, and Andre Gide said he was the greatest French novelist of his time.

Having fairly recently come to Simenon, Tim fell upon Barry’s handy book like a starving man upon food, and visited him to explore the character of the man and the special genius (and prodigious productivity) of his writing.

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Joanne Harris – Broken Light

Joanne Harris – Broken Light – Orion £20.00

If every piece about Joanne Harris starts by reminding us that she is the author of Chocolat, she can live with that. It might be close to a quarter of a century ago, but it was a dazzling success and made her a household name, while the film adaptation took her to the Oscars, where Alfred Molina made sure that she was included in all the invitations.

Every one of her novels since Chocolat has been a best-seller, and it is safe to assume that Broken Light will also be a big hit.

A seven year old girl is taken to a magic show which shows her an uncovenanted possibility. This was an age, as she says, when magic was easier than maths, and the magician’s assistant whispers in her ear “Little girl. Make them look.” Half a lifetime later, she will.

The strapline for Broken Light says that it is about the invisibility of women, and of course it is, although that sells it rather short. Without any descent into polemic, it is about half a dozen contemporary issues, and rather wonderfully about itself. When she becomes menopausal Bernie Ingram rediscovers her unexpected power, and her world doesn’t know what has hit it.

Joanne has said that Broken Light goes where Stephen King’s Carrie might have gone if Carrie had been a menopausal woman instead of an adolescent girl, and, as Tim observes, if it had been written by a woman.

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Steve Richards – The Prime Ministers We Never Had: Success And Failure From Butler to Corbyn

Steve Richards Atlantic Books – £10.99

Steve Richards’ last book was an entertaining and penetrating discussion of the last ten Prime Ministers (or at any rate, the last ten at the time of publication – we’ve had a couple more since then.)

But as he writes in his new book, “Most routes to Number 10 are blocked.” But some of the nearly men and women are bigger and more substantial figures than the ones who made it to the top. Why did John Major become Prime Minister when Michael Heseltine did not? Why did Michael Foot lead the Labour party instead of political heavyweights like Denis Healey and Roy Jenkins? What prevented Neil Kinnock from making the final leap? And does Jeremy Corbyn deserve a place on the list?

Steve looks in detail at eleven of the ‘lost leaders’, political actors who might have been expected to achieve their ambition, but who, for interestingly different reasons failed to do so, with his characteristic insight and deep knowledge. Steve Richards is a distinguished political columnist, journalist and presenter. He also presents a popular one-man show at the Edinburgh Festival and around the country, called Rock and Roll Politics, which is also the title of his hugely successful weekly podcast.

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Joel Meadows – Tripwire 30th Anniversary

Joel Meadows     Heavy Metal Entertainment               £35.99

Click here to buy the book

Tripwire is thirty, and we were intrigued when this beautiful anniversary book arrived at The Books Podcast.

What is Tripwire, you ask? It’s a… well, it’s a magazine.

Hm… funny name for a magazine. What sort of magazine?

A slightly geeky magazine.


OK, it’s a magazine for anybody who shares the interests of editor in chief, Joel Meadows, but there again, Joel’s interests are mainstream geek, so that’s alright. And one of his interests is illustrative art, principally comic-book and movie art, and Tripwire is in love with it. And that endears it to me.

We visited Joel Meadows to discuss the past thirty years and hear his origin story. And why is it called Tripwire? I’ll ask him.

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David Hepworth – Abbey Road: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Famous Recording Studio 

David Hepworth – Bantam Press – £25

Click here to buy the book

The world has many holy places – Mecca, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the Golden Temple at Amritsar, the Wetherspoons on King St in Hammersmith – but for some of us these are all trumped by Number 3 Abbey Rd in St John’s Wood. EMI’s Abbey Road recording studios.

Even today musicians and bands – good bands – are sometimes intimidated by the sheer history of the place. To stand where the Beatles stood and sing where the Beatles sang is to feel the shadow of genius. And you might also rate Elgar, Noel Coward and Jacqueline du Pre. Not to mention Bernard Cribbins. True, much of the paraphernalia has been cleared out. The mixing desk on which Pink Floyd compiled The Dark Side Of The Moon was sold off years ago, and even the ashtray that stood beside Ringo’s drum kit fetched £2,000 at auction.

But while other recording studios come and, mostly, go, Abbey Road endures. Abbey Road means something. And Abbey Road has tales to tell.

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Louise Willder – Blurb Your Enthusiasm – an A-Z of Literary Persuasion

Louise Willder – OneWorld – £14.99

Quick review of Louise’s checklist of adjectives not to be used in a blurb: breathtaking, spellbinding, dazzling, powerful, beautiful. So I can’t say it’s any of those.

Readable? Well, as she points out, it’s a book.

Darkly comic. That just means unpleasant, doesn’t it?

I also can’t accuse it of ‘mordant wit’. Although it is funny. Very. ‘Rich tapestry’. She’s got a point there – I don’t know what that means. ‘Reminds one of Martin Amis.’ Yes,  I think we can definitely shelve that one!

Oh – I know. I can crib her quote from Charlie Brooker: “The potential all-time #1 bestseller”.

Will that do?

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Nick Wallis – The Great Post Office Scandal: The fight to expose a multimillion pound IT disaster which put innocent people in jail

Nick Wallis – Bath Publishing – £25

It is the biggest miscarriage of justice in British legal history. Hundreds of innocent people prosecuted, ruined, often imprisoned – their lives destroyed. And hundreds more dismissed from their jobs and their livelihoods, obliged to pay thousands and even tens of thousands of pounds “back” that they never stole in the first place.

And all of this visited upon their staff by the Post Office – an institution since 1660, and one of the most trusted brands in British life.

You were probably aware of the scandal as it emerged into the public arena, and you were probably shocked. But the picture is more monstrous and terrifying than you imagined. As the journalist who did most to expose this terrifying story it has fallen to Nick Wallis to write the book, and it is exemplary.

This podcast goes on a bit longer than usual. There was a lot to talk about.

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Rachel Gross – Vagina Obscura: An Anatomical Voyage

Rachel Gross – W W Norton £19.99

There comes a time in every woman’s life when her body bumps up against the limits of human knowledge. In that moment, she sees herself as medicine has seen her: a mystery. An enigma. A black box that, for some reason, no-one has managed to get inside.”

This was the experience of Rachel Gross, who found that the standard treatment for her own (very common) condition was practically medieval. As a science journalist her response was to research the present state of knowledge, and investigate in detail the biology and background of the female reproductive system.

Vagina Obscura explores the structures, purposes and functioning of the whole system, as well as adumbrating the reasons that it has historically been the poor relation in anatomical studies. Femaleness was for centuries, an inferior version of maleness, and even quite recently femaleness was regarded, as Rachel Gross says, as “the iPhone factory setting while maleness was all the bells and whistles.”

Vagina Obscura is a highly readable report from the front line of present knowledge of women’s anatomy. It turns out to be much more interesting, complex and dynamic than the medical profession ever imagined. Who knew?

