Enter your search into one or more of the boxes below:
You can refine your search by selecting from any of the options below:
Your Shopping Basket
Total number of items: 0
Sub total: £0.00
Edit Basket Go to Checkout
Select Currency: $ £
The Snow Garden
Harry Potter Page
The Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr Punch
Signed Books and Copies
Animators Survival Kit


Find Blog:

November 2015

Editing TS Eliot
28th November 2015 - 12 Midnight

The life of TS Eliot and the history of publisher Faber & Faber are inextricably intertwined, with the poet serving on the board from its founding in 1929. As poetry editor, he brought poets such as WH Auden, Stephen Spender and Louis MacNeice to the list.


Faber have now published his Complete Poems, in two volumes, with editors Jim McCue and Christopher Ricks, who have scrupulously restored accidental omissions and removed textual errors that have crept in over a century of reprints.


Here , we interview Jim McCue about the work involved in producing the definitive edition of one of the 20th century's greatest poets.



Can you tell us about what this major literary project involved in terms of the research and editorial process?

There are hundreds of manuscripts in England and America, in libraries and in private collections, but there was no list of them all, so we had to track down those that gave us new poetry, as well as comparing all the others with the poems in their published form. (Handling the drafts was a great thrill and privilege, of course.) TSE’s letters and prose are full of information, from which we selected what is most relevant to the poems, to go into our Commentary, along with a great many facts and sources discovered by scholars over several decades.


How long did the project take to complete?

Nine years.


There are a number of unpublished poems in the book - what do these add to our understanding of Eliot?

They show him to have ranged even wider than we knew before, from versions of Lewis Carroll poems written as a child in the 19th century to what appears to be an attempt to imagine the Trenches during the Great War, then a parody of surrealism in the 1930s, verse letters to friends, and love poems for his second wife, Valerie, at the end of his life.


What were the most illuminating discoveries you made in the process of working on the book?

We were delighted to keep finding links between poems of very different kinds, sometimes written many years apart, suggesting that through all the changes and in all the moods of a lifetime, he had an exceptional coherence and power of mind. There are hundreds of new stitches, but it is the whole tapestry that matters. We were both surprised, for instance, to discover how many poems are preoccupied with war, even when ostensibly about something else. Memories of the Great War re-appear during the Second World War, in the writing of Four Quartets.


Could you tell us a little about the restored line in The Waste Land?

In the section called 'A Game of Chess', the published poem has the lines:

And if it rains, a closed car at four.

And we shall play a game of chess,

Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.

But between the second and third of these lines, the typescript had another: 'The ivory men make company between us'. It turns out that this was omitted at the insistence of Vivien Eliot, Eliot's first wife. He never printed it, but on three occasions after publication, he added it to the text, so we have reintroduced it and numbered it line 137a, which recognizes its spectral presence – and doesn’t interfere with the traditional line numbering.


Eliot Volume 2This year is the 100th anniversary of 'The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock'. Why does this poem continue to strike such a chord with readers?

Because of its siren voices and because it’s a poem that understands what it is to be misunderstood, which we all feel from time to time.


What is the story behind that poem and, in particular, its memorable name?

Well, we have 25 pages of Commentary on it, so it’s a long story. We were pleased to be able to document for the first time what Eliot said later when asked what the 'J' stood for in 'J Alfred Prufrock'...


Can you tell us about the origins of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats?

Ezra Pound came up with the nickname Possum, referring to Eliot's habit of 'possuming' – avoiding being pinned down by playing dead. Eliot liked the name, and even suggested The Possum as a title for his magazine (but on second thoughts called it The Criterion). He hated to be pinned down to a particular kind of poetry – he had no interest in repeating himself – so after he had written a few poems for his godchildren about cats, the idea of a book of children’s poems must have appealed to him. It certainly wasn’t what the public expected, but when some of the poems were broadcast at Christmas 1937, before publication, they proved very popular.


That work was noted by WH Auden as showing the 'practical joker' in Eliot, can you explain how Eliot uses humour in this work?

Slyly; on tiptoe.


2015 marked the 50th anniversary of Eliot's death; what are the enduring qualities of his work and why is his poetry still relevant today?

We worry nowadays about having ever more distractions and ever shorter attention spans. Nearly a century ago, Eliot wrote The Waste Land, which is the ultimate poem of fragmentation. Yet twenty years after that, despite the chaos of war and the Blitz, he summoned the concentration for a quite different poem, Little Gidding, in which he achieves a final integration, as though answering himself:

And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well [note: thing is correctly singular] When the tongues of flame are in-folded

Into the crowned knot of fire

And the fire and the rose are one.


See our house rules for for commenting on blogs

A world where turtles dance
26th November 2015 - 12 Midnight Laura Anderson

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll's timeless tale of treacle wells, catless grins and recalcitrant croquet mallets. Laura Anderson, who we were sad to lose from our Royal Festival Hall shop very recently, looks at why this unique children's book has enchanted every new generation of readers.



Nonsense VerseI received a copy of Lewis Carroll's Nonsense Verse when I was three years old; ever since the words of 'Jabberwocky' and 'You Are Old, Father William' have rotated and rambled and run around my brain. They are also the only poems – with the exception of a handful by AA Milne – that I have ever reliably remembered. Yet, I have no real or definite idea of what most the words in 'Jabberwocky' mean. Yes, I know that in Alice Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty explains a verse, but it doesn't help and that is the point.


