‘The Great Pretender’ by Susanah Cahalan

Anyone who has an interest in mental illness, how it is diagnosed and treated, and especially an interest in society’s attitude to psychiatric practice will enjoy this book. It concerns the study published in Science in 1973 called “On being sane in insane places” by David Rosenhan, then professor of Psychology and Law at Stanford University. In summary this study purported to report on the fates of eight pseudo-patients who presented to psychiatric hospital. They reported hearing auditory hallucinations of a word such as “Thud” or a phrase such as “its hollow inside“. After this report, they behaved entirely normally without feigning any symptoms or exhibiting any unusual behaviour. The study reported that they were all admitted and diagnosed as mentally unwell (usually as having schizophrenia) and during weeks of admission given treatment for these conditions. The study suggested that psychiatrists could not distinguish between the sane and the insane, between health and mental illness.

This study shook psychiatry and mental health services to their core. At the time, following the work of the likes of Thomas Szasz (‘The Myth of Mental Illness’) and Erving Goffman (‘Asylums’), this seemed to give support and credence to the anti-psychiatry movement and provoked widespread, comprehensive and much needed change into the provision of in-patient psychiatric services. It was probably one of the prime drivers for the development of the DSM-III system of diagnosis which, at the time, helped address some of the major failings of psychiatric diagnosis.

I recall when I was a lecturer in psychological medicine referring to this study when lecturing to medical undergraduates, or psychiatric postgraduates, to try and inculcate a sense of shame that the profession was able to perform so poorly and fail our patients so badly.As a simple study with a blindingly obvious outcome it was very valuable.

However, it seems I may have been wrong. Without giving too much away this book looks into the study and checks the veracity of the reports. The author had a personal experience of psychiatric mis-diagnosis when she fell ill with autoimmune encephalitis and presented with psychotic symptoms. This kindled, in her, an interest in diagnostic accuracy and the interface between mental and physical illness and prompted her to look at this landmark study. Early in her research she noted significant defects in the study which she then started to explore. As the author follows clues, leading to the uncovering major flaws in the study, this book reads as easily as detective fiction. Although I suppose I should really class it as a true crime drama.

There is clear evidence that the ‘facts’ as reported are not the fact as they occurred. It is clear that some pseudo-patients actively feigned mental illness and threatened self-harm to capture the psychiatrists’ attention. The reports were also selectively reported so that positive or helpful experiences of psychiatric care were deliberately omitted from the published report. There is some, equivocal, evidence that Rosenhan was actively fraudulent in creating stories out of thin air to support his theories.

It is sad when our heroes turn out to have feet of clay. We feel duped when we discover the facts that were presented to us, and which we acted on, were misleading. However, many of the changes that followed this study were needed and one could argue that a “good lie” was more effective than many dry studies in forcing a change in the psychiatric services. I still hope that when people read the study they will think “how can we avoid problems like that ?“. However, a ‘good lie’ may prompt change but it is not a useful compass for what direction that change should take. We will all be glad to see that some of the bad practices are gone but this study did not help us see the positive aspects of “asylum” nor how we can preserve these. It lead us to throw the baby out with the bath water.

It is true that there are many less in-patient beds for patients with mental illness and that hospitals no longer degrade patients as they did. However, we now have many more psychiatric patients in prisons, nursing homes and general medical wards. Often the care here is poorer than that of the old institutions and I fear that the many mentally ill patients trapped in prisons are experiencing degrading and unpleasant treatment the equal of that in a seventies mental health hospital. In some senses we have just changed the nurse into a prison warder and the locked ward into a prison cell – the place and person may have changed but the crime hasn’t.

To improve the treatment of the mentally ill we need not only to understand mental illness better but also to understand better our own attitudes towards it. Although I will miss using this study in a ‘fire and brimstone’ talk about diagnostic accuracy I would (were I still teaching) have to be very cautious referring to it now. When we think we understand, but don’t, we are at the greatest risk of making mistakes. As this book reveals, even with good intentions, a prejudiced and dishonest look at the facts helps no-one in the long run.

Purple Prose?

Our present political life is seriously damaged. Many people are now looking for the centre having found that the main parties have migrated away from them to the edges. Life on the edge has damaged our mainstream parties. The Labour Party has become increasingly censorious and illiberal seeing a need for the state to increasingly intervene in the lives of us all. Further, following the principle of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” it has developed nasty antisemitic traits in response to the problems in the middle east. The Tories on the right, on the other hand, have seen its perfectly correct support for freedom of speech and individual liberty used as a cover by racists and bigots (people less concerned with the right of free expression than pleased with the opportunity to say hateful and spiteful things under the cover of free speech). Neither of the main parties now are without problems and I am sure that many, like myself, find themselves politically homeless.

You can find the centre by going left from the right-hand side or by heading right from the left-hand side. However, the centre is distinct from both of its containing edges. I am not sure if these movements from the two sides will ever find the middle but it was in the hope that they may that I read the flowing two books over the last month or so. From the Left there is “Blue Labour: Forging a new politics” and on the right we have “Red Tory : How the left and right have broken Britain and how we can fix it“. I read these in that order, Blue then Red, although this is the reverse order in which they were published. There was five years between the books; Red Tory was published 2010 and Blue Labour in 2015 but despite this they tackle largely the same themes.

The similarity of the books is the most striking aspect; large aspects of either book could be transposed into the other with little upset whatsoever. Both are aware that the traditional working class has been abandoned by the main parties and we have a major problem of an large portion of our population in the post-industrial areas feeling alienated and ignored. They both also recognise the increasing disengagement of this group, who feel and behave as disenfranchised, and the danger that this poses to our society through the mechanism of populist parties from both extremes.

Both books see the need to review our approach to nationalism. Both feel patriotism and nationalism can act a valuable bulwark against the problems of globalisation. Both books promote the nation state and internationalism as the antidote to the excesses of global capitalism. On the left by limiting the powers of the state and corporations, and on the right by limiting the excesses of the market when corrupted by monopolies, cartels and state intervention. Both agree – ‘smaller is better’.

The fate of the family is prominent in both books and both are alarmed by the damage that has been done to it. Blue Labour views the family as a basic building block of society which is particularly important to the poor and working as it provides the best support and safety They bemoan the weakening of the family in pursuit of greater economic productivity and also express concerns that the traditions of mutual support and communalism which grew in the working class movements are declining (Trade unions, mutual societies, building societies, friendly societiesare all examples of working class organisations). The Red Tory also worries that these aspects of our society are changing, and fears that welfarism is replacing mutualism with the consequent risks of dependency and loss of autonomy.

Both books see the increasing inequality in our society as a major threat to our future. We are splitting into a society of “haves” and “owes”; the rich are becoming much richer and the poor are increasingly in debt. So even though we have more possessions it is hard to see that we are that much richer. As Red Tory reminded us of Belloc’s view :-

“For to own something on credit I not to own it at all, and since no security of tenure is available by rent, those who seek some primary foundation or asset in the world have little choice but to buy into a form of ownership that converts its possessor into a debtor”

Red Tory pp49

The housing bubble that first burst in 2008 has left most of us in debt and working to serve this. All members of the family now have to work in the market, there is no room or members to stay at home and care for others, and despite this increased work we are not wealthier. The cheap goods that capitalism generates a little but increasing debt wipes this out and adds to the growing inequality. This has worsened since the mid-70’s and the boom years of Thatcher and Blair :-

Little wonder then that the golden age for waged workers in the OECD was not in this recent allegedly great age of prosperity, but between 1945 and 1973, when they gained the greatest percentage share of GDP for their labour and enjoyed greater real purchasing power

Red Tory, pp 49

It is interesting to note that both books have strong religious influences. Blue Labour has a number of essays by prominent Christian thinkers and an introduction by Rowan Williams the prior Archbishop of Canterbury. Red Tory is written by an author who is an Anglican theologian as well as political theorist. There are shades of “distributionism“, in both books, as they try to find a path to more widely distribute assets between us all and steer a way between socialism and capitalism. There are perhaps modern echoes of the “Three Acres and a cow” proposed by G.K. Chesterton.

