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when we were romans .... Reviews of "An Atheist's History of Belief"


Publishers Weekly reviews

Matthew Kneale. Counterpoint, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-1-61902-235-5

Yet another atheism title attempts to make the reader “forget Dawkins or Hitchens,” as this book’s publisher suggests, and render skepticism understandable. And British writer Kneale accomplishes just that in his lively look at the history of religious belief, from ancient humanity to the 20th century. The author succeeds not because he formulates sharper theories or ideas about non-belief, but because he barely mentions non-belief at all. Where other authors, like those apostles of atheism, Dawkins and Hitchens, have become bestsellers by condemning religion and haranguing its followers, Kneale takes a more gentle, reasoned approach. He views religion as the invention of cultures seeking to assuage their various fears and insecurities. That’s not a new tack— scholars have long studied religion in the context of its inventors’ needs and aspirations. But Kneale, a novelist whose English Passengers (2000) was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, brings to this angle a storyteller’s, rather than an academic’s, touch. It’s a pleasant read, just not a very hardline atheistic one. Agent: Deborah Rogers, Rogers, Coleridge & White Literary Agency. (Feb.)

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Susmita Chatto - The Book Bag - Link to the Book Bag review

I’ve been an atheist since I was old enough to take a view on the subject. (Many atheists would argue that we’re all atheists at birth, but that’s not a subject for a book review). I did have to take Religious Studies at school but have entirely forgotten almost everything I learned!
The result is that most cultural references involving religion are lost on me. Between that issue and having some friends and family members with religious beliefs, it occurred to me it might be good to gain some understanding of their perspective. I had been pondering this for some time when I came across this book – and it occurred to me that reading up on the subject from an atheist’s perspective was probably the most palatable way for me to do so.
Presenting material of this nature to me is a challenge; over the years, I’ve come to believe (no pun intended!) that I have a filter on my brain which automatically removes anything I might pick up about religion. But Kneale’s work is cleverly presented and his perspective – wanting to know why people believe what they believe – means the book is not just an account of the history of belief but a creatively presented and thought-provoking piece of work.
Kneale has gone to the very heart of the issue, examining basic concepts including paradise, reincarnation and monotheism. These are all carefully examined through many stages of civilisation.
The book is divided by concepts, looking at the 'inventions' of gods, paradise and even the end of the world. The book also looks at how major movements developed and divided over time, bringing us up to the modern day. It also includes Marxism, witchcraft and other major movements and belief systems.
A huge vat of knowledge is packed into this book; it actually contains an awful lot more information than you might think, given the size of it, and this is a tribute to Kneale’s beautifully structured and economical writing.
One thing that was entirely new to me was the depth of information on the ancient world. If you have no knowledge of the period, don’t be put off; I had no knowledge and found that the material was presented in an interesting and accessible way. Kneale has a major strength here – this could easily have been a dry piece of work, but now I am planning to read some of Kneale’s fiction too, as his storytelling skills shine through this piece of non-fiction.
A particular highlight for me was his insight into the fear of witchcraft that gripped Renaissance Europe. Highlighting the oddity of witchcraft trials taking place during a period we associate with learning and expansion of the mind rather than paranoia and hysteria, Kneale points out that the period of religious quiet may have actively led to this state of affairs, saying ..it was not as if the devil had retired. If his followers could no longer be found in heretical sects, then they must be elsewhere.
I should be clear; Kneale is extremely respectful of religion throughout this book. However, this insight made me think of how much of human history has been the result of sheer paranoia; a fascinating concept.
Indeed, for me, there are a number of new debates to be had as a result of reading this book. But this is a book review and not The World According to Susmita, so I’ll refrain from having those debates here and simply say that this book will be of great interest to believers and non-believers alike. It could comfortably command a place on a Philosophy course for that reason alone and it is a really useful book for atheists who might need to refresh their knowledge on the major subject of belief.
If this book appeals then we can also recommend Global Modernity and Other Essays by Tom Rubens.

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KIRKUS Review

An atheistic novelist temporarily abandons his fiction to examine the roots and history of belief.

Love them or hate them, the atheist intelligentsia, led by people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, have always loved to court controversy. Their analysis is often accusatory, their tone overt and their flogging of controversy laden with political agenda. Strange, then, to run across this nonbeliever, Kneale (When We Were Romans, 2008, etc.), who takes such an overwhelmingly polite look at religious history that there’s little to rage about. This isn’t by any means a personal journey; while the author gives a mild introduction to himself as the son of a Methodist atheist and a refugee German Jewish atheist, he doesn’t paint the history of faith with a personal patina. Instead, he methodically examines the development of specific aspects of faith through historical events, ancient texts and the commonality of the human condition. While it begins with primordial religions and touches on variants like the ancient Mayans, the book eventually lands squarely in the Mideast. However, it’s not exactly a traditional takedown of a generic Christianity. Kneale touches on a range of faiths including Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Scientology. Various chapters find the author seeking out the roots for the invention of a Christian heaven, prophecies of the end of the world, and the unkind ends of heretics and witches. The ultimate answer the author seems to find is that religions are created out of that fundamental fear of being a human being, all alone and afraid of the dark. “So I suspect there will be a few more invented worldviews,” he writes. “What fears will they answer? This will depend on us. It will depend on how safe our world feels.”
An intellectually interesting comparison in the same way that comparative histories of revolutions are interesting; there’s blood and passion in all that madness, but it doesn’t always land on the page.