When you are a child, not only does it not matter that the words together or separate make no sense – that is their joy. The words 'sound very pretty' and mean whatever you like. Say anything with enough confidence and tenacity, and only the fiercest expert will dare challenge you. As an adult, nonsense is everywhere. I frequently spot 'six impossible things' or more before getting on London's tube every morning. I'm also fairly confident that I could dredge up some fine examples of babies who have turned into pigs. And I'm sure that if I ate enough chocolate cakes there would be a drastic alteration to my body, be it a temporary, sudden or permanent change.


Miranda RichardsonThere is something irresistible about Wonderland and the world in the mirror that has been a driving force for film-makers for so many years. The number of adaptations is astounding; from alternative spin-offs and TV series, to films and cartoons – all trying to recreate what has been imagined from the stories. While I have never had much of an affinity for the instantly recognisable 1951 Disney cartoon, the 1991 TV film, was one of those films that I watched on repeat – to the everlasting joy of my family. It features Miranda Richardson as a terrifying and brilliantly fascist Queen of Hearts. She’s both horrifying and hilarious; childish but deeply serious. Richardson is every confusing emotion and every backwards action that the Queen of Hearts represents.


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland will always take a special seat in my heart and a space on my shelf – the latter is particularly rare with me. I can never resist when a character or reference rears its head be it in science, philosophy, comics or fashion. Carroll's worlds are legendary: what he created has been interpreted countless ways and inspired hundreds of art forms. Anyone who is invited to a Mad Hatter's Tea Party knows exactly what to expect – the unexpected. And this anniversary year has granted us a number of these in the form of exhibitions and plays.


Lewis Carroll invented a world where turtles dance, flowers speak and you can run and run and run and not get where you want to go. Why shouldn't you paint flowers your colour of choice? Or have a tea party forever? Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass have done and will continue to ignite the imaginations of millions for generations and generations to come. Much to my delight, there are a number of beautiful editions available for every age and level of Alice love that have arrived in our bookshops for the 150th anniversary. From a beautiful pop-up, to the definitive Barnes & Noble collection, there's no reason not to read this fantastic classic this year.


See our house rules for for commenting on blogs

All-encompassing short stories
26th November 2015 - 12 Midnight Belinda McKeon

A Kind of CompassA Kind of Compass is a new anthology of short stories from Dublin-based independent publisher Tramp Press, featuring writers including Ross Raisin, Yoko Ogawa, Niven Govinden, Kevin Barry, Sam Lipstye and Sara Baume.

Its editor Belinda McKeon, author of the novels Tender and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize-winning Solace, explains how these stories explore the many ways in which it is possible to feel far from home.



The needle always points in the same direction. And yet it hardly ever looks like the same direction; almost always, sitting there in your hand, this magnet to the pull of the world, it looks like a direction you’ve never taken before. And besides, you don’t have to go there. You don’t have to take the path at which the needle nudges. Knowing it’s there, you can veer off course. Knowing it’s there, you can go anywhere. The needle will still know what it knows.


The stories in A Kind of Compass are stories about being far away – or about feeling far away, which is an entirely different matter, or at least can be. The book from which this collection takes its title, Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost, is about what we should and must do as writers, and about what we want to do as readers – though sometimes, it can feel that what we want to do as readers is to find a home. To find somewhere solid and safe, and to stay there. To find somewhere to hide. To find something like shelter, or sanctuary or just – just shut up for a while, world, and let me be here, with my book.


Writers resist that kind of role for their work sometimes, I think. It can seem too easy; it can connote lightness, or the idea of work being something which makes everything ok, and regardless of what they might say in an interview, when the red light of the PR push is on, writers don’t want that. They want their work to make your heart go faster. They want their work to make you think, wait, holy shit, have I walked out on a ledge here? Where’s the safe surface I was standing on a moment ago?


Getting lost. Getting around to getting lost. Getting onboard with getting lost. And loss, not just lost-ness; loss.


Short stories, Richard Ford has written, are 'daring little instruments' – a line in which, every time I type it out for my notes towards the fiction classes I teach, I almost inevitably – and accidentally – type 'darling' instead of 'daring'. Dissimulation 101: if that’s not an attempt to take the pinch of fear, of anxiety, of jetlag, out of the whole, headspinning business of writing a story, I don’t know what is. Because they’re not darling, stories – or at least they should not be; they’re daring. They go places. They leave for places, and their creators had damn well go along. Those places, if a story is doing what it needs to do, are hardly ever comfortable; they hardly ever feel like home.


Distance is not just about geography. Distance, the feeling of being cut adrift, of being lost, of travelling farther and farther, every day, from the thing – or the person – that seemed to ground you; distance is hardly ever about geography, actually. Nor is home, the whole matter of home. 'Home,' Marilynne Robinson wrote in her novel of the same name, 'What kinder place could there be on Earth, and why did it seem to them all like exile?'


In other words, why are we never happy with what we have?


Every short story is a story of exile, exile both in the grand sense and in the most – apparently – mundane sense. Exile from places, exile from selves. Exile of the kind with which Skype can help, a little bit; exile of the kind that can be helped by nothing at all – no phone number, no conversation, no return journey. Distance, the compass with which we try to negotiate it and to gauge it, is about thresholds in the literal and in the emotional sense, and once those thresholds have been crossed again, things have the potential to get very, very interesting. The self has the potential to become nothing like it seemed. These are stories of heartbreak, of strangeness, of memory dissolving and building itself up again. These are stories of leaving, of coming back, of thinking about a place and a time no longer present. They’re stories of loneliness, of second thoughts, of second chances, of second tries; they’re stories of freedom, longing and escape. That’s where the daring lies; that’s where the instruments go. And home?


Home is just a number.