Both books are worth reading and I hope will have influence on their respective groups. I found the “Red Tory” more readable than “Blue Labour” as it was written by a single author and was consequently more consistent and coherent. But the ideas in both, on the need to curb increasing inequality, to promote society and constrain the state, and to use nations and locality to limit the influence of global capital, are well addressed in both books.

Serendipitous Arboreal Knowledge

You never know when good luck will find you. This week it appeared when I was standing aimlessly in the charity shop while my wife was looking at curtains. There seemed to be an enormous amount of inspection required to check these window hanging and my spirits were beginning to flag. I thought I had checked all the possible wares on display that might interest me. But I was wrong. Hiding in amongst all the paperbacks, concealed between the Lee Childs and the Judy Picoult’s, was a little gem : “Trees: Shown to Children” by C.E. Smith.

This little book, probably published around 1910 as far as I can determine, was one of the “Shown to children series”; a series of short educational works for children. Other works concerned ‘Beasts’, ‘The Seashore’ and ‘The Farm’. It is a simple book; each chapter is the description of a tree and these are accompanied by 32 colour pictures (by Janet Harvey Kelman) of the tree, its leaves, flowers and nuts.

The descriptions are wonderfully vivid and really make it very easy to identify tree types. The descriptions are followed by detailed information about the tree’s life cycle, its place in the local ecology and the uses of its produce and timber. Consider a little of description of the aspen below :-

But you will always know an Aspen tree by its leaves. These are never still unless when a storm is brooding and the air is perfectly calm; at all other times they shake and quiver incessantly, and you can hear the gentle rustle they make as each leaf rubs against its neighbour. In the Scottish Highlands the country people tell you that the Aspen trembles because at the Crucifixion the cross of Christ was made of Aspen, and the tree must always shudder at the cruel purpose it served.

In addition to evocative portrayals of the trees there are also passages which promote an interest and sympathy with nature. Any child (even one in his 60’s like me) will find pleasure from reading this.

And do you remember what secrets the trees told us as we lay under their shady branches on the hot midsummer days, while the leaves danced and flickered against the blue, blue sky? Can you tell what was the charm that held us like a dream in the falling dusk as we watched their heavy masses grow dark and gloomy against the silvery twilight sky ?

He had learned that the mystery of tree life is one with the mystery that underlies our own; that we share ths mystery with the sea, and the sun, and the stars,and that by this mystery of life the whole world is “bound with gold chains” of love “about the feet of God”

I hope I am wrong but I fear that books like this, heavy with information and lacking in action and adventure, will be found to be less interesting to young readers today. I have, instead, to hope that google and the internet will kindle their interest in the natural world and start them on their journey outside to look at the beauty of the world around them.

In any event, the child in me really enjoyed being shown these trees and this has certainly been the best 50p I have spent in a long time. I will certainly keep my eyes peeled for the other books in the series. And, as a further stroke of good fortune, my wife didn’t buy the curtains in the long run)

Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq

I have not found a book so initially distasteful as this since I read Bret Easton Ellis’s “American Psycho“. I had to persevere at the beginning as much of the content was so unpleasant that it created a visceral emotional response. However, I am glad I persevered as, after a time, the satire of capitalism and consumerism was well worth reading. There are similarities between American Psycho and this book but Houellebecq’s satire is much more wide ranging and scathing. Rather than having an aspect of our society in its sights this book takes aim at the entirety of Western Culture.

This is a book about the end of our culture; a look at the end of a millennium that ‘had previously been known as Judeo-Christian’ and one that appears to be ‘one millennium too many, in the way that boxers have one fight too many’. This is a book about a culture which has lost its sense of love and purpose and has been left only with its desires and the consequential emptiness that this brings.

