In brief: The Importance of Being Interested; Small Things Like These; Empireland – review

Robin Ince
Atlantic, £17.99, pp400

The comedian Robin Ince, in his role as co-presenter of the popular science show The Infinite Monkey Cage with Prof Brian Cox, styles himself as “the stupidest person in the room… not always good for the ego but very good for my education”. In The Importance of Being Interested he gathers together conversations with authors and astronauts, neuroscientists and quantum physicists. This is not to impart what he has learned as much as to celebrate the meaning and humanity of science as a discipline. In so doing Ince makes profound – and funny – reflections on our tiny lives in a massive universe.

Claire Keegan
Faber, £10, pp128

It is a brave move to take on the complex, systematic cruelty of Ireland’s Magdalene laundries in a novella, and Claire Keegan writes with a rare power and texture. A teenage girl begs family man Bill Furlong to remove her from the convent to which he delivers coal. Societal mores means he’s urged to keep quiet about the troubling things he’s beginning to see, but Bill’s own childhood experiences compel him to both confront his past and act in his present. A restrained and intensely moral book, full of hope and love.

Sathnam Sanghera
Penguin, £9.99, pp352 (paperback)

A remarkable look at how British imperialism has shaped the world and the way in which Britain regards itself, Empireland should be a set text in an education system that Sathnam Sanghera says failed him badly. Sanghera has written a deeply personal, moving and often witty reflection on Britain in which he refuses to reduce imperial history to a matter of good or bad. His idea that, deliberately or subconsciously, the British are not honest about the darker elements of the largest empire in history feels important; a lack of reckoning with the past that perpetuates exceptionalism.

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