Roland Barthes (Critical Lives) - Roland Barthes (1915-1980) is one of France's most important writers and theorists of the second half of the twentieth century. His volumes of essays have been translated into many languages. His work is hugely influential in the fields of semiotics, structuralism and numerous areas of the humanities. Yet Barthes' career, hampered by illness in early adulthood, was beset by a large number of false starts. After the Second World War
Albert Camus (Critical Lives) - One of France's most high-profile writers, Albert Camus experienced both public adulation and acrimonious rejection in a career cut short by a fatal car accident in 1960. From humble origins in a European family living in colonial Algeria, Camus established himself as a successful novelist, with best-selling titles such as The Outsider and The Plague coming to be translated into scores of languages and earning him a reputation as a figure who captured the mood
Ruins and Fragments: Tales of Loss and Rediscovery - For many of us, ruins are alluring, puzzling and endlessly fascinating: this elegant book seeks to explore why. What is it that makes us suspicious of works or histories that are too smooth, too continuous? Is it that urban experience is inherently discontinuous and fragmented, or that the only truths we can believe are partial ones? Ruins and Fragments guides us through ancient and modern worlds, sharing tales of loss, recovery…
A Philosophy of Pessimism - There are many reasons to despair over the state of the world today: climate change, war, terrorism, social injustice, and an utter failure by our political systems to fix them. Yet there will always be those frustrating optimists who counter such an outlook by citing developments such as modern medicine, democracy, and the global internet as signs that things are, and always have been, on the up and up.
The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War - A decimated Shiite shrine in Iraq. The smoking World Trade Center site. The scorched cityscape of 1945 Dresden. Among the most indelible scars left by war is the destroyed landscapes, and such architectural devastation damages far more than mere buildings. Robert Bevan argues here"that shattered buildings are not merely "collateral damage," but rather calculated acts of cultural annihilation.From Hitler's Kristallnacht to the toppling of…
The Great American Speech: Words and Monuments - Everyone knows the great American Dream: that America is the land of free enterprise, offering men and women without inherited advantages the chance to get ahead through hard work and self-reliance. Yet The Great American Speech offers an alternative vision, one enshrined in the country's most memorable speeches, which have become monuments in its national memory and literally in the nation's capital. This other American dream
Feasts and Fasts: A History of Food in India (Foods and Nations) - The second most populous country in the world after China and the seventh largest in area, India is unique among nations in its diversity of climates, languages, religions, tribes, customs and, of course, cuisines. Yet what is it that makes Indian food so recognizably Indian, and how did it get that way? India is at the centre of a vast network of land and sea trade routes - conduits for plants, ingredients, dishes and…
The Last of the Light: About Twilight - The Last of the Light is a meditation on twilight in the Western arts and imagination, in thought, painting and literature. It takes us across the threshold of day into dusk, an uncertain world haunted by Romantic poets and painters and the twilight lives of minority and 'overshadowed' communities. The melancholy of smoky English autumn evenings is balanced by the midnight sun of summers in northern latitudes, and the darkly oppressive heat of August
The Suit: Form, Function and Style - For over 400 years the tailored suit has dominated wardrobes the world over. Its simple forms, inspired by royal, military, religious and professional clothing, have provided a functional and often elegant uniform for modern life. But whether bespoke or tailor-made, on the street or in the office, during times of celebration or of crisis, we typically take the suit for granted, ignoring its complex construction and many symbolic meanings.The Suit unpicks
Adam Smith (Critical Lives) - Universally acknowledged as the father of capitalism, the eighteenth-century Scottish thinker Adam Smith (16 June 1723 - 17 July 1790) is best known for developing the concept of the 'invisible hand'. The 'hand' helped to explain how the removal of state regulation could set individuals free to specialise and pursue their own self-interest for the good of all. Unfortunately this idea was later manipulated by advocates of unfettered 'casino capitalism'