The narrator, of this story, has little that makes life worth living and only survives, after a fashion, by taking antidepressants to try and keep his brain biochemistry in the range where life is tolerable. He has lost love, both personal erotic love and also agape: the positives of life are absent. Similarly the negatives of life are no longer felt. He knows (intellectually) many things are wrong but he cannot feel appropriate anger or disgust. This is truly a nihilistic story. This is the story of a man, and a culture, who have huge gaping holes at the centre of their being which no amount of sex, pornography, eating or violence can fill. They are left with suicide as the rational options.

Despite these themes the book is well written and at times beautifully lyrical. It is also often very, very funny. A black desperate humour runs through this tale. This may be a problem to some readers as the author’s misanthropy and disgust with our cultural changes is very well described and it can be difficult to see, in back and white, just how debased some aspects of our lives have become. Many will find this story too excessive and gruesome, however, if you can stomach it, then it is a worthwhile read. Indeed, by the end, of this torrent of sadness and depravity the narrator, and reader, discover that only love and self-sacrifice really matter.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Donald Trump is the president of the United States of America. This is a difficult fact to comprehend. How did this come about ? What changes have occurred in American society that lead to this ? This book as been touted as having some of the answers to this; how large groups of voters came to feel alienated from regular society and shifted to voting for Donald Trump. In the hope for answers, and some possible clarity, I thought I’d give this book a try.

First things first, this book does not answer this question. The answer to the question on the lips of people across the globe is not to be found in this autobiography. I fear that decades from now we will still be debating and analysing the changes that occurred , across the globe, and trying to formulate answers as to how right-wing, rather than left-leaning, populism captured the public spirit.However, despite this I’d still think that you should read this book as it does give a valuable insight into cultural changes that have occurred in the last few generations in America and which are important in the populist revival. The political analysis is slight, and debatable, but the social commentary is very valuable.

This is an autobiography written by a relatively young man. His story is interesting as he has overcome considerable adversity to improve his lot, to ensure that his troubled upbringing didn’t determine his future. It is a life that has shown the promise of social mobility and how it is possible to break from the grip of poverty. As such, it is a very emotional story with pages of great sadness when we consider his tempestuous and troubled early days, but great warmth when we discover that he does manage to overcome these.

It is a little like ‘Angela’s Ashes’ with prescription drug abuse taking the place of alcoholism and Appalacia taking the stead of Ireland. Perhaps the most striking thing about the story is how universal it is. This is the story of disadvantaged working class people. Although set firmly in Hillbilly territory I could read it as the story of the Scottish working class, the marginalised black working class, or any of the other groups who now form the inhabitants of “fly-over country“. The ex-heavy industry workers in the North East of England, those who have deserted Labour and voted Brexit, will see echos of their actions in the actions of the American ex-steel workers leaving the Democrats and voting for Trump.

J.D. Vance perhaps thinks that these changes are too universal. He doesn’t recognise that he is rather unusual in that he has managed to break free from this system. He tends, at times, to sound as if he is saying “if I did it, so can you” and not to recognise that he is a rather unusual individual who has managed to do what most of us do not.

But his description of life at the bottom is very telling and helpful. Poverty is still with us. Relative material poverty is possibly inescapable but this continues to bedevil our society. However, this is the type of poverty easiest to deal with it is simply a redistribution of wealth that is required. But there is a worse form of poverty, which is harder to treat, and this is cultural and moral poverty. This is the type of poverty which keeps the inequality and worsens it.

This is the poverty of ambition and expectation when people think there is nothing better to be had. It is the poverty of labour when people do not have work to give their lives meaning. The importance of work can not be overestimated, it is not chance that the name of the socialist party in the UK is “the Labour Party” as it is labour which gives us meaningfulness in our lives. Even if welfare states met our every material need, if we do not have work we can’t develop relationships, develop a feeling of status in society, and a sense of pride. In the 70’s we campaigned on the left for “The Right to Work” this is much more important than any handout, however organised.