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Howard Jacobson – Mother’s Boy: A Writer’s Beginnings

Howard Jacobson – Jonathan Cape – £18.99

It is striking that one of our finest novelists didn’t publish his first novel until he was nearly forty, and characteristically, he was ticking off literature’s late starters as he passed them by. Reading Howard Jacobson, you would say that he was born to be a writer, and he would have concurred. Mother’s Boy is the account of the road to his realisation, taking in his childhood, his education, his wives and his travels. Wolverhampton does not come out of it well.

If we observe that Mother’s Boy reads like one of Howard Jacobson’s novels that is only to its advantage. But this is not outtakes from Coming From Behind, Kalooki Nights or The Mighty Walzer – rather the other way round. Mother’s Boy is vivid, muscular, laugh out loud funny, acutely observed, and in its own way merciless, only the object of the pitiless pen is Jacobson himself.

Tim starts off the conversation – as he so often does – with a confession.

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Simon Mason – A Killing In November

Simon Mason – Riverrun – £14.99

A beautiful girl is strangled in the Provost’s lodge in an Oxford College while the college is shmoozing a billionaire Emirati. It is a situation which calls for delicate handling, so it is perhaps a shame that new DI Wilkins is sent by mistake to take charge of the investigation.

A town and gown setting. An odd couple detective partnership. A gratifying cast of suspects. And more twists and turnings than you could shake a Porter’s Lodge at. Simon Mason has kicked off his new police procedural series with a swagger.

A Killing In November is his first crime novel, having previously written adult literary, as well as children’s and young adults’ fiction. Tim kicked off the conversation by reminding Simon of the last time they met.

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Dr Thomas Halliday – Otherlands: A World in the Making

Dr Thomas Halliday – Allen Lane – £20

Otherlands is a kind of travel book, traveling in time and across the globe, pushing back through the last half-billion years, showing you ever stranger beasts and more and more unfamiliar landscapes. Each chapter takes us to a location in the world that exemplifies a nexus of evolutionary change.

Odd details capture your imagination and answer questions you never knew you had: In the Jurassic period, in the absence of wood-boring predators, logs lasted rather longer than they do now; Who knew? You wouldn’t have seen flowers until the Cretaceous either, a mere 145 million years ago, not to mention a world without grass, which evolved even more recently than that. Then there are herbivorous crocodiles, lizards with wings on their hind legs and don’t start me on 6-foot penguins and penis worms. Who knew?

Paleobiologist, Dr Thomas Halliday knew. In Otherlands, he shows you the world as it once was, presenting interwoven ecologies and placing you there as an observer of the most amazing story ever told. There is almost too much to take in, but there is something to ravish your imagination around every corner.

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Robert J Lloyd – The Bloodless Boy

Robert J Lloyd – Melville House Press – £18.99

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In 1678 London was rebuilding after the Great Fire of London, just twelve years earlier. Among the great men undertaking this enterprise was Robert Hooke, who is a central character in Rob Lloyd’s The Bloodless Boy. A scientist and energetically modern visionary: “Some parts of Nature are too large to be comprehended, some too little to be perceived. Our most solid definitions are imperfect, only expressions of our misguided apprehensions, not the true nature of things themselves.” Hooke was a man of boundless curiosity.

But in this novel Hooke finds himself reluctantly drawn into a perplexing murder mystery, with his friend and recent assistant Henry Hunt, who risks life and limb to investigate.

In 1678 the Civil War was also a recent convulsion, and the political aftershocks of that febrile time provide the fuel that ignites the present fire. What appears to be the inexplicable murder of a small boy, exposes abominations, revenges, and a plot to kill the King. 

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Prof Francesca Stavrakopoulou – God An Anatomy

Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou – Picador – £25

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“Once upon a time, in the book of Genesis, humans were made in the visual image and likeness of God. It was a social, as well as a corporeal correspondence, celebrating both the fleshly wonders of the human body and the personable presence of the deity.” So says Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou. She has written a fascinating volume, scholarly and hugely entertaining, exploring the ancient conception of the god of the bible, focussing on his corporeality and presence in his followers’ lives.

Professor Stavrakopoulou is, herself, also entertaining and engaging and we have a high old time discussing her book, which illuminates our understanding of the Jewish and Christian bibles, and, inter alia, it just might put the cat among the theological pigeons.

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Nicholas Wapshott – Samuelson Friedman: The Battle Over the Free Market

Nicholas Wapshott – W. w. Norton – £22.95

Click here to buy the book

Not many academic economists are household names. But when I was young, Milton Friedman was. The high-priest of Monetarism and intellectual descendant of Friedrich Hayek, his theories were much admired by right-wing politicians such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Meanwhile Paul Samuelson made his mark with his bestselling economics textbook which was the standard text for decades. I used it myself at school.

Nicholas Wapshott has a brilliant eye for the narrative that unlocks the subject for the general reader. In the case of Samuelson and Friedman, Wapshott’s springboard is the column in Newsweek magazine that the two economists shared, or rather alternated for the thick end of twenty years. The dialogue between the arch-Keynesian and the apostle of free markets makes for an exhilarating intellectual journey, told with great clarity and enormous brio by a writer who can make even economic history fun.

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Robb Johnson – The People’s Republic of Neverland: The Child Versus The State

Robb Johnson – PM Books – £17.99

The argument of this book is that in the post-war period state schools were beginning to fall under the control of the educationalists who worked there, and ideas of equality and libertarian, child-centred education were beginning to impact upon the schooling experienced by the underprivileged. This Prague Spring of education, state education with a human face, has since been subjected to a ruthless attack by the right, and the future of education now looks pretty much like Orwell’s vision of the future in 1984… a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”

Teacher by day, and acclaimed songwriter by night, Robb Johnson has worked within the system for thirty years and seen the possibilities of education undermined by the requirements of schooling. We took the train down to sunny Hove to discuss the wintery gloom of post-Thatcher education with him.

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Alwyn Turner – All In It Together: England in the Early 21st Century

Alwyn Turner – Profile Books – £20

Click here to buy the book

For some years now Alwyn Turner has been retelling the recent history of the nation in his trademark style focussing on social changes rather than Westminster shenanigans. With his brilliant eye for the telling example and his prodigious research, he paints a vivid picture and draws acute conclusions.

This lively book, bringing us nearly up to date, is the most readable and entertaining of history books. Whether discussing the fragmentation of social cohesion by arguing that in pop music the Spice Girls might have been the last group that really mattered, or analysing class conflicts in terms of the different attitudes towards Roy Chubby Brown and Jimmy Carr, Alwyn invariably hits the target and makes larger points. Tim channelled his inner fogey and visited him at home in London, only to find himself confessing that he isn’t fond of Greggs, the bakers.

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Stan Lee – How Marvel Changed The World!

