PositiveThe Guardian (UK)One of the many fascinations of Judith Flanders’s book is that it reveals what a weird, unlikely creation the alphabet is ... Alphabetical order, however, had a much longer and more circuitous road to dominance. A Place for Everything tells this complex and layered story ... At times this account of the ordering of information feels a little too linearly ordered and exhaustively informative ... I began to think that an alphabetical arrangement by theme might have introduced some refreshing randomness, allowing for quirky connections and digressions. Buried in the book’s dutiful attention to detail, though, lies an intriguing history not just of alphabetical order but of the human need for both pattern and intellectual efficiency.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewAfter this slightly forced attempt at with-itness, What’s Your Pronoun? settles down into a scrupulous and absorbing survey. Its great virtue is to show that these issues are nothing new ... Baron’s book layers on rather too many examples of historical usage, including a 60-page \'chronology of gender-neutral and nonbinary pronouns\' at the end. This scholarly assiduousness, though, also makes him the ideal pilot through these contentious political-linguistic waters. If you want to know why more people are asking \'what’s your pronoun?\' then you (singular or plural) should read this book.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)... a skilful summation of the latest research on how languages emerge, change, convey meaning and influence how we think ... This is quite a scholarly and serious book. I admired its refusal to lighten its denser arguments with that jokey \'here comes the science bit\' flippancy that so often grates in non-fiction books on complex topics. Shariatmadari’s style is never less than clear, but there isn’t too much handholding. His account requires a little patience, but then so does linguistics. Stick with it and it is a meaty, rewarding and even necessary read.
PositiveThe Times Literary SupplementScott’s mode of argument is freewheeling and associative ... His tone is that of a digital insider, watchful and unblinkered but never a Jeremiah. Picnic Comma Lightning is, in fact, scrupulous almost to a fault. Sometimes Scott worries away for too long at an idea, and his range of reference, from Winnie the Pooh to Jacques Lacan, can be dizzying. But his project—to carve out a more reflective space, a \'poeticized reality,\' in this four-dimensional world—feels admirable and necessary. In an era of anti-nuance, such meticulousness is a tonic.
RaveThe GuardianMore of Keeping On Keeping On than Bennett’s two previous collections – just over half – consists of an expanded version of the diaries that he publishes annually in the London Review of Books ... In Bennett’s diaries, as with all the more personal writings collected here, we find his familiar public persona overlain with something scratchier and less biddable ...a thoughtful, decent man seeking ordinary pleasures and facing ordinary defeats ... What lifts Bennett’s diaries out of the ordinary, and what Palin’s don’t have, is that they are also a kind of commonplace book, home to aphoristic wisdoms on random things ... Bennett’s are a happy exception. For such a mixed bag, this book still feels like a coherent whole ... Every piece here conveys the sense of an idiosyncratic and cussed mind, alive and open to the world.
MixedThe GuardianJohnson is an engaging writer, unable to bore the reader even when you know what his point is going to be. His method is to start with an odd detail and then trace its even odder effects on unrelated fields ... Johnson, as you can tell, has a flair for the telling fact that would thrill a QI elf ... But Johnson’s concept of play feels too broad to be really useful...Johnson’s idea of play is fuzzier: it includes fashion, shopping, food, taste, phantasmagoria, magic, sport, gambling, coffee houses, mountaineering and zoos. With a little finessing, his book might easily have been a history of serendipity or of aimless curiosity ... Johnson has a disarming but not always convincing optimism. Not that he ignores the darker aspects: he suggests that the desire for cotton, which greatly intensified the slave trade and the gruesome working conditions of early industrialisation, may have been the worst thing to happen to the world between 1700 and 1900. But the basic arc is towards a more enlightened present ... I do hope he is right, but this sense of history as pulled along by 'the propulsive force of delight' feels a little overtaken by events.
RaveThe GuardianJames has always been a generous critic – not in the sense of letting bad work off the hook, or in showering good work with superlatives, but in giving munificently of his time, and in using it to pay careful attention ... he takes TV seriously enough to make jokes about it that simultaneously dispense a critical wisdom ... people like James have shown how joyful and life-enhancing the analysis of popular culture can be.