The poverty of family and community is also factor. The family has always been a bulwark against the excesses of capitalism and our refuge. We now find support for the family as an uncomfortable idea feeling it is antiquated and old fashioned moralizing. However, before we jettison the family it might behove us to think what is going to replace the support it clearly gave.

Working class communities used to be a bedrock of support for those at the bottom of the heap.They organised burial societies, cooperatives, unions, savings societies, education groups and a myriad of other societies to offer mutual support. These will never be adequately replaced by a centralises state offering. This may replace the bread but it won’t replace the love or the dignity.

Bread and circuses‘ were used to keep the lower orders in their place in the past and in an increasingly unequal society this strategy is again coming to the fore. We are offered drugs, alcohol and pornography to keep our senses satiated and our desires low. If we are sedated, doped or post-coital we will be less likely to think our lives could, or should, be better. It is no surprise that the major dystopian novels of the last century warned us of a future when easy sex and easy drugs kept a population docile and cowed with the minimum of force.

This book does reveal what is happening to our culture and is a useful ‘view from the bottom’ about this. While it may not explain Trump, the advice to try and regain some of our working class ideals; the love of family, the sense of community and togetherness, the dignity of labour, and the importance of mutuality, might allow the left to rediscover it roots and help prevent the coming of a second Trump.

Am I Just My Brain by Sharon Dirckx

I was listening to an online debate which considered the topic of panpsychism (The idea that everything is conscious to some degree) when I heard about this book. As it seemed to consider that perennial, but vital, problem for philosophy of the “mind-brain” problem I decided to give it a try.

It is quite clearly a book of two parts. The first part considers the problem that are encountered when we try to take a simple materialistic viewpoint of the mind and the limitations that still exist when we adopt any of the dualist positions. These arguments are well described and the strengths and weakness of each position well delineated. In particular the problems we encounter with the issues of free will and personhood, when we adopt a unitary materialistic (You are your brain) position, are well made. This is a useful counterpoint to much of the current media which feels that this issue has been solved.

I can remember working through this period when the advances in the neurosciences seemed to leave little room for the mind. There seemed to be little need to consider the psyche as we could now explain everything by looking at the brain. Certainly this approach played great dividends in my specialised area (dementia) but it never seem to offer any hope of help to those poor souls troubled by purely turmoil in the mind. Indeed the only real change was that psychiatry seemed to change from being ‘brainless’ to become simply ‘mindless’.

The first part of the book is successful but the second half is, unfortunately, less so. The latter portion of the book takes the stance that, if there is evidence that consciousness is best looked in a non-material way (qualitatively rather than quantitatively), then we can take this as proof for the Christian beliefs. I found this much harder to take for two reasons. Firstly the arguments were less well laid out and argued and secondly I felt she presumed faith on the reader’s part. I think someone who is already a believer would find the statements convincing. However, a reader who does not already have religious faith (especially if this is not Christian) will find this half of the book heavy with statements lacking convincing support.

Overall, an interesting read, brief but engaging, initially at least.

The Truth About Dogs by Stephen Budiansky

The Truth About Dogs by Stephen Budiansky

If you decide to read this book, and I suggest that you do, then prepare to become quite annoying. This book is so packed full of interesting facts that it is likely that on every second page you will be nudging your partner and saying “Did you know that dogs .. .. ?” The facts will range from their skills smelling and seeing, through their social behaviour and cognitive structures, to their morals and their very genetic makeup. This is a wide ranging scientific book which attempts, and largely succeeds, in giving a potted summary what we know about ‘the dog’. Despite the scientific slant this is, however, a very easy book to read and at times can be quite humorous.

It is surprising that there are not more books on this subject. This symbiotic relationship between two different species is quite unusual and very special. The length of time that our species have cohabited is stunning and it appears that both ourselves, and the dogs, evolved together and we both influenced the development of the others evolution. The fossil evidence for dogs dates back around 14000 years; a burial site in Israel (Ein Mallaha) which was dated at around 12000 years ago shows that man and dog are well acquainted from the start. The burial site contained the remains of an elderly man, curled up, with his hand resting on the skull of a young puppy.

