Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poet and Revolutionary

In an age ever more obsessed with the importance of crafting effective political ‘stories’ and ‘narratives’, Jacqueline Mulhallen’s Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poet and Revolutionary is a timely review of the life and work of a poet writing 200 years ago acutely aware of the vital role the imagination plays in extending the horizons of political possibility.

Like Paul Foot’s Red Shelley, the last major treatment of Shelley’s political career (which first appeared some 35 years ago), Mulhallen’s short, sharp little book is a useful corrective to the popular image of a figure whose profound contribution to radical politics remains under appreciated.

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Submission: a scepticism beyond scepticism

Michel Houellebecq’s Submission carries an explosive political charge, even by the standards of France’s most controversial novelist.

A story that dares to imagine the transition of the French Republic to an Islamic theocracy, it was first published in January on the same day as the Charlie Hedbo massacre. Houellebecq was the subject of the satirical journal’s headline story that week.

The book now appears in English translation as the refugee crisis renews febrile talk about a coming ‘Islamicisation’ of Europe, and candidates for the US Republican Presidential nomination compete to sound the harshest note about the possibility of a Muslim one day becoming Commander-in-Chief.

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Introducing Sceptical Scot

Over the past few weeks I’ve been glad to help with the development of a new current affairs website, Sceptical Scot, which launched this week.

The site hopes to bring more light than heat to the ongoing, intense discussion over the future of Scotland in the wake of last year’s referendum. It will range widely, covering political, economic and cultural issues.

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Mountain spirits

While absentmindedly surfing channels a few evenings ago I was fortunate to chance on what turned out to be one of the most compelling films I’ve ever seen: The Epic of Everest, a new version of a 1924 documentary recording one of the earliest efforts to scale the mountain.

Shot and edited by expedition member John Noel the film captures the first moving images of Everest and the Himalayas. Restored by the BFI National Archive with a new – and highly effective – soundtrack the film is still available on the BBC iPlayer for the next few weeks.

We will ever know whether the expedition was ultimately successful. The two climbers who attempted the final stage of the ascent, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, among the finest mountaineers of their generation, were last seen alive closing in on the summit before disappearing from the range of Noel’s camera. What is known for sure is that they never returned. They died on the way up – or on the way down. Mallory’s body was found just a few years ago. Irvine’s is still up there, somewhere.

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10 books for 2015

There will be many others I don’t yet know about. And I’m sure I will not read everything listed below. But here are 10 books to be published in 2015 I’m looking forward to, summarised in alphabetical order.

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