8 December 2020 Emily Johns

Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE. Tues — Sun until 8 March. Free.

Play Well is a wonderful, joyful, mind-prodding exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in Central London on the importance of play in child development, in mental healthiness and emotional resilience.

It reaches from Rousseau’s treatise on education to computer gaming. The pedagogies of play shaped Paul Klee’s art, Buckminster Fuller’s design, the Bauhaus movement and Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture and from town planning to identity politics toys and psychotherapy.

Above all, through the lens of this innate instinct…

19 November 2020 Pascal Ansell

Verso, 2019; 272pp; £16.99

‘The B Word’. On a recent trip back to the UK from my adopted home of Portugal I was warned-off from using it. For Brexit has become a site of psychic trauma that forces its sufferers into what James Meek terms ‘a horribly demoralising reconfiguration of their sense of themselves.’

It has revealed a side to England that was always there - and that left liberals didn’t listen hard enough to detect. Something that was allowed to happen, more as a failure of the left than a victory of the right.

Brexit's convoluted course across…

18 November 2020 Fiorella Lecoutteux

PM Press, 2018; 128pp; £11.99

The physician and award-winning writer Michael Blumlein, started his career as a medical researcher in San Francisco. Published in 1988, his first science fiction novel, The Movement of Mountains, set the tone for his subsequent work: short stories, essays and novels merging science fiction, fantasy and horror and featuring his own signature perspective on the human species. His stories are imbued with a deep sense of social justice and individual freedom - as well as a good dose of humour.

This collection gives us a…

28 September 2020 Gabriel Carlyle

Granta, 2019; 192pp; £12.99

In the afterword to this, her latest collection of essays, Rebecca Solnit describes her book as ‘in a sense, transcripts of my side of some conversations with the society around me as it undergoes tumultuous changes, with the changemakers winning some remarkable battles against the forces trying to protect the most malevolent parts of the status quo as it crumbles away’. These include both ‘seismic activity in feminism, racial justice, climate action’ (among other movements) and ‘changing the public landscape right down to the street names…

1 June 2020 Gabriel Carlyle

Houghton Mifflin, 2020; 292pp; £30 

Though their names would barely be recognised today, for two decades few months would pass when Rose Pastor Stokes and her husband Graham did not appear in the newspapers. Indeed, according to one newspaper clipping service, for several years Rose’s name ‘was mentioned more often in the press than that of any other woman in the United States’.

The reasons for her (and their) fame are not hard to fathom. A poor Russian immigrant to the US, in 1905, at the age of 26, Rose married a member of one of the country’s richest families – the…

1 June 2020 Penny Stone

No Masters, 2020; 49 mins; £16.75 inc p&p, available at

Describing itself as a ‘wondering-about-the-state-of-the-nation album’, this CD does more than just wonder.

Untied Kingdom poses questions to us all, while offering a strong sense of community and camaraderie with which to explore them.

The album opens with the sound of voices arriving to sing together; background chat that makes you feel that you have arrived in the room and are part of it.

Every song has the beautiful, strong Yorkshire voice you would expect to hear, while striding through notions of past,…

1 June 2020 Fiorella Lecoutteux

OR Books, 2019 ; 273pp ; £16; available online here

This is a rich and compelling examination of Daniel Defoe’s 1719 literary classic Robinson Crusoe - the story of a shipwrecked man who survives on a desert island for 28 years, two months and 19 days.

Read in turn as a realistic adventure story, a spiritual pilgrimage and a parable about the rise of the economic capitalist, Crusoe has become ‘one of the most influential [books] in and beyond the Western world… exercising a profound impact not just on literature but also on how succeeding generations debated the…

1 December 2019 Erica Smith

Matador, 2017; 210pp; £13.99

The sub-title of this book condenses a complex life into a compact haiku.

