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Reviews

The Best Books I Read in 2023

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It’s that time of year when I tempt you to obliterate what remains of your savings. In my defence, it could be worse. At least you’re not spending it on commemorative spoons. I’ve got some great books to recommend this year. As usual, I read and re-read a lot of travel literature to prepare for Personal Landscapes podcast conversations.  I also have a few essential history reads to share...

Good Scammer

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Good Scammer by Guy Kennaway This is the book Horatio Alger would have written if an Alger hero came from a post-colonial Caribbean island awash with foreign money that never seems to trickle down to the poverty-stricken villages beyond gated tourist enclaves. The poorly educated, semi-literate orphan at the heart of Guy Kennaway’s latest novel experiences the ‘Rise to Respectability’, sees his...

The New Leviathans

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The New Leviathans by John Gray Only a Leviathan can protect us from the state of nature: a “war of all against all” in which the life of man is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” So said Thomas Hobbes in his 1651 book of that name. The Leviathan Hobbes had in mind was a sovereign with unfettered power ceded by individuals in exchange for protection. This ruler would create conditions...

Unfinished Woman

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Unfinished Woman by Robyn Davidson From the very first pages of her new memoir, Robyn Davidson grapples with how to recollect the past. “The way memory plays in the mind is not factual,” she writes. “It is sketchy, mythical, misremembered, contradictory. It is flickers of light on unfathomable darkness. We go back over and over the past, watching it change with each take, not thinking of it as...

Glowing Still by Sara Wheeler

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Sara Wheeler’s memoir of her life on the road begins with Dervla Murphy flashing her tits. The legendary Irish writer meets a guy in Cameroon who asks, ‘Are you a man or a woman?’ “In response,” Wheeler writes, “Murphy lifts up her jumper to show her tits.” That sets the tone for a thoroughly enjoyable journey from Wheeler’s working class Bristol childhood to a year in Athens in her twenties...

The Best Books I Read in 2022

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Do you have a book addiction? I’m here to make it worse. It’s that time of year when I tempt you to obliterate what remains of your savings on an out-of -control book buying bender. What can I say? It could be worse. At least you’re not spending it on commemorative spoons. I’ve got some great reads to recommend this year. As usual, I read and re-read a lot of great travel literature to prepare...

Along the amber route

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Along the Amber Route by C.J. Schüler Along the Amber Route traces C.J. Schüler’s journey down one of Europe’s great long distance trading routes.  Like other ancient trade routes, this one had several branches running for some 2,500km from St. Petersburg on the edge of the Baltic Sea to the great trading city-state of Venice on the Adriatic.  The existence of the Amber Route predates...

One people

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One People by Guy Kennaway Cousins Cove is a real village, but the stories in Guy Kennaway’s comic novel are fiction, gathered during his first ten years as an idle British expat in Jamaica. “If you travel to the parishes of St James, Hanover and Westmoreland,” he writes, “you will not find the characters in these pages, but will find their joy, friendliness, strength and defiance in the people...

The Power of Geography

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Geography limits us and defines our possibilities in fundamental ways.  A nation’s physical location — at a vital choke point, like the outlet of the Red Sea; commanding the waves on Europe’s northwest fringe; at the vulnerable end of the wide open North European Plain — does much to dictate its strengths and fears. As does its store of resources, and its location in relation to...

Political Fictions

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I read a collection of long pieces written by Joan Didion in the 1990s called Political Fictions this week. It contained “the first of a number of pieces I eventually did about American politics,” she wrote in the Preface, “most of which had to do, I came to realize, with the ways in which the political process did not reflect but increasingly proceeded from a series of fables about American...

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