"I didn't want people to read in the same way they might eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day, but because I wanted them to know the mind-expanding privilege of walking a mile in someone else's shoes." Cathy Rentzenbrink
Contexts
On the matter of eternity

On the matter of eternity

The past few years have seen the explosive emergence of a highly fetishised and merchandised cult of the home: as a fiercely protected private space of explicitly public (voyeuristic) visibility, as the locus of a redefined, globalised community of purported ecumenical camaraderie, as the shrine of high-design spirituality, and as a new status symbol of...
Before the beginning of years

Before the beginning of years

A chorus from Swinburne’s 1865 play Atalanta in Calydon was once an almost self-standing poetic topos, the expression perhaps of a particular moment in the progression of the human psyche – or of the temporal course of eternity, to fiddle with T.S. Eliot’s famous take on the pastness of the past and its presence. Before...
The duty of disobedience

The duty of disobedience

Twenty-five years after its inception, ten years since the last instalment in the series, and with over 4 million copies sold to date, Penguin Great Ideas is back with a brand new selection of 20 titles. Bringing to readers the works of the many great thinkers, pioneers, radicals and visionaries whose ideas have shaken civilisation and helped...
Bees can teach us a great deal – but what?

Bees can teach us a great deal – but what?

From antiquity and until very recently bees were likened to exemplary subjects in a perfect monarchy. It was taken for granted that they were ruled by a king because Aristotle had said so in the fourth century B.C.E. and his word – not just about bees but almost everything else as well – would remain...
Spreading their wings

Spreading their wings

I’d like to travel back through time and tell my schoolgirl self that, one day, I’d consider poetry to be a magic carpet. (Although, I suspect she would have looked up from wrestling with a knotty slice of D.H. Lawrence only to roll her eyes!) To me now, though, there is no more efficient escape...
Big brothers

Big brothers

Since my teenage years, I have been fascinated by the works of Orwell, while casting a critical and selective eye over them. I have always considered that his great masterpiece is Animal Farm; I was always less engaged by 1984. The idea behind 1984 was undeniably powerful; but, as so often with novels that expound...
Bread and circuses

Bread and circuses

Historians say that during the fourteenth century Europe lost one-third of its population in seven years. The roads were strewn with unburied corpses. In the worst times of famine and despair, people used their ingenuity to grind anything they thought could replace grain, flour and bread. In their endeavour to keep making bread, they did...
Distant echoes of a mighty paean

Distant echoes of a mighty paean

Readers long spellbound by Elena Ferrante’s Valhalla-like worlds of the Italian South, her redoubtable skills as a writer, the swarming opacity of the mystery that enshrouds her, her ‘voice’, defying every categorisation, or even personification, will instantly pick up the familiar echoes and sounds of her previous books as they leaf through the pages of...
Survivor rage

Survivor rage

David Hare succumbed to Covid-19 last March, as the UK government continued to dither over following the rest of Europe into lockdown. He contracted it in the confines of a cramped Soho editing room, and was soon experiencing a shortage of breath followed by complex symptoms he describes as “kicking around like I’ve swallowed a...
The Fiume Endeavour

The Fiume Endeavour

In existence: 1919–20 Population: 60,000 Languages: Italian, Hungarian, German, Venetian Cause of death: tails Today: part of Croatia In the aftermath of World War I, the Big Four powers redrew the map of Europe with the (100 per cent successful) aim of preventing any more trouble in the Balkans. The largely Italian-speaking Fiume ended up...