Adrian MacKinder – Pen & Sword White Owl    £19.99        $29.99

Face Front, True Believers! This is the story of the man who gave the world the Marvel Universe, who bestrode the comic-book industry like a colossus, and who said “Face Front, True Believers!” a lot.
In later life Stan Lee became nearly as famous as his creations, appearing in cameo in a score of the films based on the characters he had created. But for nearly twenty years he laboured in an unprepossessing corner of popular culture, writing comic-books for kids. It was only with the Marvel revolution that comics exploded into the main stream. Spider-man, The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, The Avengers, The X-Men – all products of Stan Lee’s Marvel in the early 1960’s.
Who Stan Lee was and how it all happened is the subject of this book.
‘Nuff said!

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Paul Theroux from the archives – Chicago Loop

Paul Theroux – Hamish Hamilton – £20.95

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Long before he was the father of Louis Theroux, Paul Theroux was a distinguished and prolific travel writer and novelist. Born in 1941 (and we are delighted to note he is still with us), it is well-known that he joined the Peace Corps in 1963 and was declared persona non grata in Malawi by the dictator Hastings Banda for assisting in the escape of his political opponent.

Paul Theroux’s first big success as a writer was the classic The Great Railway Bazaar in 1972, and he is also the author of Mosquito Coast, and Riding The Iron Rooster.

In 1990 Tim met him to talk about his newest book. Chicago Loop is not perhaps his best-known work, but as we will hear Tim was much taken with it.

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Philip Seargeant – The Art of Political Storytelling

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This is the story of one man’s mission to save the world from the forces of evil. To do battle against a corrupt and self-serving enemy bent on enslaving an innocent population. In order to achieve this, he has to venture deep into hostile territory, abandoning the comfortable existence he once had, and embark on a perilous unforgiving journey. At each stage of the journey he’s assailed by fierce and unscrupulous opponents.

But, at the moment of utmost crisis, he’s able to realise his true potential. Through self-belief, force of character and complete conviction in his cause he faces down the enemy in one final conflict. In doing so, he achieves the unachievable and wins a famous victory. In the closing scene he returns triumphant, not only in what he’s accomplished personally but also in having saved the world from a cataclysmic future.

This is either the plot of most adventure stories or the “back-story” offered the world by ambitious politicians, bent on power at any cost. Philip Seargeant looks at this kind of narrative and finds many parallels in the way right-wing political leaders present themselves. Venturing into the world of video interview, we asked him to expand on his ideas.

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Philip Norman – Wild Thing: The short, spellbinding life of Jimi Hendrix

Philip Norman – Weidenfeld and Nicolson – £20

It is generally accepted that Jimi Hendrix is the most important guitarist in the history of rock music. In just four years he revolutionised everybody’s idea of what an electric guitar was capable of, set new standards for showmanship, and left a dazzling catalogue of recordings.

Poster boy for the 27 Club (rock musicians who died at that age), Hendrix died in London fifty years ago. That anniversary prompted Philip Norman to add to his wonderful series of biographies of the greats. We joined Philip in his garden to talk about what Jimi Hendrix still means to us.

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Larry Watson – The Lives Of Edie Pritchard

Larry Watson – Algonquin Books  £21.99   $27.95

The Lives of Edie Pritchard is Larry Watson’s eleventh novel, and he is at the height of his powers. It is a big novel set in Larry’s back yard of the states where the Midwest becomes the West. We follow the heroine Edie through three points in her life from a young married woman through to her early old age and grandmotherhood, as she learns that she cannot escape from being the person that others need her to be. “When you’re back home you never have a chance to be someone other than who you were then. Even if you never were that person.” Even Tim can go a little bit fanboy when he gets to talk to one of his favourite novelists. Larry in Wisconsin and Tim in London talked via skype about brothers, guns, women, violence, and identity. Spoiler alert: Tim liked it.

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Liz Williams – Miracles of Our Own Making: A History of Paganism

Liz Williams – Reaktion Books – £15.95

In her discussion of Stonehenge, Liz Williams writes: “There is a legend that Merlin simply flew the entire circle from Ireland, which I think we can rule out.” This is typical of her approach. She is not embarrassed by the unprovable, but has a robust attitude to the wilder flights of fancy.

Thus, she makes judicious assessments of, for instance, claims that present magic accesses ancient knowledge (weak), and considers what we can actually know about druidic practices (not much for sure), but she does find the roots and traces of pre-christian spirituality in a culture which didn’t take notes.

We are on much firmer ground when it comes to witchcraft, wicca and cunning folk, and Liz is able to tidy up Tim’s confusion between them.

And she is brilliant and entertaining on more recent expressions of paganism and magic, touching on Aleister Crowley, The Golden Dawn, Madame Blavatsky, the Hellfire Club and so on, not to mention Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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Chris Kirkham – Decoherence: A Quantum Whodunnit

Chris Kirkham – Wallace Publishing – £8.99

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You have to salute a debut novel that swaggers its ambition. Boasting the subtitle “A quantum whodunnit”, Decoherence duly boasts chapters called ‘Entanglement’, ‘Wave Function’, ‘Entropy’ and so on. Our hero, Sirius Peabody, is a theoretical physicist, and his way of seeing the world is very much the substrate of this cheerful murder mystery. Chris Kirkham has great fun with this: “The whole police approach defied the laws of physics”, says Sirius at one point. And since the police are notoriously Newtonian in their approach to crime, Peabody and his new best friend, the lovely Annabelle Bronte (yes, she has a sister) feel compelled to try to solve the crime with reference to the wave-particle duality and super-positioning. It sounds more high falutin’ than it really is. Chris never lets the physics get in the way of the phun.

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Stephen Tow – London, Reign Over Me: How England’s Capital Built Classic Rock

Stephen Tow – Rowman and Littlefield £15.99

To have been young in London in the 1960’s must have been very heaven. At least if you had a yen to see live music in clubs and pubs and a dilapidated hotel on an island in the River Thames. The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, Cream, Pink Floyd… (stop me when it gets dizzying). The city was a musical crucible, taking American jazz and blues, English folk and whimsy, and a host of European influences, and transmuting them into the spun gold of classic rock, with a little help from art colleges and a couple of fellows named Marshall.

Stephen Tow and Tim Haigh are both young enough to have missed the party, and old enough to have gazed backwards wistfully from the late ‘70’s at what seemed then (and to be honest, seems still) a golden age. They share their enthusiasm via a transatlantic Skype connection.

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Helen Lewis – Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights

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Well-behaved women don’t make history, and we need to be a bit grown up about our approach to feminism. That is the starting point of the new book from Helen Lewis. Lewis is a trenchant and thoughtful journalist, and also an amusing and witty contributor to satirical BBC shows. Happily both these sides of her outlook are on display in this entertaining book. By focussing on eleven of the struggles that have got us this far in the quest for an equal society – Divorce, Education, Abortion, Safety and so on – she discusses the history, the current issues, the state of play and the women who got us here in a terrifically readable way. Polemical, funny and extremely well-informed.