See our house rules for for commenting on blogs




Transcending religion in the kitchen
24th November 2015 - 12 Midnight Amina Elshafei


Amna's Home CookingIn 2013, Amina Elshafei became the first Muslim contestant on gourmet cooking show Masterchef Australia. Much like this year's winner of The Great British Bake-Off, Nadiya Hussain, she found that her religion was of more interest to the media and many on social networks than her skills in the kitchen.


But many others took her to their hearts and she has now published her first collection of recipes, Amina's Home Cooking, many of which feature unique flavour combinations informed by her multicultural background: born in Saudi Arabia to a Korean mother and an Egyptian father, and raised from the age of four in Australia.


Here she shares her experiences of applying for the show, the intensity of the competition and the glare of the media spotlight. This is followed by her recipe for Korean dish Tukbaegi Gaeranjim, or Clay-Steamed Egg.



'What do you reckon?' asked my sister Eman nodding at the TV. 'Yeah, right,' I replied sarcastically. This was the conversation we had when the advertisement for applications for Masterchef Australia 2012 was aired. Eman then said, 'You’re a feeder, you can cook well and you love cooking, I think you’d do well!' I guess that was all the encouragement I needed to apply. However, I remained pessimistic about my application, didn’t raise my expectations and didn’t tell anyone that I had applied (it was convenient that my parents were overseas throughout the whole application process). A few weeks later, I received a phone call from the show – they called as a result of me not responding to emails regarding auditions (which had been caught by my junk mail filter) and informed me that I had to audition the following day! Despite the confusion and shock, I was thrilled. When I reached the final 72, I decided to tell my sister and call my parents who were attending pilgrimage at the time and their reactions were pretty funny. The next thing I knew, I was sharing goodbye kisses and hugs with my family to enter the Masterchef house.


Moving into a house with 23 other food-driven strangers was going to be a very interesting experience. I thought to myself, I definitely need to be in a room with girls since I wear the hijab and changing and dressing might be a tad difficult. Luckily I got to share my room with a very gorgeous contestant Kath, with whom I’m good mates. Living in the house was a wonderful time, learning about each other and sharing our food experiences, knowledge and more importantly being able to support each other throughout the series... predictably, it proved to be incredibly stressful as well as exciting! I couldn’t believe the incredible thoughtfulness of the show’s crew, from providing me a whole fridge to use for specialty halal goods (which I didn’t end up using and became a common fridge), Halal certified meat and encouraging me to attend to my daily prayers, despite my not making any such requests as I wanted to be treated the same as the other contestants. The male contestants allocated private swim time to the girls in the house pool during summer which really helped to make me feel comfortable. I felt very grateful to be able to be to experience both off and on camera situations with the knowledge that my beliefs and practices were respected and encouraged by new friends and crew members.


After a few months of filming and going through a yoyo of emotions week after week of highs and lows, I was exhausted. I missed home and unfortunately my paternal grandmother passed away during the filming of the show. I think the exhaustion showed through my cooking despite the loving and caring support of my family and friends via calls and handwritten notes and letters. I made it to the top 12 and although I wished to get into the top five, I was stoked and so thankful to be where I was. How many people can say that they’ve lived in a realistic food bubble, where we breathed, tasted, discussed, argued, cried about, laughed about and shared food? Also to have shared it with three amazing judges Matt, George and Gary and some of the best names in the industry both nationally and internationally including Heston Blumenthal, Rick Stein, Jamie Oliver, Peter Gilmore, Matt Moran, Shannon Bennett, Maggie Beer and of course, Marco Pierre White. It was a once in a lifetime experience, as clichéd as it may sound, and I loved every minute of it.


The whirlwind that followed was completely unexpected. I remember a few of the production crew telling me to try not to be taken aback by negative remarks on social media targeting me. Since we had no connection to the internet and limited phone calls, we had no idea what was going on in the outside world until we left the house. My sister and friends were so kind to have started a Facebook fan page throughout my time in the house but unfortunately when I did go online, I discovered negative, degrading and racist comments that had been posted there. As much as my friends tried to monitor the page, they kept coming – including through other social media outlets such as Twitter. However, I tried my best not to let it get to me because the tremendous national and international support definitely outweighed and trumped those negative comments. Like Nadiya in the UK, I never intended to use my religion to make a statement – I merely went on the show as any other Aussie would who wanted to have a chance of becoming a Masterchef. I guess the Australian media focused on the fact that I was the first Aussie Muslim girl to be on a national reality TV show with an international audience, and they especially focused on the fact that I wore a hijab. Unintentionally, I hope I was able to open the gates for other Muslim women, giving them the confidence to pursue their dream on the show including Faiza and Samira in 2013.


I have continued to live a fun and beneficial food life alongside my career as paediatric registered nurse. International food travels including sponsored food adventures, social media campaigns, pop ups with fellow contestant and mate Audra, community involvement and ongoing food demonstrations and classes have been a result of the amazing exposure on Masterchef. My greatest achievement, however, is the production of my cookbook. Amina’s Home Cooking. It’s a collection of 80 recipes that all have sentimental value to me and was put together by some talented and brilliant people who have made an idea become reality.


One thing I have taken away from the experience is that food is an astonishing element that has the ability to bring people together from all walks of life. It transcends issues such as religion, race, colour and age to enable us all to share, enjoy and create together. Never underestimate the power of food, especially when made with love and gratefulness.


Claypot eggTukbaegi Gaeranjim (Clay-Steamed Egg)


This light and delicate dish makes a lovely starter. My Korean grandmother - my halmony - showed me this method of steaming the egg in a traditional clay bowl within a saucepan of boiling water. She taught me how to grease the inside of the bowl lightly so that the egg does not stick. Korean stores sell these black or dark-grey clay vessels, but you could always use a large, heavy ramekin as an alternative.