Not only is our relationship with the dog one of our earliest relationships it is also part of a very small and select group. Of the thousands of animals and birds which have inhabited the earth alongside us only about a dozen species have entered into a domestic relationship with man. It is probably fair to say, though a few weird cat people might disagree, that the relationship mankind has with the dog is of a magnitude greater than with any other animal.

It is not that there are not a lot of books about dogs, there are. But these are often ‘how to’ books (“How to train your Alsatian“), encomia to various breeds (“For the love of Spaniels“) or pop-psychology about the dogs’ mental state or yours (“What your dog is saying to you” or “How to live as an alpha male; being a wolf in a man’s world“). This book is not like these, it is a measured review of our current scientific knowledge and it tends to puncture quite a few commonly held myths about dogs especially in the area of language and dog psychology. However, as someone who has always lived with dogs, and whose dogs grace this page, I found this more hard-nosed approach all the more interesting.

The book tackles the idea of domestication, the idea that we tamed wolf pups to become dogs, and reveals that this is very unlikely to have been the case. We, as a species, did not domesticate the dog; the dog, as a scavenger, learnt how to carve a niche for itself and moved into our society. We may later have promoted different breeds by determined mating but prior to this there is no evidence that we created the dog by breeding from its forbearer the wolf.

The cognitive styles and communication of the dog are also considered and it is shown that it is not helpful to try and shoe-horn the dogs’ actions into explanations based on human cognition or conversation. It is very rarely appropriate and very commonly leads us to errors of judgement. Dogs are not partially developed humans and is best not to think of them in these terms. It may be occasionally helpful to think of them as a form frust of wolves. But,in any event, it is better to be aware of the research that has been done and use this exciting and interesting data to understand our friends. This would stop us making the many mistakes that other books anthropomorphism lead us to (Or worse, the mistakes when we analyse our behaviour on the basis of our behaviour being related to those of the dog or wolf pack).

There is so much information in this book it keeps the reader actively engaged. Readers who live with dogs will especially find items of interest and surprise on just about every page. Those readers will also end with a much better understanding of the dog than when they started. Those readers who are not fortunate enough to live with a dog will also find it enjoyable and may help them understand why their neighbours spend time picking up 2 millions tons of dog faeces annually in the United States or why they pay $5billion a year to feed these parasites who have moved in with them.

This is a book that explains dogs as dogs, not as some reflection of ourselves. It is important to remember this as, as the author notes, “If dogs truly were human, they would be jerks. As dogs, they are wonderful”

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

I anticipated I would enjoy this book. It has been widely lauded as an inspirational and warming story of an older couple facing and coping with adversity. It has won plaudits and awards and garnered five star reviews in newspapers and magazines. It is a memoir often described as life affirming and as being in touch with the land’s and nature’s beauty. I did indeed enjoy it, but perhaps a bit less than I had thought I might. It was a pleasant read but not a book I will recollect years from now nor one I will try and encourage people to seek out. A solid 3 stars out of 5, neither more nor less.

The story is a simple tale simply told. It concerns a couple who loose their home due to financial trickery and then are hit by the dreadful news that the husband has a slow, but ultimately terminal, neurodegenerative illness. With nowhere to live and nothing to do they decide to walk the South West Coastal Path, wild camping and living on the meagre social security benefits they had. During this time they rediscover what is important to them, rediscover each other and find that a different and better future is possible for them.

The writing is easy-going and, at times, evocative of the landscape around them. However, a lot of the times though the description may be factually accurate it falls flat and fails to convey any of the emotional impact of the surroundings. Chance encounters are described and are sometimes humorous but important events and details are entirely missed. (It seems implausible that their children, who rarely figure, would have such little contact given their parents’ homelessness and awful diagnosis). Occasional passages read like direct cut and paste insertions after a google search on the problems on homelessness and a number of the characters are too much like stereotypes to be believable. Particularly towards the end of the book there are a number of coincidences that truly strain the readers credulity.