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Barry Forshaw – Crime Fiction – A Reader’s Guide

Barry Forshaw – Oldcastle Books    £12.99

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Barry Forshaw is one of the UK’s leading experts on crime fiction. Writer, commentator, editor, broadcaster and enthusiast, his fingerprints are everywhere. If anybody knows where the bodies are buried, it is he. Why is crime fiction the most popular of all genres? It’s a mystery, an enigma, a puzzle. And every puzzle has a solution. Tim Haigh pounded the mean streets and leant on his informers, he sifted the evidence and demolished the alibis, he kissed the femme fatale and sent the samples to the forensic lab to be… forensicced, and eventually he felt Barry’s collar, hauling him down the nick for a little chat. We find them face to face across a plastic table in a drab interview room with the two-way mirror and the dual tape recorder.

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Steve Richards – The Prime Ministers: Reflections on Leadership from Wilson to May

Steve Richards – Atlantic Books £20

You have to wonder why the office of Prime Minister is so coveted. While many politicians aspire to Number Ten, more or less all the Prime Ministers in this book spent at least some of their time in office in political Hell. And yet they typically cling on to office like grim death, and in some cases never get over its loss.

Steve Richards, the most thoughtful and incisive of journalists and commentators, has written a detailed and hugely entertaining study of the nine Prime Ministers of the modern era, from Harold Wilson to Theresa May.

Packed with anecdote and analysis, and unashamedly fascinated by the elements of leadership required to succeed, Steve’s book sets out to explode the easy caricatures and show the abilities and qualities each Prime Minister brought to the job, and why they were so often not the right ones. 

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Graeme Garrard – How To Think Politically

Professor James Bernard Murphy and Graeme Garrard – Bloomsbury: £10.49

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In an overview of the great political thinkers of the ages, comprising thirty of the most trenchant minds in history, you would imagine that there would be room for the Sage of Hounslow. But for some reason Plato, Aquinas, Hobbes and Kant are all preferred to Tim Haigh, who doesn’t rate a chapter to himself. Go figure.

“Politics”, wrote Lord Roseberry, “…is an evil-smelling bog.” It is the thesis of this brisk tour d’horizon that on the contrary, ideas matter in political discourse, and the writers pursue this notion with a kind of Plutarch’s lives of great philosophers. Highly readable, and with a subtly understated agenda – that the greatest political thinking of the past might provide a sort of corrective to the malaise of the present nadir – How To Think Politically is an elegant primer in the field.

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Mike Isaac – Super Pumped: The Battle For Uber

Mike Isaac – Norton: £19.99

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It is not unusual in Silicon Valley for head office to lay on dinner for the employees. The cost is nugatory in these fabulously money-rich tech companies and it encourages people to work past quitting time, and eat before going home. It is typical of Travis Kalanick, founder of Uber, that he gave this practice a twist – he stipulated that dinner would not be served before 8:15 p.m. And that story is about the most benign thing we learn about him in Mike Isaac’s wonderfully lucid account of Kalanick and the business he built in his own monstrous image. Dazzling growth, commitment to excess, chicanery, toxic culture, contempt for the rules and a single-minded determination to fight dirty and win big, Uber may be the most egregious exemplar of the great Silicon Valley enfants terribles.

Have you taken an Uber recently? … Are you sure you still want to?

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Ray Connolly – Sorry, Boys, You Failed The Audition

Ray Connolly – Malignon £7.95

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“I’d like to say Thank You on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition.” John Lennon on the roof of the Apple Building on January 30th 1969 at the end of the last public Beatles performance. It had been the Greatest Show on Earth, but what if it hadn’t happened? What if the Beatles had not passed the vital 1962 audition with George Martin at Parlophone which got them their recording deal? As well as being a friend of the Beatles, Ray Connolly is exactly contemporary with them, and comes from the same part of the world. He has a terrific feel for the time and place and a marvellous ear for Beatle talk. Sorry, Boys, You Failed the Audition is a delightful novella about the boys getting on with their lives, and one woman’s determination that their music should be heard.

Incidentally, this book was also a Radio Play on the BBC.

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Ross Barnett – The Missing Lynx – The Past And Future Of Britain’s Lost Mammals

Ross Barnett – Bloomsbury £16.99

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15,000 years ago, Britain was a very different place. The ice age was ending, and the country was lush and untamed. Sea level was then so low that Dogger Bank, in the North Sea, was then Doggerland, and our ancestors lived there, sharing the land with a dazzling variety of megafauna – big animals to you and me. And what a cast list – lions, wolves, woolly mammoths and rhinos, bears and bison and many more. For palaeontologist, Dr Ross Barnett, this was barely yesterday. Unlike the dinosaurs, people exactly like us met these animals and knew them. They have only just disappeared. By turns elegiac, scientific, enthusiastic and indignant, The Missing Lynx is a wonderfully accessible picture of this lost fauna, and the story of what happened to them.

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Robert Elliott Smith – Rage Inside The Machine – The Prejudice of Algorithms and How to Stop The Internet Making Bigots of us All

Robert Elliott Smith – Bloomsbury    £20.00  

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In the privacy of my complacency, I am pleased to count myself moderately bright – not Stephen Fry clever but, you know, able to tie my own shoelaces and read without moving my lips. So it is bracing for me to venture from time to time into areas of learning where I find myself very much the pedestrian, and the reason I do here is because I am very interested in the matter of how algorithms impact upon our lives and in the relation between artificial intelligence and human consciousness.

Rob Smith is a bona fide expert in evolutionary algorithms. He has helped create software systems that learn fighter jet manoeuvres, describe immune system behaviour, reveal emotion in financial markets and explain how social networks propagate political polarisation.

Despite their ubiquity, algorithms are not well understood by the general population. They are now so complex that nobody can properly unpack them, and they display emergent properties that no-one can predict or control. Rob Smith has written a magnificently lucid book explaining how we got here and showing what algorithms are and what they are not. Carefully delineating how they were developed, and what assumptions and prejudices underlie them, he has written a timely and engaging book for the interested layman. Me, in other words. 

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Ben Burgis – Give Them An Argument: Logic For The Left

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What is the purpose of debate? Is it to convince somebody, somewhere of something, or is it merely to undermine the other side and bolster your own prejudices?

You may have noticed that political discourse is not always conducted in a civil and measured manner. Especially when the participants are physically removed from each other, say via journalistic writing or social media. In particular, right-wing polemicists are fond of throwing around terms like ‘libtards’, and claiming to have ‘crushed’ or ‘destroyed’ their opponents. There is an unattractive swagger to the claims of some of these people to have exclusive title to the use of logic. Ben Burgis, a philosophy PhD and avowedly Marxist, thinks that the left needs to work on its debating chops.

In his feisty little book he discusses the way that the right has claimed the high ground of dispassion, and proposes approaches and tools for countering this unwarranted security. Taking aim at the traditional leftist hostility to the very notion of logic, and such right-wing bêtes noire as Ben Shapiro, Burgis takes up the cudgels on the side of the angels. “Don’t mistake this book as a plea for civility” he writes. Not much danger of that, Ben.