  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup (125 ml) water
  • 1 spring onion, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • Vegetable oil, for greasing


Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl. Add the water and whisk until well combined and bubbly. Add the spring onion, fish sauce, salt and pepper.


Lightly grease a medium clay bowl with vegetable oil and pour in the egg mixture.


Choose a saucepan larger than the clay bowl and fill it with 5 cm of water. Bring to the boil over medium heat, then carefully place the clay bowl inside. Place a lid on the saucepan and steam for 10 minutes. Check the mixture is cooked by inserting a skewer; if it is not, leave for a further 2 minutes. Carefully remove the clay bowl from the pan.


Serve hot.


See our house rules for for commenting on blogs


Buy. Or buy not. There is no try.
20th November 2015 - 12 Midnight Charlotte Pope


Even if you've been stuck in a galaxy far, far away, it won;t have escaped your attention that there's a new Star Wars film coming. There's a lot more than just the film for fans to look out for, from the usual toys, fast food tie-ins and trading cards to pricey limited edition curiosities. Fans will also find enough to read to keep them going until Episode VIII arrives. Charlotte Pope from our Bristol branch offers an overview.



It has been 32 years since Return of the Jedi: 32 years since the destruction of the second Death Star and the crushing defeat of the Empire at the Battle of Endor.


Fans were left wondering if they would ever find out what happened next to Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo: books took up the enormous task of keeping the Star Wars universe alive. Such classics as Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy, as well as Kevin J Anderson’s Jedi Apprentice series, continued the story on from the original trilogy, eventually telling the stories of our heroes' children.


Fans did not believe that another film would ever be made: but with The Force Awakens the dream has finally come true.



Now that the 'canon' of the Star Wars universe is changing, the original novels do not correspond with the new continuity, and have been re-branded as the Star Wars: Legends series. That being said – they are still very much worth a read for any die-hard Star Wars fan.


Many new novels have been released to fill the void, the most talked about being Aftermath. The Emperor may be dead and the second Death Star destroyed, but the war is only just beginning, with planets across the galaxy fighting to overthrow the shackles of the totalitarian Empire. Many of the Imperial elite still remain, and refuse to surrender. The battle for freedom is far from over.


For those still wondering about our favourite trio, three novels have been released detailing an adventure for each of them. Moving Target involves Princess Leia fighting against the Empire, all the while waiting for news of the missing Han Solo, still encased in carbonite. Weapon of a Jedi tells the story of Luke Skywalker's first duel with a lightsaber against a mysterious foe. Meanwhile, Smuggler's Run has Han Solo and Chewbacca flying a dangerous mission in the Millennium Falcon for the Rebel Alliance.


Many books have been released for younger fans too. Build your very own model X-Wing and TIE fighter with the Starfighter Workshop, or colour and sticker away with one of the numerous Journey to the Force Awakens activity books.


For children who are hungry for facts, there is Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know. Want to know more about Jedis, droids, bounty hunters and blasters? Then this is the book for you! Packed full of facts and figures from the movies (as well as The Clone Wars TV series and Star Wars: Rebels), this is the perfect Christmas gift for any little wannabe Jedi or Sith.


The Art of Star WarsProbably the most eagerly awaited of all of the new books is The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens due out on the same day as the film itself. The book is said to contain concept artworks and images from the new film, but the details are a closely guarded secret.


If you enjoy a good chuckle and have ever wondered just what would have happened should Darth Vader have raised his children, Jeffrey Brown's Darth Vader and Son and Vader's Little Princess are for you. From the rebellious tantrums of a young Jedi, to his daughter's unsuitable choice of boyfriend, Darth Vader certainly has his hands full.


2015 is truly the year of the sci-fi geek: with graphic novel adaptations of the original Star Wars trilogy, to a volume of the original Topps trading cards from back in the day published in November, there is sure to be a lightsaber under ever tree this Christmas.


See our house rules for for commenting on blogs


10 ways Alexander von Humboldt changed the world
18th November 2015 - 12 Midnight Andrea Wulf


The Invention of NatureAlexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) is one of the most significant figures in the history of science, but he has never achieved the recognition of pivotal figures such as Darwin or Newton, Einstein or Galileo. In her new biography The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science, shortlisted for this year's Costa Biography Award, author Andrea Wulf reveals how Humboldt's ideas and discoveries shaped science, conservation, nature writing, politics, art and the theory of evolution.


Here she showcases ten of the many ways in which he shaped the world in which we live and how we understand it.



1: Humboldt revolutionised the way we see the natural world

Humboldt came up with the idea of nature as a web of life.  He found connections everywhere. Nothing, not even the tiniest organism was looked at on its own. Humboldt regarded nature as a living organism and as a global force. Ecologists, environmentalists and nature writers rely on Humboldt’s vision, although most do so unknowingly. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is based on Humboldt’s concept of interconnectedness, and scientist James Lovelock’s famous Gaia theory of the earth as a living organism bears remarkable similarities. When Humboldt described the earth as ‘a natural whole animated and moved by inward forces’, he pre-dated Lovelock’s ideas by more than 150 years. Humboldt called his book describing this new concept ‘Cosmos', having initially considered (but then discarded) ‘Gäia’ as a title.