I enjoyed the book and am happy that, on their summer trek, this couple did find a way out of their dire situation. It was heart warming to know that it ended well for them but ultimately I don’t think their story tells lessons from which we all can learn. The homilies don’t reveal much new. Other readers have obviously seen much more in the book that I was able to, so it is quite possible you may enjoy it more than I did.

White shift. Populism, Immigration and the Future of White Majorities. Eric Kaufmann

White shift. Populism, Immigration and the Future of White Majorities. Eric Kaufmann

This is a book about ‘whiteness’, what it is to be white in our curent society, what it may be like to be white in the future, but it is a book with a difference. The difference, which feels taboo breaking, is that he looks at the issue of the major ethnographic changes and includes the viewpoint of those that are white. It looks at the fears that they may have for their future and how these may be driving current populist politics.

White Shift by Eric Kaufmann

The book attempts, and largely succeeds, to look at this issue from a dispassionate viewpoint. It is not a book which looks at whiteness in order to clarify some other issue, and although issues such as empire, racism, slavery, and inequality rightly are addressed they are not the sole lens though which this analysis is made.

This attempt at objectivity, while it is the root of the book’s success is also its achilles heel and its ultimate failure. Many reviewers have commented on the magisterial and mammoth amount of data collection that the book contains. No statement is made without reams of data to support and buttress it. While this does make it possible to accept many of his observations and conclusions it also means that this is extremely heavy reading. This reads like a heavy reference tome not like a political book. So while I can say I found this book interesting I can not say I found an easy or pleasant read.

An important strand of the book is the current failure to look at these changes in an impartial way. The inability of most commentators to understand that people may be upset or anxious about the changes they see to their communities brought about by demographic change. The dismissal of these concerns, and the lazy assumption that these worries simple reflect racism, is shown to be a potent driver of support for populist political groups.

The book makes a good case that the future should not be bleak. All evidence suggests we accomodate to change and further manage to create better societies a consequence. But, if we ignore this change, or mishadle or responces to it, as we are currently doing, we may stoke the very problems we seek to avoid.

So in summary, a worthwhile and valuable read, if not a very enjoyable one. Perhaps one for the reference shelves.

‘I saw a man’ by Owen Sheers

Owen Sheers is one of the best writers working in Britain at the moment. As a poet, dramatist, playwright and novelist he is at the top of his form. There are few who can match him as a story teller. He is certainly the equal of Ian McEwan and in this book he shows some clear similarities in style. Perhaps, unusually he is the first person to become the writer in residence for the Welsh Rugby Union. Though this is not inappropriate for a man who played scrum half for Gwent County and, when a student, captained the Oxford University Modern Pentathlon team.

But why am I spending so much time talking about the author. The reason is simple. I think you should read his books especially either his first one “Resistance” or his most recent novel, this one, “I Saw A Man”. It is difficult to review this novel without giving too much away and spoiling the book for a future reader and hence I have padded this review with some autobiography and the hope that this and his clear credentials might tempt people to try the book.

This book has a number of interwoven tales where the protagonists deal with the issues of loss, grief, guilt, accidental tragedy and the hopes for redemption. The book can be read as a thriller with a mystery revealed in the first few pages which is then followed by a tense ride as the sequence of events is uncovered. The links between events become clear and there is great satisfaction in their denouement. I, like many other reviewers, read this book in one sitting it is so captivating. The links may not seem obvious, between a drone operative in Creech Air force base in Nevada and a young girl falling down stairs in her London home for example, but they are never contrived or stretched.

However, much more impressive than being an effective taut thriller it is also a wonderfully well written book about grief and guilt. He manages to write in a manner that brings the characters and their domestic circumstances to life. We can imagine them and empathize with them. Importantly we can see, and understand, the mistakes the characters make and perhaps this is where the novel is at its best; it lets us see and consider our own tendencies to self-deception.