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Joel Meadows – Masters Of Comics

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We all have our guilty pleasures. Mine include horror films, prog rock and, for the purposes of this interview, comic books. For me it was American super-heroes: Batman and the Fantastic Four and speech balloons screaming, “Mortal, I say thee nay!” and “Not all my power can save me!” But actually, comic books have come a long way since the cheap paper and four-colour separation of my childhood. They are glossier, they are more detailed, much better presented, and much more expensive. Joel Meadows takes a tour of some of the finest and most illustrious practitioners of the art of graphic story-telling, bearding them in their lairs – or ‘studios’ – exploring their techniques and work-spaces in a sumptuously illustrated volume. From stalwarts of the industry such as Bill Sienkiewicz and Walt Simonson to current stars like Frank Quitley and Frank Cho, he takes us right to their drawing-boards. It is a lovely book and it vividly reminds us what we liked about comic-books in the first place – the drawings.

Joel highlights some upcoming events. We will list them here as information becomes available:


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Randy Ross – God Bless Cambodia

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Click here to buy the book.

A man can travel well and he can travel badly*. The hero of Randy Ross’s God Bless Cambodia is on the ‘badly’ end of the scale. At 48 Randy Burns is tired of ‘the miserable game’ (dating). He has been laid off from his job. His friends are getting paired up and unavailable to him. And then in a bookshop he comes across a travel guide that promises marvels and delights if he were to take a four month tour of the world on the cheap. It is lying.
A succession of red-eye flights takes Randy through South America, Europe, Africa and the far east, searching for romance, but more often discovering that he had arrived out of season.
Randy, the author, mines a rich seam of comedy in the misery of a certain kind of American man out of his comfort zone. Paul Theroux and Bill Bryson it is not. But then maybe Bill Bryson has never tried to hire a ‘money-honey’ girlfriend in Thailand. Tim talked with Randy on skype while somebody was fixing Randy’s roof. With a hammer.
*Women always travel well.

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Julian Baggini – How The World Thinks

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Click here to buy the book

When we use the word ‘philosophy’ what we usually mean is “western philosophy’. But as the philosopher and bestselling author Julian Baggini points out in his new book, western philosophy accounts for only around 20% of the world’s population. Other peoples have other philosophical traditions, and as Dr Baggini argues, the underlying philosophical assumptions inform and shape the ways we think and live, even if we never consider them.

Tim is perhaps the ideal reader for this book, insofar as he is fairly parochial in his philosophical outlook, and he found it stimulating to be asked to consider the bigger picture and see how other traditions chime with, contrast with, and shine a light on the western outlook. He found it rewarding and enlightening, and he couldn’t wait to tackle some of the issues in conversation with the writer, and also to take up the cudgels on behalf of his parochialism. 

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Ray Connolly – Being John Lennon

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“Many people ask what are Beatles? Why Beatles? We will tell you. It came in a vision – a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them ‘From this day on you are Beatles with an ‘A’. Thank you, mister man, they said, thanking him.”  So wrote John Lennon, shortly before he became the most famous man on the planet.

And that’s all the background you’re getting. Tim is a self-confessed Beatles anorak. Many people have Chekhov’s Revolver on their mantelpiece, but only Tim has Stanislavski’s Sgt Pepper and Dostoevsky’s Rubber Soul as well. And he is only too delighted to delve into the minutiae of John Lennon’s life with a fellow… anorak.

There are countless Lennon biographies, which variously just map out the events of his life, or in lurid terms portray a monster, or a broken child or a grotesque. Being John Lennon is not a memoir, but a full-scale life by a man who knew Lennon well, as a friend, and shows him as a human being. Ray Connolly met the Beatles when they were making Magical Mystery Tour, and he was one of the journalists Lennon regularly turned to when he wanted to talk. And Lennon loved to talk. About the Beatles, about Paul McCartney, about Yoko Ono, about May Pang, and everything else in his life. But mostly about John Lennon.

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Tom Kirkham – Pop Life

2016 was a bad year. Globally, it was the year of Brexit and was rounded off with a Trump!  It was bad for pop music too: David Bowie had died in January. And then it seemed the heroes were rushing for the exit.   Bowie was closely followed by Merle Haggard and Glen Frey (of the Eagles), and later in the year, Lemmy, Sir George Martin, Leonard Cohen, George Michael and a dozen others. And then on April 21st, Prince, died.

On the personal level Tom Kirkham was already having a bad year. He was feeling his mental health wobbling. And Tom Idolised Prince. He was devastated. He felt the urgent need to do something to give his life structure and purpose. So he decided to attend a live music gig every week for the next year. Music is Tom’s balm and his passion. And with this plan he at least knew what he had to do. No matter how he felt, he had to get to that gig. Pop Life is a heartfelt, funny, ever so slightly crazed chronicle of that intense year.

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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 the period since the mid-70’s. He shows with admiral lucidity how and why the free-trade shibboleths captured the centre-left and acquired the power to hugely favour a tiny and very narrow section to the disadvantage of the overwhelming majority.

We can see the results in the election of President Trump, in Brexit and in the rise of ultra-nationalist far-right parties in Europe and beyond. The dangers are obvious, and Kuttner draws disturbing parallels with the rise of fascism in the thirties. Can democracy survive? Tim was hoping to ask him that very question.

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Toby Litt – Wrestliana

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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 and Westmoreland Wrestling, an essay on writing and a treatise on masculinity. Somehow it all adds up..

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Grady Hendrix – Paperbacks From Hell

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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 downtown New York. At least that’s where he said he was… we haven’t visited our basement since. Continue reading

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Christopher Fowler – The Book of Forgotten Authors

Christopher Fowler is a good friend of this site, having appeared with us three times already. But then, he will keep writing books that we find irresistible. This time he has assembled an Aladdin’s Cave of writers who have been neglected in one way or another. Some of them have been completely forgotten, as the title suggests – Rosalind Erskine anybody? –  but then there are the writers whose names are familiar, but whose books we have forgotten to read – Ronald Firbank, Leslie Charteris? – or who have fallen out of favour (or print) – Dennis Wheatley, Sven Hassell, Barbara Pym?

This is catnip to Tim. He dived into the contents list like a kid in a sweetshop, finding the authors he has read, noting the ones he should have, and discovering some he is certainly going to. He got together with Chris in his palatial, minimalist flat to discuss their shared enthusiasm over a cup of tea.


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Ben Aaronovich – The Furthest Station

You might think a man who had a couple of Dr Who serials under his belt (1980’s – the Sylvester McCoy era), might rest on his laurels, but like the rest of us Ben Aaronovitch has a living to make. Ben has a solid CV of writing for television and TV spinoffs, but he has recently been making serious waves with his series of supernatural police procedural novels and graphic novels, starting in 2011 with Rivers Of London. He allows that the success of these Peter Grant books has considerably exceeded his expectations. But we’re not surprised. There is always room for well-written, funny, urban fantasy, right?. We met Ben at his publishers in Blackfriars to discuss the latest instalment – The Furthest Station. Continue reading

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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.