2: Humboldt predicted human–induced climate change in 1800

Because he understood that everything was connected, Humboldt also realised nature’s vulnerability. He was, for example, the first to understand the forest as an ecosystem – explaining the forest’s ability to enrich the atmosphere with moisture and its cooling effect as well as its importance for water retention and protection against soil erosion. After he saw the devastating environmental effects of monoculture and deforestation in Venezuela, Humboldt realised that the human species was destroying the environment and changing the climate. When he listed the three ways in which the human species was affecting the climate, he named deforestation, ruthless irrigation and, perhaps most prophetically, the ‘great masses of steam and gas’ produced in the industrial centres. No one but Humboldt had looked at the relationship between humans and nature like this before.


3: There are more places, plants and animals named after Humboldt than anybody else

Humboldt squidFrom the Humboldt Current running along the coast of Chile and Peru to dozens of monuments, parks and mountains in Latin America including Sierra Humboldt in Mexico and Pico Humboldt in Venezuela. There are mountain ranges in northern China, South Africa, New Zealand and Antarctica, as well as rivers and waterfalls in Tasmania and New Zealand named after him. In North America alone four counties, thirteen towns, mountains, bays, lakes and a river are named after him, as well as the Humboldt Redwoods State Park in California and Humboldt Parks in Chicago and Buffalo. The state of Nevada was almost called Humboldt when the Constitutional Convention debated its name in the 1860s. Almost 300 plants and more than a hundred animals are named after him – including the Californian Humboldt lily (Lilium humboldtii), the South American Humboldt penguin (Spheniscus humboldti) and the fierce predatory six-foot Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas, pictured) which can be found in the Humboldt Current. Several minerals carry his name – from Humboldtit to Humboldtin – and on the moon there is an area called Mare Humboldtianum.


4: Humboldt understood the ancient physical link between Africa and South America

In 1807, Humboldt had already grasped the idea of shifting tectonic plates. Some plants gave Humboldt an insight into geology as they revealed how continents had shifted. The similarities of their coastal plants, Humboldt wrote, showed an ‘ancient’ connection between Africa and South America – an incredible conclusion more than a century before scientists had even begun to discuss continental movements and the theory of shifting tectonic plates.


5: Thoreau’s Walden would have been a very different book had it not been for Humboldt

Thoreau found in Humboldt’s books an answer to his dilemma on how to be a poet and a scientist. Humboldt’s approach to understanding nature – one that included imagination, feeling and close observation - gave Thoreau the confidence to weave together science and poetry. When Thoreau discovered a new world in Humboldt’s Cosmos, he completely re-wrote Walden. ‘Standing on the Concord cliffs,’ Thoreau wrote, he was ‘with Humboldt’. Walden became Thoreau’s answer to Cosmos.


On the Origin of Species6: Without Humboldt, we might never have heard of Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin would have not boarded the Beagle, nor conceived of On The Origin of Species without Humboldt. Humboldt’s books inspired Darwin to join the Beagle voyage. The copies of Darwin’s Humboldt books which he took on the Beagle are still in the archives in Cambridge and contain hundreds of Darwin’s comments and pencil marks – reading them is like eavesdropping a conversation between Darwin and Humboldt. When Darwin reached South America he wrote in his journal: ‘I am at present fit only to read Humboldt... he like another Sun illumines everything I behold’. Humboldt’s descriptions were almost like a template for Darwin’s own experiences. Darwin modeled his writing on Humboldt’s and later when he was working on his evolutionary theory he mined Humboldt’s books for examples.


7: Humboldt invented isotherms

Humboldt invented the wavy lines which we see on weather maps today and which connect different geographical points around the globe that are experiencing the same temperature. Instead of long lists of temperature, Humboldt displayed his data visually and thereby revealed a new world of global climate patterns. It was the beginning of comparative climatology – and is still used by scientists today to understand and depict climate change and global warming.


8: Humboldt was the catalyst of for independence in South America

Simón Bolívar’s revolution in South America was invigorated by Humboldt’s writing. Humboldt’s descriptions of the natural world and ancient civilizations, made the colonists appreciate how spectacular their continent was. Humboldt’s books and ideas fed into the liberation of Latin America – from his criticism of colonialism and slavery to his portrayal of the majestic landscapes. ‘With his pen’ Humboldt had awakened South America, Bolívar said, and he was the ‘discoverer of the New World’.


20000 Leagues9: Humboldt’s scientific writing and ideas seeped into literature and poetry

English romantic poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge incorporated Humboldt’s concept of nature into their poems, while Robert Southey declared that Humboldt united his vast knowledge with ‘a painters eye and a poets feeling’. In Frankenstein – Mary Shelley’s novel – Frankenstein’s monster declares a desire to escape to ‘the vast wilds of South America’ while Lord Byron immortalized Humboldt in Don Juan. Even Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo in his famous Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea was described as owning the complete works of Humboldt. In 1934 Aldous Huxley referred to Humboldt in his travel book, Beyond the Mexique Bay, and in the mid-twentieth century his name appeared in the poems of Ezra Pound. One hundred and thirty years after Humboldt’s death, Gabriel García Márquez resurrected him in The General in his Labyrinth, his fictionalized account of the last days of Simón Bolívar.


10: Most nature writers today are influenced by Humboldt... and most don’t even know it

Humboldt created a completely new genre which combined evocative writing and rich landscape descriptions with scientific observation and emotional responses – a genre which became the blueprint for much of today’s nature writing. For Humboldt, nature was a painting drawn on a canvas of empirical observation, but infused with the magical colours of poetry, imagination and subjective perception. At a time when thinkers were searching for universal laws, Humboldt wrote that ‘nature must be experienced through feelings.’ Nature writers today remain firmly rooted in Humboldt’s vision as they bring together memoir, emotions, descriptions of the natural world and scientific knowledge  – although many may have never heard of him – but Humboldt is their founding father.