The author was born in London in 1965 to a Colombian mother and a father with Hungarian heritage. Charlie Kiss is his real name, but when he was born, his birth certificate identified him as female. He lived as a lesbian until his early 30s when he realised that he was transgender. It took until 2007 for him to complete his transition.

The early part of Charlie’s life saw him growing up playing with other boys, loving football (before girls were…

1 December 2019 Henrietta Cullinan

Democratic Thought, 2019; 528pp; £10

In this substantial collection of essays and poems, Daniel Jakopovich proposes a personal philosophy of peace, developed through years of education and intellectual enquiry. It is the work of a courageous writer who consistently asks the awkward questions of peacemaking and pursues them without fear.

The essential ingredients, drawn from sociology, history, and the work of peacemaking men and women, are progressively revealed, as the book explores periods of change in countries such as the former Yugoslavia, South Africa,…

1 December 2019 Pascal Ansell

Pluto, 2017; 256pp; £16.99

The term ‘austerity’ reminds me of comedian Stewart Lee’s quip that: ‘if political correctness has achieved anything, it’s forced the Conservatives to cloak their inherent racism in more creative language’.

This collection of essays brilliantly and engagingly covers everything from food and fuel poverty to welfare reforms and environmental degradation, reminding us that all spheres of life are affected by austerity measures.

Infant mortality rates have risen for the last four years in England, and we witness the elderly…

1 December 2019 Claire Poyner

Bodley Head, 2019; 448pp; £20

I remember encountering a male brain/female brain questionnaire at a museum and not being surprised to find the results showing that my brain was somewhere in the middle. After all, I do tend to be a bit of a nerd about some things considered typically male.

However, it turns out that there is really is no such thing as a ‘male brain’ or a ‘female brain’.

It’s a myth – one of many myths about gender and the human brain that Gina Rippon explodes in this book, drawing on the latest science. (She’s a neuroscientist,…

1 December 2019 Gabriel Carlyle

Common Sense for the 21st Century, 2019; 80pp; £6

According to a recent poll, nearly two-thirds of the British public now believe that climate change is ‘the biggest issue facing mankind’ and over half say that the issue will either ‘greatly’ or ‘somewhat’ influence who they are likely to vote for in a general election – a major shift in public opinion.

Much of the credit for this must go to Extinction Rebellion (XR). And much of the credit for XR’s creation must, in turn, go to its co-founder Roger Hallam.

Indeed, much of what XR has been doing over the past 12 months is…

1 December 2019 Fiorella Lecoutteux

University of Chicago Press, 2018; 272pp; £17

This is a book about farmed animals: about their exploitation and the complex web of factors that serves to normalise this exploitation. Kathryn Gillespie invites us to re-think our relationship to non-human animals and to how their lives have been co-opted for human consumption.

From the outset, she challenges some common assumptions about the dairy industry.

First and foremost, the myth that cows always produce milk.

Just like other mammals, dairy cows only produce milk to feed their children. However,…

1 December 2019 Ian Sinclair

Pluto Press, 2019; 272pp; £14.99

The headline findings from this new study of the Labour Party’s anti-semitism controversy are astonishing.

Between June 2015 and March 2019 eight national newspapers printed a massive 5,497 stories mentioning Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and anti-semitism.

A Survation poll commissioned by the authors in March 2019 found ‘on average people believed that a third of Labour Party members have been reported for anti-semitism’ when ‘the actual figure was far less than one per cent.’

The two things are connected, of course,…

1 October 2019 Ian Sinclair

Verso, 2019; 624pp; £25

In this book, Cambridge university academic Priyamvada Gopal confronts the now infamous 2014 YouGov poll which found 59 percent of Britons thought the British empire was ‘something to be proud of’.

Resistance to empire was frequent, she notes, with connections formed between critics of imperialism based in the UK and rebels in the colonies.

Furthermore, Gopal argues that a form of ‘reverse tutelage’ took place, as insurgents and the movements they led helped to shape the discussion back in the UK: ‘the resistance of…