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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Toby Litt – Lifelike

Click here to buy the bookIf your taste runs to the dead-pan, you could do worse than read Toby Litt. By turns funny, scabrous, touching, serious, playful and obsessive, his twelfth book, Life-like is presented with an absolutely straight face. How are you supposed to take this? Are you intended to laugh? Is it OK to be aroused? Does that passage really belong in this book? Toby never blinks.

Toby’s interest in form and experimentation is well-established, and so this book is neither properly a novel nor a simple story collection, with the focus flying apart from the starting point of the marriage of Agatha and Paddy, with whom we are familiar from Toby’s eighth book, Ghost Stories. Tim loved that novel, so he was very happy to come back to these characters, and, when it turned out that Toby wanted to play games in the new book, Tim was delighted to join in.


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Alwyn W turner – The Last Post

alwynturner-thelastpostNo 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.

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Christopher Fowler – Nyctophobia

Callie is Click here to buy the booka young woman with a bit of a past (and a mild case of nyctophobia), an adoring husband and a home filled with light … but where there is light there must also be darkness…

Christopher Fowler made his name with chiller fiction, and Nyctophobia is a splendid return to the genre. It takes a gleeful inventory of the elements of the ghost story, and finds new ways to creep up on you, and most importantly of all – it is scary. Tim spent the night he read it nervously going round his house turning all the lights on.

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Anne McCaffrey from the archive – Renegades of Pern

annemccaffreyrenegadesofpernAnne McCaffrey was the first woman to win the prestigious Hugo award for science fiction, and also the first woman to win a Nebula award. In her Dragonriders of Pern series she created one of the great fantasy novels sequence. It comprises more than thirty novels, most of which include dragons, and is notable for pioneering the inclusion of strong and effective women in science fiction.

Anne McCaffrey died in 2011 at the age of 85, but back in 1990 Tim had the great pleasure of meeting her to discuss the  fourteenth book in the series, Renegades of Pern. They got on like a house on fire.


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Margery Allingham’s Mr Campion’s Farewell: the Return of Albert Campion Completed by Mike Ripley

Click here to buy the bookIn Albert Campion, Margery Allingham created one of the timeless golden age detectives, often spoken of in the same breath as Lord Peter Wimsey and Inspector Alleyn. When she died in 1963 her husband and collaborator Philip Youngman Carter continued the series for two more books. A third was left incomplete. Well, we say incomplete. There was merely a fragment, four chapters kicking off a new Campion novel, but with no plot outline or notes for how it was supposed to continue.

Mike Ripley made his name with the brilliant comedy thriller ‘Angel’ series. In 2012 the Margery Allingham Society asked him to finish the incomplete Campion book, which he called Mr Campion’s Farewell.

Tim is a long-standing fan of Angel, and is easily persuaded to become a fan of Campion as well. For Tim, it was time to meet Campion in person, and also Ripley, believe it or not.

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George Cooper – Money, Blood and Revolution

Click here to buy the bookWho would you turn to if the discipline of economics was in a crisis and you were looking for a solution: Mr Spock or Captain Kirk? Mr Spock would work through the existing data with methodical rigour and implacable logic, while Captain Kirk would make an intuitive leap in the manner of Copernicus or Darwin, and show us an entirely new way of looking at the problem. In his book, Money, Blood and Revolution, George Cooper contends that what economics needs right now is a Captain Kirk, to provide a paradigm shift by simply taking a different perspective on the existing picture. Tim comes blundering in with all the insight and acuity of Nurse Chappell, but minus the miniskirt, to explore George’s vision of a simplified model of economic systems and the engine of prosperity.

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Humaira Shahid – Devotion and Defiance

Humaira Shahid might have had a gilded life, and no-one would have blamed her. She was born into the privileged classes of Pakistan, enjoyed a happy and liberal childhood, and married well into a newspaper dynasty. The important men in her life adored her and admired her and encouraged her to fulfil herself rather than take the subservient role imposed on many Pakistani women. She became an academic, teaching literature, and that might have been that. But Humaira’s personal life contained a series of heartbreaking tragedies, and as she participated in her husband’s journalistic activities, she gained a first-hand knowledge of dreadful injustice and suffering in Pakistan. Driven by a fiery passion she became, first a campaigning editor, and then a vocal member of the Assembly in Punjab Province.

Devotion And Defiance is Humaira’s account of the course of her career. It is a fascinating insight into the workings of Pakistani politics, a rallying call to arms on behalf of the oppressed and brutalised women of Pakistan, and also a touching memoir of her own life.

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Lawrence Block – The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons

Bernie Rhodenbarr is the owner of an antiquarian bookshop in New York City. He is best friends with a lesbian who owns the nearby dog grooming parlour, and they eat lunch together every day. He is nearly friends with the local cop, Ray Kirshman, who regards him as an unofficial consultant. But most of all, Bernie is a burglar. When a man named Smith comes into the store and asks him to steal an original manuscript of an F Scott Fitzgerald story, Bernie finds himself embroiled in a couple of tangled webs, which he is uniquely qualified to untangle.

Lawrence Block is a past master at this kind of thing, weaving in to his fabric obsessive collectors, early American siversmithing, literary backstories, and, naturally, a juicy murder. Half the fun is seeing how he brings all these elements together for the finale, but the other half is the fluent writing that gets you there.

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Larry Watson – Let Him Go

“I’d follow you anywhere. If you don’t know that, what do you know?”. So says George to his wife Margaret as they journey, at her behest, to try and get back their grandson. In a beautiful and utterly memorable novel, Larry Watson takes us to the bleak
and unforgiving landscape of the Badlands of North Dakota in 1951 and into the lives of complex and vivid characters.

The book is the road trip and the confrontation at the end of it. It is a journey that Tim was thrilled to follow every step of the way.

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Iain Banks from the Archives

Click here to buy the booktimiainbanksYesterday, we heard the sad news of the death of Iain Banks at the unacceptably young age of 59. Iain was never the darling of the literary establishment, but he was the favourite author of hundreds of thousands of passionate readers, and Tim had rated him one of the best of his generation since his stunning debut with The Wasp Factory in 1984.

In 1995 Tim interviewed Iain on the occasion of the publication of his fourteenth novel, Whit. Iain was unfailingly friendly and forthcoming whenever we asked for access to him. With grateful thanks to Iain for his kindness to this site, we present this slightly edited version of that interview.

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Christopher Fowler – Film Freak

There was a time when film publicity consisted of having a poster painted, and sending the posters with the reels of film in the van when they were delivered to the cinemas.

And then advertising industry foot-soldiers Christopher Fowler and Jim Sturgeon had an idea. What the movies needed was somebody who did film publicity in a much more imaginative way. They were right.

