The week in books

December 4, 2008

The Crime of Reason: And the Closing of the Scientific Mind by Robert B. Laughlin, Anne T. and Robert M. Bass professor of physics, Stanford University, Basic Books, £15.99, ISBN 9780465005079

"Laughlin's thesis is powerful, but controversial. Restrictions on freedom of speech and free intellectual inquiry are harmful to liberal democracies. And, he suggests, the intellectual property advocates are increasingly influential - they want ideas to be elevated in status, 'so that their unauthorised acquisition can be prosecuted as theft'. Not a triumph for liberty, democracy and freedom, then."

Michael Taube, Financial Times

Admirals: The Naval Commanders Who Made Britain Great by Andrew Lambert, Laughton professor of naval history, King's College, London Faber, £20.00, ISBN 9780571231560

"Relying mostly on printed sources, Lambert has written a solid but unspectacular account of 11 admirals 'who made Britain great' (and who were all English bar (Andrew Browne) Cunningham, a Scot). He is to be congratulated for reminding us of the feats of men such as (Lord) Howard, (William) Parker and (Geoffrey) Hornby. Yet few of these men were larger than life and as a result the book lacks zest and colour. Lambert concludes - somewhat wistfully - that none of his subjects 'came close to rivalling' Nelson's 'all-round' professional excellence. Nor could they compete with his scandalous private life."

Saul David, The Daily Telegraph

The Choice of Hercules: Pleasure, Duty and the Good Life in the 21st Century by A. C. Grayling, reader in philosophy, Birkbeck, University of London Phoenix, £7.99, ISBN 9780753824436

"For those who want to take after the Greek hero but can't choose between buying a PS3 or slaying a mythical lion, take heart - Grayling's latest thesis considers how pleasure and virtue aren't mutually exclusive after all. The 'good life' should involve both, and by identifying one's strengths and behaving in a sensible, courteous fashion, you can be on your way to achieving such. It's persuasive and strangely consoling, given that Grayling is not one to cosset."

Helen Zaltzman, The Observer

Lord Berners: Composer, Writer, Painter by Peter Dickinson, emeritus professor of music, Goldsmiths, University of London and Keele University Boydell Press, £25.00, ISBN 9781843833925

"Dickinson's book provides a portrait of Berners as an artist and as a sometimes loveable, sometimes rather sinister character. Although the conversations with the friends of the past are often inconsequential, Dickinson has provided full-scale annotations and appendices of works, performances, recordings and even the sheet-music sales for Berners' published music. There are many anecdotes."

Patrick O'Connor, The Times Literary Supplement.

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