Medieval Bodies: Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages by Jack Hartnell makes a convincing case against the widely held perception of the Middle Ages as a bloodthirsty and violent period of history where beliefs about medicine were guided primarily by superstition. Instead, the reality is shown to be very different in Hartnell’s examination of how medieval people experienced their physical selves. Each chapter of this lavishly illustrated book focuses on a different part of the body and explores their cultural significance and how medieval attitudes towards them were shaped by a range of influences.
Drawing on art, medicine, literature, science, politics, history, philosophy and much more, I think Hartnell sometimes tries to tackle too much here. The geographical range of sources spanning across Europe and the Middle East is impressive but the scope is so wide that it is a lot to grasp for non-expert readers, whereas I think those who are more knowledgeable about this period of history may find the analysis too thin in some areas. However, Hartnell’s evident passion for his subject is infectious and I think ‘Medieval Bodies’ could be a possible contender for the next Wellcome Book Prize longlist. Continue reading
It’s almost impossible to avoid hearing about Donald Trump’s latest exploits via rolling news headlines every day, but until now, I hadn’t read any books detailing the whole sorry saga of the Trump administration to date. However, ‘Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House’ is very much the book of the moment and seeing its author Michael Wolff in conversation with Armando Iannucci (creator of some of the best TV political satires including ‘The Thick of It’ and ‘Veep’) at the Friends House near Euston in London on Friday night was simply too good an opportunity to miss. Continue reading
‘Winter’ is the second volume in the seasons cycle of novels by Ali Smith. It is loosely set at a family gathering in which twenty-something Art (Arthur) visits his mother Sophia Cleves in Cornwall over Christmas. Art has recently been dumped by Charlotte and hires a Croatian-Canadian immigrant, Lux, to pretend to be his girlfriend. Meanwhile, Sophia has a frosty relationship with her subversive sister Iris who has a long history of political activism. Continue reading
Political events across the world continue to move at a whirlwind pace, particularly here in the UK. Here are my recommendations for three recent non-fiction books about British politics.
‘The Women Who Shaped Politics’ by Sophy Ridge offers a broad overview of the female campaigners and Members of Parliament who have shifted the political landscape in Westminster. The first half focuses on historical pioneers such as Mary Wollstonecraft and those involved in the suffragette movement while the second half draws on interviews with a range of contemporary female politicians including current Prime Minister Theresa May. Continue reading
It’s easy to see how politics can provide ripe subject material for novelists. From Whitehall to the White House, the settings of these stories are inevitably concerned with power, money, intrigue and risk-taking, all excellent topics for dark humour and high drama. Given that recent political developments in the United Kingdom have become stranger than fiction, it seemed like an appropriate time to read ‘House of Cards’ by Michael Dobbs. Originally published in 1989, the story follows chief whip Francis Urquhart who will stop at nothing to become Prime Minister, getting rid of his potential opponents in any way possible, mostly by orchestrating various scandals for them to fall into. However, tenacious journalist Mattie Storin is getting closer than she realises to uncovering his web of lies and deceit. Continue reading
I really enjoyed reading Alan Johnson’s first memoir This Boy which recounted his childhood growing up in poverty in north Kensington during the 1950s and 1960s. In the second volume, ‘Please, Mister Postman’, Johnson reflects on his early career as a postman while bringing up a young family in Slough. During the 1970s and 1980s, he became more and more involved in trade union activities at work, thus setting him on the path to a long and eventful political career. Continue reading
‘A Very Expensive Poison: The Definitive Story of the Murder of Litvinenko and Russia’s War with the West’ by Luke Harding outlines the chilling murder of a Russian dissident which resulted in the rapid deterioration of Moscow’s relationship with the West. Former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko fled to London in 2000 with his wife and son after publicly criticising the Kremlin and later worked as a journalist and consultant for MI6. He was poisoned with polonium at the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair in November 2006 and the subsequent investigation into his murder has had a significant impact on Anglo-Russian relations over the past decade. Continue reading