See our house rules for for commenting on blogs

Antony Loewenstein explores disaster capitalism
16th November 2015 - 12 Midnight

Antony Loewenstein is an award-winning independent journalist, documentary maker and blogger. He has written for, amongst others, the BBC and the Washington Post, and writes a weekly column for the Guardian. For his most recent book, Disaster Capitalism, he has travelled across the world to witness first hand the hidden world of making profit from disaster. Here, he talks to us about what disaster capitalism is, why we should be concerned about it, and what we can do about it.


How do you define "disaster capitalism"?

People and corporations making money from misery, from immigration to war and aid, and development to mining. It's a global problem that is not unique to any one territory, region or country.


Can you give us three fundamental features of "disaster capitalism"?

Opportunists looking to exploit a disaster, man-made or otherwise. Corporations pushing for a deregulated business environment. Moral blackmail from companies who argue, like I examine in Papua New Guinea and Afghanistan, that only their mine or operation can assist local communities (when the truth is often the opposite).


You write that “Disaster has become big business” – couldn’t this be positive? Businesses are nimble, so perhaps it is best that they rather than cumbersome states focus on solutions to today's problems?

Exploiting people and communities when they're vulnerable can never be noble. For example, in my book I examine how UK companies such as Mitie, Serco and G4S have spent years running privatised detention centres for immigrants and providing poor care for both detainees and the guards minding them. A lack of accountability, both in the media and government, is an issue here. Ultimately, with immigration, Britain's insistence on warehousing immigrants is the problem, regardless of whether these facilities are run by the state or for profit. But the profit motive by definition removes an incentive to provide adequate care for all.


Can you give us some real world examples of big business causing problems "in the field"?

In my book, I examine the reality of the post-2010 Haiti earthquake environment and the litany of profiteers and aid organisations who flocked to the country and largely failed to help the people most in need (Wikileaks cables from the US embassy in the capital Port-au-Prince explained that there was a "gold-rush" for contracts). During my two trips there in the last years I've witnessed how a flawed USAID system is designed to benefit US corporations, and make them a profit, as opposed to empowering, training and hiring local staff. This breeds local resentment. Besides, the US claims to have spent over US$10 billion on aid since 2010 and yet the country remains framed in Washington as little more than a client state to make cheap clothing for Walmart, Gap and others.


There have always been disasters, and then apocalyptic doom-mongering about those disasters. What is new about this particular phase?

Yes, disaster capitalism has been occurring for centuries (the East-India Company was arguably the first example) but since the 1980s, and the era of mass globalisation, more corporations have embraced a deregulated world where they have become more powerful than the states in which they operate. International law remains very slow to act when, say, a US company behaves badly in Afghanistan, and independent nations on paper are shown to be little more than helpless in the face of overwhelming US corporate and government power. 


Back in 1972 Jorgen Randers wrote The Limits to Growth – that’s now nearly half a century ago! Are we really reaching the limits to growth? What’s different now compared to the 70s? What’s to say that we don’t have another 50 years of growth in us?

Growth, if defined by increasingly rapacious acts to exploit natural resources, could continue for decades to come but at a massive cost to the environment and people, especially in developing nations. What I hope to achieve in my book is to bring awareness of how Western companies and aid dollars too often cause more problems than they solve in nations with little media coverage. An exploitative ideology has been exported globally. But closer to home, in Greece, UK, US and Australia, often the same firms working with abuses in the non-Western world, are allowed to buy the increasing number of public services being sold. In comparison to the 1970s, today's inter-connected world makes awareness much easier but also the scale of the exploitation (and dwindling resources) all the most urgent to address. 


What are the three things we could do immediately to ease the problem?

Pressure politicians and journalists to properly explain why companies that continually fail continue getting contracts to manage the most vulnerable people. Engage with local communities in developing nations and listen to their concerns (when, say, an earthquake strikes, don't presume outside contractors have all the answers). Force our elected leaders not to sell off public assets that the majority of the public wants to remain in public hands (and throw them out of office if they do). 


What three books would you recommend as further reading for those interested in "disaster capitalism"?

Iraq, Inc by Pratap Chatterjee

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein

Private Island by James Meek

Sherlock Holmes' London
12th November 2015 - 12 Midnight Rose Shepherd

Rose Shepherd’s new book, Sherlock Holmes' London takes us on a tour around the world famous detective’s home city. The landmarks of London are an intrinsic part of the enduring appeal of the Sherlock Holmes stories; it’s hard to separate Sherlock from the fog-bound and crime-ridden streets of the capital. From 221B Baker Street to Bart’s Hospital Sherlock Holmes’s London covers locations from the original books and the most recent TV adaptations. Here, Rose takes us on a journey from Holmes’s beginnings to his most recent incarnation, and considers how much of the old city remains.



In 1886, a short novel – just 200 pages long– by an aspiring young Scottish born author was doing the rounds of London’s literary publishers, who deplored its “penny dreadful” style. Finally, A Study in Scarlet was picked up by downmarket Ward, Lock, and in 1897 the reading public was introduced to the world’s first consulting detective through the pages of Beeton’s Christmas Annual.


Disheartened by rejection, Arthur Conan Doyle had allowed Ward, Lock to scoop both manuscript and copyright for a flat £25. He would never make another penny from his debut Sherlock Holmes adventure. Yet in Holmes he had created the most enduring character in all fiction and the most frequently portrayed.