What happened after that is laugh out loud funny, indiscreet and revealing, and treads cheerfully on the feet of silver screen glamour; and it is all weirdly plausible.

Whether he is telling the story of his ill-judged first visit to the Cannes Film Festival (everybody’s first visit to Cannes is a horror story), facing up to his responsibility for the Brentford Nylons advertising campaign, or offering his insights into the darker corners of movie history, Fowler is excellent company.

But Film Freak is also a thoughtful meditation on what has been lost in movies, and a tender account of the final days of the British Film Industry in Soho.

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Martin Amis from the Archive – London Fields

London Fields is in many ways the quintessential Martin Amis novel. At the end of the Twentieth century – ten years in the future when Tim interviewed him in 1989–there are looming portents of global catastrophe, which stand in for Amis’s fear of nuclear annihilation. There is sex, there is mystery, there are post-modern games with authorship, there are degenerate underclass characters, including one of Amis’s immortal creations in Keith Tallent, the would-be darts magus, and there are bucketloads of scabrous humour. But there is also tenderness and a heartfelt investment in children and the future. If Amis has never written anything better than London Fields since then, there is no shame in that.

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Gore Vidal from the archive – Palimpsest

After half a century as a great novelist and America’s finest essayist, in 1995 Gore Vidal got round to writing… well, not an autobiography, but at any rate a memoir. Why a memoir? Gore told Tim that by the age of seventy he found that he figured in hundreds of other people’s memoirs, and that from his point of view they had almost all got it wrong. Whether this was due to self-serving lapses in memory or shameless lying, Gore decided to
proffer a few corrections. If this also meant indulging in a spot of high class gossip, that was OK too. He had plenty to gossip about.
Vidal had an enviable pedigree. His maternal grandfather was the legendary T P Gore, Oklahama’s first senator. His father was FDR’s Secretary of Aviation (and incidentally had an affair with Emilia Earhart). Gore himself was born at West Point and was intimate with the cream of Washington society. His political friends included Eleanor Roosevelt and JFK. His artistic peers included Tennessee Williams and Marlon Brando. Vidal had known everybody, and was not shy of dishing the dirt on any of them.

Tim fell upon Palimpsest as a starving man upon food, and couldn’t wait to pump Vidal for gossip about some of the great and the good, and especially the liars.

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John Mortimer from the archive – Rumpole And The Angel Of Death

John Mortimer occupied positions at the very top of not one but two professions. He was a great writer – we need think no further than A Voyage Around My Father, and he was one of the most eminent barristers and QCs of his generation. The happy collision of these two strings to his bow was of course Rumpole of the Bailey, and in 1995 Tim had the pleasure of discussing with him the tenth collection of stories, Rumpole And The Angel Of Death.

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Salman Rushdie from the archive – The Moor’s Last Sigh

Salman Rushdie is one of our most distinguished writers, having made a shattering entrance with Midnight’s Children (now coming out as a film). He ascended to an unwecome level of notoriety when The Satanic Verses provoked Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa against him. But despite the terrifying contingency into which his life was pitched, he continued to write novels of seething vitality and, in 1995, Tim spoke with him about one of these: The Moor’s Last Sigh.

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Terry Pratchett from the archive – Maskerade

Sir Terry Pratchett is a legend. The Discworld series set the gold standard for comic fantasy. Tim has been a fan since the very first book, and in this rare interview from 1995 he talked to Terry about the eighteenth Discworld book, Maskerade. Tim was delighted with the return of Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, but the book really takes off when Agnes Nitt decides that she wants to become a diva, and we are treated to the grand guignol Discworld take on the world of opera…

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Philip Norman – Mick Jagger

Fifty years a star. Gracefulness incarnate. Irresistable to women. Vain and arrogant, perhaps, but with so much to boast of.

But enough about Tim.

Mick Jagger is by contrast an accountant.

You think you know him. The drugs. Marianne Faithfull and the mars bar. The murder at Altamont. The parsimony. The priapism. The seven children with four different women. The ruthless wresting of control of the Rolling Stones from first Andrew Oldham, then Brian Jones, then Keith Richards.

Jagger has lived his life in the public glare, and yet he remains an enigma. He never much liked doing drugs. He was a wonderful friend to both Brian and Keith. He was admittedly a lousy husband, but a terrific father – the children all adore him. There is much more
to Jagger than meets his eye.

Philip Norman is a past master of the rock biography (Buddy Holly, Neil Sedaka, the Stones, the Beatles, John Lennon). He first interviewed Mick Jagger in 1965 and knows the period intimately. In his new book he turns his forensic brilliance on to the
quintessential rock star.

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Iain M Banks – The Hydrogen Sonata

The Gzilt came close to being one of the founding civilisations of the Culture, but they have come to the point where they are ready to Sublime to the next level of existence. You might think that their minds would be on higher things, but there are still political shenanigans to stir the pudding before they’re ready for Nirvana. Not least, there is the vexed question of which of the competing scavenger species lays claim to the technology and territory the Gzilt are giving up.
Iain M Banks thinks of the Culture as his virtual train set, which he periodically takes out to play with for another five hundred pages. The Hydrogen Sonata is the thirteenth book in this superb series of science fiction novels.

Tim Haigh appears to many of us to be a modestly unprepossessing human being, but he is actually the humanoid avatar of a Culture ship named the Kindle With A Vast But Inflexible Memory. He fired up his neural lace and downloaded his mind-state one more time to discuss The Hydrogen Sonata with Iain, and find out why in the future ‘sublime’ is a verb.

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Christopher Fowler – Bryant and May and the Invisible Code

A woman dies for no apparent reason in a church in Fleet Street. A pair of children were playing Witch-Hunter nearby and they placed a curse on her. This is meat and drink to Bryant and May, the superannuated detectives in Christopher Fowler’s entertaining series. Further equally inexplicable deaths follow, but the detectives are obliged to undertake a job for their political boss whose glamorous, foreign wife is showing increasing signs of instability.
Christopher Fowler gained an enviable reputation as a writer of what he calls ‘dark fiction’ and his brilliant feel for the underside of life feeds in satisfyingly to his more recent persona as a writer of cheerful murder mysteries.
After spending a delightful week with Bryant and May in the shadows and basements and secret places of London, Tim met Chris in the airy reassurance of a penthouse terrace in London to make a couple of confessions of his own.

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Alom Shaha – The Young Atheist’s Handbook

Richard Dawkins has said that there is no such thing as a Muslim child, only the child of Muslim parents. Saint Richard’s admirers are wont to characterise the imposition of religious delusions as a variety of child-abuse but not all Atheist writers are that militant.

Alom Shaha was brough up in a Muslim community. He is now a physics teacher and a thoughtful and tolerant atheist, who has left the delusions far behind, without giving up any part of his heritage.

His new book, The Young Atheist’s Handbook is his account of this journey, and also a meditation on the questions that might exercise others taking the the same road.

