Book review: Why Freud Was Wrong, by Richard Webster

The prestige once enjoyed by psychoanalysis may have declined considerably from the level it had attained in the first half of the twentieth century, but it still is practised as a therapy. And in addition, psychoanalytic theory continues to be influential in literary criticism and other cultural activities. Many of Freud’s ideas have seeped into common parlance (‘Freudian slip’) and terms such as ‘complex’ are used by people who may have little if any idea of their provenance. It’s still quite common to find Freud’s name cited alongside those of Galileo and Darwin as one of the thinkers responsible for a series of radical revolutions in how we humans understand our place in the Universe; Galileo showed that the Sun, not the Earth, was the centre of the solar system; Darwin told us we were part of the animal kingdom and descended from apes; and Freud revealed that much of our mental life is unknown to us and takes place in the hidden depths of the Unconscious. But does Freud deserve his place in this pantheon? Yes and no, according to Webster.  Continue reading.


Book review: The Diet Myth, by Tim Spector

Spector is professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College, London, where he specialises in twin studies, genetics and epigenetics, and diet. Readers of his earlier book Identically Different will know that he is also interested in the human microbiome—the innumerable microbes that live on and especially inside us, and this is a central preoccupation in the present book. Spector believes that it is the key to understanding why diets to control our weight nearly always fail in the long run. Continue reading

Book review: D-Day, by Antony Beevor

This book covers the invasion of Europe by the Allies from the landings in Normandy to the liberation of Paris. As the subtitle indicates, most of the space is devoted to the fighting in Normandy. This was almost unimaginably savage, not least for the French civilians. ‘It is a sobering thought that 70,000 French civilians were killed by allied action during the course of the war, a figure which exceeds the total number of British killed by German bombing.’ Yet the ‘cruel martyrdom of Normandy’ spared the rest of France. Continue reading

Book review: Riverita, by Armando Palacio Valdes [in Spanish]

This is a coming-of-age novel, a bildungsroman. Its hero, Miguel Rivera, is a slightly-built young man of wit and charm who receives the nickname Riverita (a diminutive). We first meet him when, as a young boy, he is notified by his uncle that his widowed father is about to remarry. His new stepmother is a beautiful woman from Seville who takes an instant dislike to him and soon manages to have him packed off to boarding school. However her daughter Julia (Julita) proves to be a very different character and her loving relationship with Miguel is an important element in the story. Continue reading

Book review: The Gathering Storm, by Winston S. Churchill

This is the first volume of Churchill’s six-volume memoir of the Second World War. It is in two parts. Book I describes events in the years preceding the outbreak of war and Book II deals with the start of the war. I initially published the reviews of each part separately but here they are combined as one review.  Read more



Book review: Replay, by Ken Grimwood

It would be a disservice to readers to classify this as genre fiction (science fiction, fantasy or whatever). It is good enough to stand up in its own right as fiction pure and simple, and fiction of very high quality at that. It is also a metaphysical novel, but one that avoids any direct allusion to metaphysics. It’s a book I find I can reread at intervals: a good test indeed. Read more

Book review: The Pursuit of the Millennium, by Norman Cohn

This important book was first published in 1957 and has hardly ever been out of print since then. Cohn’s main intention ‘was to show how again and again, from the eleventh to the sixteenth century, some freelance prophet would proclaim that, in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth, the Jews, the clergy, or else all the property-owners, must be exterminated; and to describe what happened then’. Since Cohn wrote many studies of the subject by others have followed but this book continues to be read and discussed.  Continue reading

Book review: The Secrets of Station X, by Michael Smith

When Winston Churchill published Their Finest Hour, the second volume of his memoir of the second world war, in 1950 he made no mention of Ultra, the programme to decrypt the German cipher system that had been carried out at Bletchley Park. This was not an oversight, of course. The total secrecy that characterised this huge enterprise was not relaxed at the end of the war; not until 1974 did it become generally known.  Read more

Book review: The Problems of Philosophy, by Bertrand Russell

This short book is over a hundred years old but it reads surprisingly freshly. All the same, it isn’t light reading. It tackles a number of philosophical questions, mostly connected with theory of knowledge. Although it’s intended for a non-professional audienc, Russell expects his reader to work quite hard. But the difficulties arise from the ideas themselves and not from Russell’s writing, which as always is clear and humorous. Worth the effort. Read more