Nearly 140 years later, with Sherlock fans around the world beside themselves as we await the BBC’s Christmas special – scheduled for New Year’s Day - Sherlock Holmes has never had a greater or more avid following.


Intriguingly, this one-off episode finds Holmes and Watson transported back to Victorian times. We can expect to see, instead of the usual black taxis, red buses and cappuccino bars, the hansom cabs and swirling fogs that are defining images of the original tales. And we are sure to see the London Sherlock saw, all around, still standing, in the shadow of the new City with its vast shining edifices of glass and steel.


What is astonishing is not how much of old London has been swept away, but how much would still be recognisable to Holmes and his sidekick on their jaunts and frantic chases around town, from the heartlands of Baker Street, the Criterion Bar, Bart’s Hospital and Simpson’s-in-the-Strand, to the airy uplands of Upper Norwood, Hampstead, Blackheath, to the bad lands south of the Thames and the mysterious East End.


Only against the backdrop of ‘The Smoke’, somehow, could the Sherlock Holmes adventures so satisfyingly unfold. Yes, you could take Sherlock out of London as Doyle did on occasion (most memorably, to Dartmoor in pursuit of that slavering hell hound), but you could never take London out of Sherlock, who made it his habit to have an exact knowledge of the teeming metropolis. It is a part of him, and he of it, and wondrous to explore.


As Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock so enticingly expresses it, ‘The stage is set. The curtain rises. Now ready to begin!’

Photograph of Rose Shepherd © Robert Schweizer

Win original artwork from the new Peter Pan graphic novel
11th November 2015 - 12 Midnight

Peter Pan

In our latest competition, you can win a signed, framed, hand-tinted print from Stephen White's vibrant new graphic novel version of JM Barrie's Peter Pan.


Click here to enter the competition.



10 inspirational lessons from young feminists
10th November 2015 - 12 Midnight Alice Stride, Martha Mosse & Amy Annette


I Call Myself a FeministIt's 2015, yet another generation of young women finds itself still campaigning for equal rights for women. I Call Myself a Feminist brings together the thoughts of 25 women under 30 on the battles still being fought.


Here three of the book's editors, Alice Stride, Martha Mosse and Amy Annette, share ten of the ideas put forward by contributors that they hope will resonate with readers as much as they did with them.




We knew when we began the process of working together as a trio co-editing I Call Myself A Feminist, alongside the editors Victoria Pepe and Rachel Holmes, that we were lucky to have the chance to represent the many varied, interesting and powerful voices of women under 30 years of age.


We knew that we’d enjoy reading our contributors' essays, we knew we’d be proud to be associated with the platforming of these brilliant women, we knew that there was a thirst out there for these voices to be heard, but what we didn’t know was how personally inspired and changed we three would be by these essays.


We didn’t guess that we three would come away feeling so inspired, sobered and comforted. We didn’t foresee that we’d come away from this collection having personally learned some life-changing lessons.


We wanted to share them here so that you too can experience the wisdom and words, directly from the essays in the book, of these women who call themselves feminists.


1: That being ‘Good for a girl’ is not a compliment

'Good for a girl' is so often offered as a compliment, yet it is in fact a free pass to failure and mediocrity. Good for a girl gets us the validation we’re told to seek, so why try harder?... Call it competitiveness or bravado, or perhaps societal pressure, but for men, ineptitude is rarely linked to gender.... At school, the idea that we’re ‘good for girls’ is injurious to both our success and our self-esteem, and if unchallenged, it continues into and negatively impacts our careers.

From 'Good for A Girl Isn’t Good Enough' by Hajar Wright


2: That today’s teenage feminists are already more enlightened and wise than we were at their age

I believe that female friendship, female voices and support are fundamental to our power as women. The international sisterhood is a strong force.

From 'Goodbye to Good Girls' by Phoebe Hamilton-Jones


3. That, at its core, intersectionality is about cooperation

Intersectionality entails working considerately with other women who have different experiences from your own and recognizing the ways in which we might benefit from a system that disproportionately advantages some people over others.

From 'Manifesto for Feminist Intersectionality' by Jinan Younis


4: That, like Bridget’s Mr Darcy, feminism accepts everyone. Just as they are

Femininity, femin-ism, does not expect I smooth my edges or shrink to fit in its box. I call myself a feminist even though I don’t know quite what feminism is. I find it as hard to define, in truth, as I find myself. And, my God, that is some sublime sort of comfort. I might not be able to write its definition in the dictionary, but I know what me feels like.

From 'The Difficult, Undateable Dating Columnist' by Caroline Kent


5: That women should have the privilege to be rubbish too

It’s lovely that people have faith in women’s abilities... but ‘unused potential’ is not actually the point. We should have the opportunity to fulfil our potential because it’s just morally, politically and humanly right.

From 'Women Should Get to be Rubbish Too' by Isabel Adomakoh Young

6: That we must not take what freedoms we enjoy for granted

I live in two societies: one is the Kurdish and the other is the English.

Belief in the social, economic and political rights of women was taught by English society and that is how I became a feminist....

Especially as we encounter other oppressions.

But here, in England, I have also been introduced commercial media always telling girls that they are not good enough. That they should lose weight day in and day out, that they should compete with their own sex to look better and better. Not to use their brains but their bodies, not to use their pens but to use their lipliners.

