CULTURAL AMNESIA: NOTES IN THE MARGIN OF MY TIME by Clive James Picador, 25 [pounds sterling], pp. 876, ISBN 9780330481748 [telephone] 20 [pounds sterling] (plus 2.45 [pounds sterling] p&p) 0870 429 6655
Trying to explain the limits of his Parallel Lives, Plutarch compared the work of historians to that of cartographers who must
crowd into the edges of their maps parts of the world which they do not know about, adding notes in the margin to the effect that beyond this lies nothing but the sandy deserts full of wild beasts, unapproachable bogs, Scythian ice or a frozen sea.
History, for Plutarch, is the text we all can read, surrounded by an illegible flow of events too far in the past or too distant in the future. Clive James has reversed Plutarch's layout. In the centre of his page lies what he calls 'the bewildering complexity of civilised life' hated by its 'Procrustean enemies', while on the margins he has scribbled limpid …