Newsletter No. 24: ‘Unclassifiable’

Rich Text



Next Tuesday, 14th December, will mark the 20th anniversary of the untimely death of one of my favourite writers, the UK-based German emigrant W.G. Sebald. If you’ve read any of Sebald’s work, you won’t need any recommendation from me. If you haven’t, you’ll just have to take my word for it that you’re missing out. I won’t try to describe Sebald’s writing, as everyone else who does inevitably ends up resorting to the adjective unclassifiable. (You see—even I’m doing it!) I have, however, put together a page of links to my reviews of Sebald-related books, in case you’re interested. I particularly recommend the first three books on the list, which I consider to be masterpieces.

Some stuff I thought worth sharing:

  1. Loss of ancient grazers triggered a global rise in fires
    A new study suggests the loss of prehistoric grazing species triggered a dramatic increase in fire activity in the world’s grasslands. (And, on a surprisingly related topic, YouTuber and author John Green explores why avocados still exist.)
  2. Ten ways to confront the climate crisis without losing hope
    It’s easy to despair at the climate crisis, or to decide it’s already too late. Rebecca Solnit suggests how to keep the fight alive.
  3. The problem so hard we had to invent new numbers
    A nicely explained video about the invention/discovery of complex numbers. Don’t be put off, even if you haven’t a clue what on earth a complex number might be: this video will give you some appreciation of the issues involved.
  4. On Mistaking Whales
    A nice piece of nature/place writing in which historian Dr Bathsheba Demuth visits the Bering Strait.
  5. An ancient solar storm has helped pinpoint when Vikings settled in North America. By a spooky coincidence, the answer turns out to be precisely 1,000 years ago this very year. The detailed new study in the science journal ‘Nature’ is accompanied by a handy animated video and podcast episode (In related news, another new study suggests the Vikings also made it to the Azores.)
  6. Unfreezing the ice age: the truth about humanity’s deep past
    Archaeological discoveries are shattering scholars’ long-held beliefs about how the earliest humans organised their societies—and hint at possibilities for our own.
  7. An audience with Richard Mabey
    A filmed conversation with veteran British nature writer Richard Mabey.
  8. Jeff Young in conversation with Horatio Clare
    Jeff Young, the author of the wonderful Ghost Town, talks about a lost Liverpool with his friend, author and broadcaster Horatio Clare.
  9. ‘Swish! Swish! Swish!’ by Patrick Leigh Fermor
    Dominic West reads Patrick Leigh Fermor’s piece about the olive harvest on the Mani peninsula in Greece, written in the 1950s but first published in 2021. (The text is also available via the link.)
  10. Chess Network’s surname-less U.S. National Master, Jerry, has been providing excellent match-by-match, retrospective video analysis of the current World Chess Championship between the defending champion, Norway’s Magnus Carlsen, and Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi. If you’d like to gain some appreciation of just how much better these chaps are at chess than you and me, this is a wonderful way to start. (Alternatively, some viewers have been known to make use of Jerry’s laid-back, dulcet tones to overcome insomnia.)

Recent Reading

More book reviews »

And finally…

Work on my Darwin book continues at a less-than-breakneck speed. But managing to continue without breaking your neck is a good thing, right? Recently, I’ve been diving deep into the evolution of the human eye: a subject on which, Darwin is forever being selectively quoted to give the impression he thought it could never have happened. Of course, he thought no such thing. Turns out the eye is such a useful organ, it has evolved many, many times.

Stay safe, thanks for subscribing, and I’ll see you next time.


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