Just kidding

Niece Roz tweets:

Had enough of your relatives already? Don’t just think about murdering them – come along to @scarthinbooks tomorrow afternoon and talk about how you could actually– (Just kidding, Twitter. Just kidding)

Scarthin Books is, alas, in the Peak District, where Roz lives. This is impossibly far away from London, where I live. If she ever holds an event like this in London, I will definitely attend. I will make sure that all present know that she and I are related. Otherwise I will say little. I will concentrate on looking quietly attentive and quietly thoughtful.

Photo of Roz’s second Meg Dalton book here.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

A very responsible turkey

ABC News reports, with video:

This very responsible turkey halted traffic on a two-lane road in New Hampshire until the entire flock was able to cross.

Via Roz the Crime Fiction Writer, who says:

He has the exact demeanour of our old school lollipop lady.

Pigeons and foxes aren’t the only ones who have adapted to human civilisation.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Roz Watkins’s second book is out today

I read quite a while ago, because I got sent a proof copy. What do I think of it? Very good, and with one especially good moment near the end, which (spoiler alert: I’m about to say something about this moment) I thought was a very acute comment on the nature of human moral beliefs and intuitions, and which I thought was very well set up to achieve maximum dramatic impact.

As I have to keep explaining, Roz Watkins is my niece, that being why I keep plugging her books at this blog when most of what you see here is stuff about London and my photos of London.

Trouble is, writing about detective thrillers is a bit of a mug’s game. I am used to writing about books of the sort where you are allowed to go into the details of what the book actually says. If I find the argument presented in a book, of the kind I’m used to writing about, to be persuasive, then I can say so and say why. But when you are writing about a detective thriller, telling everyone what it says, and especially how it concludes, is a big no. Those who “review” books like this one seem often to be reduced to cliches, all about how they stayed up all night reading it, did not see the end coming, liked the general atmosphere, the leading characters, the dialogue, and so on and so forth, in pretty much those sorts of words. In particular, reviewers compete with each other to find out how many generalised adjectives they can deploy as a substitute for “very good” (see above).

So, yes, I think this book is very good, but if you want to know why I think that, you’ll have to read it. Even then, you might not discover, because maybe you’ll disagree with me. (At which point you too will be forbidden to explain in any detail why you didn’t like it.)

One thing I can say without any fear of giving away any plot details is that the title on the cover of this second book is a lot easier to read (light coloured lettering, mostly dark background) than the title of the first one (lightish lettering, light background) was. I thought that the first book, The Devil’s Dice, was very good, but I think this second one is a bit better, partly for the reason vaguely alluded to in the first paragraph of this, and partly because I found the politics of it (there is some politics, loosely defined (as in: not British party politics)) to be intriguing.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

More photos from Monday January 28th

The Monday before last really was a very good photoing day. (I’ve been calling it Sunday but actually it was Monday, Monday January 28th. I remember at the time being confused about what day it was.)

First, seconds after I had stepped out into the sunlight, there was this:

That being me, in among the branches of the tree.

Then, following further excitements yet to be revealed, there was this lighting effect. And then there were these smartphone-photoing ladies. And then these guys, also photoing, with another shadow selfie added by me onto their backs.

Then I went past the Wheel, and gave that the Wheel and Tree treatment:

And just before it got dark, I ended up at the top of the Tate Modern Extension.

When it was dark, I climbed into Blackfriars Station, and walked over the river to Blackfriars Tube. And enjoyed the view, with its weird reflections of the station in the sky above the City Cluster:

I love how the black sky turns blue in that.

But before I went home, I dropped in on Waterstones, in Piccadilly, to see if the newly released paperback version of The Devil’s Dice was on show. And it was:

I am finding it exhausting just thinking about that day, and how it ended. It was very cold, and the cold takes it out of you, by which I mean me.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

And another crowd scene (in a bookshop)

Earlier today, in the Derby branch of Waterstone’s:

Standing on the staircase, top left, in a black dress, is Roz Watkins, speaking at the launch of her crime thriller, published today, The Devil’s Dice.

I mention Roz and her book here because she is my niece. Another sign of getting old, to add to the collection: instead of boasting about elderly relatives who did great things in the past, e.g. WW2, you instead find yourself boasting about younger relatives who are doing great things now and who will probably do more great things in the future.

Roz sent me an advance copy of The Devil’s Dice and I am happy to report that I agree with all those effusively admiring Amazon reviewers. Very absorbing, very well written. I am now working on a longer piece about this book for Samizdata, which I hope will go up there tomorrow. If not then, then soon.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Bennett and Lotus on how Emmanuel Todd’s family provoked his Grand Theory of Everything

Regulars here, or for that matter there, will know that I have for many years now been at enthusiastic fan of the French historian and social scientist Emmanuel Todd. In recent years, this enthusiasm has at last started to become a bit more widespread.

Two of the world’s most important Todd-enthusiasts are now James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus. Quite a while ago now, they sent me an email flagging up a piece they had contributed to Hungarian Review, which contains some interesting biography about Todd, and about how his own particular family history contributed towards making him into the historian of the world that he later became.

Todd developed this grand theory, about how literacy triggers particular sorts of political upheavals in particular places, depending on Family Structure, and then when the political dust has settled fuels economic development, But what got Todd thinking about all this?

According to Bennett and Lotus, the starting point was: How Come The French Communists Are Doing So Badly And Never Seem To Do Any Better No Matter What They Try?

He was the product of an extended family of French Communist Party activists and journalists, and grew up hearing his father and relatives arguing around the kitchen table. Anglo-Americans had tended to regard the French Communist Party of that era as formidable, successful, and continually on the verge of seizing power. From the inside, Todd grew up hearing his family lament the eternal failure and futility of the Party. (He left the orthodox Communist movement quite early, and in fact was one of the first scholars to predict, in 1976, the coming collapse of the Soviet system.) For some reason, the Party was well established in certain regions, and completely without support in most others. The Socialists were dominant in others, and it was noticed that the same social classes would tend to support either Socialists or Communists, depending on the region, but never split between the two, and when they failed to support the one, would not switch to the other, preferring alternative parties. In other parts of France, neither party had a foothold, and the same social classes that supported either Socialists or Communists in their stronghold regions supported entirely different, and not particularly Marxist, parties. The reason for this split was constantly debated in Todd’s family circle, but no possible explanation seemed to hold water. It was a great mystery.

Once Todd began studies at Cambridge, and encountered what we are calling the Continuity School, he began developing a social analysis that perfectly predicted the voting patterns that had been such a mystery in his family’s kitchen debates. France is far from homogenous, and in fact is a patchwork of quite different cultures and family systems. When Todd saw the distribution of the various family systems of France, as established by inheritance rules and customs, he saw at once that both the Communist and Socialist electoral strongholds corresponded to the areas dominated by two distinct family systems. Where other systems prevailed, neither the Communists nor the Socialists could gain any real foothold.

You can see how Todd was perfectly primed to generalise the principle from France, and then England, to the entire world.

In the course of my Todd readings and meanderings, I probably was told (perhaps by Todd himself in his book about French politics (which I have long possessed (and which I see you can now get second hand for £2.81 (in English)))) that Todd had been raised by baffled and frustrated Communists. But I had not really taken it in.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog