In brief: Human Frontiers; Interviews With an Ape; Work: A History of How We Spend Our Time – review

Michael Bhaskar
Bridge Street Press, £20, pp416

We live in an era of endless discovery and development, but are our best days already behind us? This is the question at the heart of Michael Bhaskar’s fascinating book, which asks whether, after decades and centuries of progress, society has now reached a point of stagnation. Bhaskar is a reassuringly positive and often witty guide to the opportunities that technology and medicine alike can still offer humanity, but he tempers his optimism with clear-sighted recognition that we could have, frustratingly, already reached our peak.

Felice Fallon
Century, £ 14,99, pp400

Einstein, the protagonist of Felice Fallon’s debut novel, is an incisive and likable figure with whom we immediately empathise. Einstein is also a male silverback mountain gorilla who is fluent in sign language. Initial intimations that this book will be a satirical work along the lines of James Lever’s Me Cheeta soon fade. Fallon’s intent is to explore the way in which apparently dumb animals are not only far more intelligent than has been previously perceived, but also have valuable, even vital, things to teach humanity. She succeeds, admirably and affectingly.

James Suzman
Bloomsbury, £12.99, pp464

The epigraph for anthropologist James Suzman’s magisterial examination of the role work plays in our lives is aptly taken from Larkin’s poem Toads – “why should I let the toad work/ Squat on my life?” Suzman reassesses everyday labour not as a necessity performed to earn money, but as something that dominates and even destroys our lives. He contrasts our stress with the happier lives of tribesmen and our pre-technological ancestors and asks, provocatively, whether the current pandemic might have the unexpected upside of allowing us to change our destructive obsession with work.

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