From 'Why I Call Myself a Feminist' by Meltem Avcil

7: What Men Can Do to Support Feminism

Can the feminist man respect that a woman might resist being sexually objectified when the act of objectification takes place without her own sexual agency? Is the feminist man taking up women’s space to show his dedication to the cause, or is he using his influence to change his own social spheres in order to make them more feminist? Is he asking the difficult questions about gender disparities in the workplace, or challenging sexist attitudes in his friendship group? That’s the hard, socially precarious work, but feminist women do it every day, fully aware of the reprecussions. ”

From 'What Can Men Do to Support Feminism?' by Reni Eddo-Lodge

8: That we need to talk more about abuse. More honestly, more angrily, more openly, just, more

I heard stories about paedophile rings, ritual abuse in cults and religious groups, psychological and sexual abuse that made my skin crawl, violent gang rapes, near-death experiences at the hands of partners, and I began to truly realize that this stuff isn’t just what happens in media storms and horror films, it had happened to the woman I was sitting next to.

So we can recognise if it is happening to us.

If I was talking to someone else about similar experiences, maybe I would use words such as ‘rape’, ‘sexual violence’ or ‘coercion’, but when it comes to me I move positions and shift responsibility from myself to the other as I alternate in outward anger or inward self-blame.

From 'Staring at the Ceiling: It’s Not Always as Simple as Yes or No' by Abigail Matson-Phippard

9: That we are rarely given the option of just being ourselves

In the summer 2014 Miss Vogue... ran a flow quiz about body hair that opened with the question: ‘Are you a stripper or a shaver?’... What was so alarming about this quiz was that Miss Vogue somehow failed to include the option to leave your body hair untouched because it’s fine/you might be a child/you are beautiful exactly as you are.

From 'Are you a Stripper or a Shaver?' by Bertie Brandes


10: That there’s a reason we call ourselves feminists

I call myself a feminist because it is not a scary word. What’s scary is the fact that one in three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. What’s scary is the world of inequality that feminism exists to fix.

From 'Connections are Everything' by Laura Bates


See our house rules for for commenting on blogs

The making of an in-store promotion
4th November 2015 - 12 Midnight George Hamilton-Jones


Many of the ideas for the displays in our shops originate with booksellers, who develop in-depth knowledge of the sections where they work. Displays are a chance to put together interesting books and create conversation pieces. George Hamilton-Jones, one of the Charing Cross Road team in our Lifestyle section covering sport, travel, cookery and craft – reveals the thinking behind the current display he's put together.



Prohibition, the United States’ so-called 'Noble Experiment', struck me as an excellent theme for an in-store display. I was drawn by both the glamour of the period which has inspired so many approaches across various media, and by the images of vast quantities of booze being poured down the drain we can see in period newspapers. Establishing the framework for the Federal Government's alcohol ban, the Volstead Act was passed on the 28th October 1919 and stood for the next 13 years.


Why Prohibition?

Prohibition features in quite a few books about spirits and cocktails. It is ultimately unavoidable in any discussion of how the American taste in alcohol has developed over time. In fact, it transcends the question of alcohol and reveals both divisions in the United States and contradictions in the American character. In 1931, the famous columnist Walter Lipmann wrote, 'The high level of lawlessness is maintained by the fact that Americans desire to do so many things which they also desire to prohibit.' It might strike some as strange to do a historically themed display in the Lifestyle department but my experience of working with wine and drinks books has served to highlight just how conversant they can be with traditional modes of production and the development of national drinking cultures.


Modern Speakeasies

Some of the titles we chose are clearly focused on Prohibition. The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan and Speakeasy by Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric are both recipe driven books. The design of the books reflects the clandestine experience offered by the bars where they were born. Both books present recipes from modern speakeasies that evoke the genuine subterfuges of the past within their walls. This is something that I experienced in New York City last year in a bar called the Blind Barber, aptly concealed behind a barbershop. PDT, of the same city, lacks a traditional entrance from the street and relies upon something more creative.


Inspiration Comes from the Books

One of the titles that most inspired this display was Lost Recipes of Prohibition: Notes from a Bootlegger’s Manual by Matthew Rowley, which is a fascinating looking book. It details recipes based upon by those used by bootleggers to make their often dirty or somewhat poisonous spirits more palatable. Of course, you should use clean alcohols for his recipes.


Secret Ingredients

While it is fun to pretend, the ultimate criterion is quality.  We sought to gather together books that would show ways for a bartender or anyone else to set their drinks apart. Drinking in the Devil’s Acre by Duncan McDonnell is a prime example of this. Part history, it depicts the vibrant and sometimes dangerous saloon bar scene of old San Francisco—what Prohibition sought to stamp out. It also contains a selection of blended spirits recipes and other ingredient preparations. Handcrafted Cocktails by Molly Wellmann is another such collection and features a really interesting selection of infused sprits ideas. So some of the books focus less on the period we chose, but I’m confident that we have chosen books which have broadly applicable ideas.


Every display is ultimately different and logistics and book availability obviously plays a large part. We have to offer choices, so things can’t be forced too far or the choice will suffer as content narrows in scope. Often the best theme is one that unites many disparate books from across the store; you'll usually find at least one table like that in the Atrium. But equally, as I hope this display will show, it is possible to take books from just one or two categories and group them together with a genuine sense of theatre and interest in a significant historical moment.


Latest Blog
Editing TS Eliot

We interview Jim McCue about editing the definitive new two-volume edition of TS Eliot's poems.

A world where turtles dance

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll's timeless tale of treacle wells, catless grins and recalcitrant croquet mallets. Laura Anderson looks at why this unique children's book has enchanted every new generation of readers.

All-encompassing short stories

The editor of Tramp Press anthology A Kind of Compass explains how authors including Sara Baume, Kevin Barry and Yoko Ogawa explore the many ways in which it is possible to feel far from home in their stories.

View all Blog Entries
Show/Hide Tweets
© W&G Foyle Ltd