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Alwyn W Turner – Things Can Only Get Bitter

Click here to buy the bookThe writer Alwyn Turner has spotted a fascinating statistical anomaly and it is this:  the generation to which he belongs has produced significantly fewer front rank politicians than those either side of it. Or indeed any generation within living memory. In fact it would be fair to say that, politically speaking, this is a lost generation.  Being a social historian Alwyn was prompted to figure out why, and the answer is his ebook, Things can Only Get Bitter. He identifies the pivotal 1992 general election as the crucial event, and analyses the impact on popular culture of the disgust of a generation which turned instead to comedy, music, movies, and publishing.  By coincidence Tim is of precisely the same generation, so it was more or less on the order of a certainty that he would need to  get hold of Alwyn and ask him how come he had failed to become leader of the Conservative party.

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Nicholas Wapshott – Keynes Hayek – The Clash That Defined Modern Economics

Can government action fix a broken economy? Eighty years ago John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek arrived at diametrically opposed conclusions. Far from being a dry and technical academic argument, it was then and is now the central division within political economy.

The story of the row between these men and their followers is explosive and astonishingly bad-tempered. Bring up the subject with any politician or social scientist and they will be aware of this story. But only now has anybody written the book.
There’s nothing Tim Loves more than a knock-down, drag out, punch up between intellectual heavyweights, so he met Nicholas Wapshott at his London publishers to talk
about the economics and the politics and the personalities involved, bringing it right up to date to consider how Keynes and Hayek would address the present difficulties.

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Larry Watson – American Boy

Click here to buy the bookLarry Watson is better known in his native America than in the UK, but Tim has been a fan since Larry’s first novel Montana 1948. Eight novels have followed, each one telling a compelling story in Larry’s characteristic limpid prose. His new book, American Boy, is a luminous coming of age story set in the early 1962 when grown ups had the sex and the teenagers were envious of them, the exact reverse of the present day. Larry in Wisconsin and Tim in Finchley discussed the book via the magic of Skype.

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Chris Mullin – A Walk-On Part: Diaries 1994-1999

Political diaries can be turgid and self-serving or they can be witty and revealing. Chris Mullins diaries are firmly in the second category.  The final volume,  A Walk-On Part, is brilliantly insightful, satisfyingly indiscreet, tender and tough, and marvellously resonant for today’s politics. Chris had a front-row seat on the circus that was New Labour. Tim met him at his publisher’s offices in London and  talked about the historic landslide election of Labour Government in 1997, Rupert Murdoch, Lost Leaders, and why Chris had a black and white television in his London flat.

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Alwyn W Turner – The Man Who Invented The Daleks, The Strange Worlds Of Terry Nation

Click here to buy the bookYou may remember Survivors and Blake’s Seven. You may even remember that they were created by Terry Nation. But Terry Nation’s immortality will always be tied up with invention of The Daleks. Alwyn W Turner has written a lively and fascinating account of Terry Nation’s times and career, from his radio days with Ted Ray and Tony Hancock, through the glory years of The Saint, The Avengers and countless others. Tim chased Alwyn through a petrified forest towards a steel-covered city populated by the last few mutant descendants of the human race, while a doomsday bomb ticked its countdown to oblivion, pausing only to chat about why Terry Nation’s television shows got under your skin.

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Steve Richards – Whatever It Takes

Click here to buy the bookWhen the dust settles we will observe that more books have been written about New Labour than about any other British administration, yes, including Mrs Thatcher’s febrile season in the sun. But let the Peter Mandelsons and the Alistair Campbells and even the Tony Blairs make room: Steve Richards of The Independent has written the most incisive, authoritative and readable account yet of the implausible story of Gordon Brown and new Labour. Tim and Steve discussed Brown’s astonishing longevity at the top of British politics, and his relationship with Tony Blair, and why there is nobody else from that government worth talking about.

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Russell Hoban – Angelica Lost And Found

Click here to buy the bookRussell Hoban defies comparison with other writers. There is nobody else writing books like his. If his readership is select, he is nonetheless one of those writers whose new book we read as a matter of course. You never know what you’re going to get, except that it will delight and tease and intrigue, and take you in unexpected directions. A Russell Hoban novel is mysterious. You will think you have got hold of it, and want to share it with your friends, and then when you try to pin it down and tell someone about it, you will find that its solidities and vivid themes have escaped you like smoke. You will be left with stray phrases and images and brilliant flashes that worked better for him than they do for you. Tim visited the incomparable Russell Hoban in his London home to talk about his typically elusive and compelling new novel, Angelica, Lost and Found which embraces myth and poetry while cleaving to an idiosyncratic vision of present day San Francisco, rooted in the most concrete details.

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Iain Banks – Surface Detail

Click here to buy the bookIs Iain Banks our best novelist? If our criteria are muscular prose, brilliant plotting and an apparently effortless manipulation of character then he certainly has a claim. At any rate he is among our most entertaining, robust and inventive writers. On the occasion of the publication of his new science fiction novel, Surface Detail, he talked to Tim Haigh, discussing such questions as why advanced civilisations would create Hells, whether continuity of consciousness is necessary to personhood, and whether suffering and anguish have any significance in virtual reality, while not neglecting big explosions in space, laser cannons, artificial intelligences of dubious sanity and why spaceships ought to have extravagantly strange names.

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Iain Banks – Transition

Click here to buy the bookIain Banks is one of the most successful and productive British novelists of his generation; a writer of apparently boundless invention and self-confidence. Since 1984, with the publication of The Wasp Factory, he has reached a huge and devoted audience with his mainstream books and his series of science fiction novels. Tim met Iain Banks in a hotel room in Central London and set about the job of talking to him about the his writing, his career and in particular about his new novel, Transition; although before that he felt obliged to check that Iain was happy to be Scottish.

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Alwyn Turner – Crisis, What Crisis – Britain in the 1970s

Click to buy the bookBritain in the 1970’s is revisited in vivid technicolour by Alwyn Turner in his new book, “Crisis, What Crisis?”. Tim Haigh visited Alwyn at home to discuss the politics, the cultural upheavals, the t.v and the pop music of the 1970’s. Enoch Powell and Tony Benn: Coronation Street and Love Thy Neighbour, feminism and homosexuality, they ranged far and wide, agreeing to differ only on the vexed question of whether Middle Of The Road and Showaddywaddy were more important than Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.

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Lord David Owen – In Sickness And In Power – illness in heads of government during the last 100 years

Click here to buy the bookTim Haigh visited Lord David Owen, sometimes known as Doctor Death in a previous life, to discuss his new book, “In Sickness And In Power- illness in heads of government during the last 100 years”. While Dr Owen has a reputation for not suffering fools gladly, he nonetheless talked in fascinating and almost indiscreet detail about politicians, some of whom he has known, and considers whether he might have succumbed himself to ‘hubris syndrome’ if he had, as he might have expected, become Prime Minister of Great Britain.

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