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when we were romans .... Quotes from WHEN WE WERE ROMANS


UK Reviews

‘This narrative is heartbreakingly moving… Full of restraint and artistic integrity, this is a poignant, haunting and lovely novel.’
............The Guardian

‘(Lawrence) is the literary first cousin of Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke…. The heartbreak and triumph of WHEN WE WERE ROMANS is that little he is the real thing.’
............Gill Hornby, Literary Review

‘Matthew Kneale's lovely novel… is narrated by Lawrence with insight, humour and sweetly erratic spelling: it halts and splutters in rhythm with the children's whims and tantrums… the author has got inside a young, over-burdened mind with convincing accuracy.’
............Natalie Whittle, Financial Times

‘Kneale creates an extraordinary tension... the combination of insight and innocence Kneale gives Lawrence is powerfully affecting.’
............David Horspool, Sunday Times

‘A skilful, humorous and touching novel about the way a child interprets the world.’
............Daily Mail

‘The strength of Kneale's novel is not suspense but Lawrence's delicate sensibility… Lawrence's touchingly ingenuous language, his tetchy irritation with his baby sister and his beleaguered optimism make him a genuinely affecting protagonist.’
............James Urquart, Independent

‘With consummate subtlety and sympathy, Kneale finds metaphorical hinges between the family’s unfolding story and Lawrence’s two intellectual interests – Roman emperors and astronomy.’
............Neel Mukherjee, The Times

‘A consistently absorbing read, the work of a craftsman.‘
............David Robson, Sunday Telegraph

‘Laurence’s skilful manoeuvring in a tricksy adult world is artfully depicted. His guileless voice only exacerbates the sense of dread, while its deceptive simplicity hides a chilling exploration of mental illness and maternal neglect.’
............Elinor Cook, New Statesman

‘The compelling and disturbing portrayal of a child's attempt to make sense of his mother's mental illness.’
............Lianne Kolirin, Daily Express

The latest quirky hit from the polyphonic author of English Passengers… A heartfelt story of mental illness and tales from space, When We Were Romans wears its research lightly but punches well above its weight.
............Katy Guest, Independent on Sunday

What makes it so affecting is the precision and care with which Matthew Kneale measures out its dramatic ironies, and above all the authenticity of Lawrence's voice.
............Laurence Phelan, Independent


US Reviews

This is the novel that Patrick McCabe’s over-praised The Butcher Boy ought to have been, redeemed by Kneale’s sure-handed restraint…. One of the best explorations of a child’s mind and heart in recent fiction, and its talented author’s best book yet.
............Kirkus Reviews (starred)

Kneale has created a marvellously engaging and believable voice for Lawrence, whose account is at once heartbreaking and humorous (often unintentionally so, complete with nine-year-old misspellings)… A story that is, at once, idiosyncratic, original, and altogether memorable.
............Michael Cart, Booklist Review

There have been plenty of coming-of-age stories that pit a child’s innocence against the inexorable force of parents’ insanity, but perhaps none that has captures the tension, confusion and ultimate loss of that innocence any better than When We Were Romans.
............Robert Weibezahl, Bookpage

As Lawrence immerses himself in Roman history from a series of "Horrible Histories," he renders the story of his mother's breakdown with touching sensitivity and vulnerability. Very highly recommended.
............Barbara Love, Library Journal

The quality that sets Kneale apart is his talent for impersonation. He told the story of English Passengers using no fewer than 20 idiosyncratic voices, including those of a rum smuggler, a delusional missionary, a racist doctor, a penal colony inmate and several of Tasmania's last remaining aborigines. The narrative seemed not so much written as clamorously populated… His latest novel features only a single voice yet is an equally impressive act of ventriloquism.
............Washington Post

‘The journey through Lawrence's complex mind is touching and delightful, mostly because he is such an unswervingly authentic little boy.’
............Mary Brennan, Seattle Times

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small crimes in an age of abundance .... Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance Quotes


UK Quotes

‘In chillingly understated prose, Kneale shows people in unthinking possession of first-world privileges failing to acknowledge the effects of their actions in the third… Kneale does not judge. Like a film director in a silent sequence, he reveals. He is witty, compassionate; he understands all sides.’
............Ruth Padell, Independent

‘These fine, subtle short stories travel the world – and the social scale…. A welcome reminder of a fine, subtle talent.’
............David Robson, Sunday Telegraph

‘Office’ excruciating, with jet-black shades of Evelyn Waugh at his cruellest’
............John O’Connell, Time Out

‘Darkly funny and sometimes downright macarbre.’
............Economist

‘Kneale’s moral world is complex and nuanced.’
............Peter Stanford, Independent on Sunday

‘Neat, masterful satire, both sophisticated and of enjoyably immense geographical range.’
............David Robinson, the Scotsman

‘A series of compelling narrative jaunts which have a kind of licensed freedom of thought.’
............Vanessa Thorpe, Observer

‘Every one of these “crimes” is a page-turner.’
............Rose Millard, New Statesman

‘Filled with shaming truths and silent accusations, they make for compulsive reading. Simple and straighforward, each is better than the last. Exploring our own weaknesses has never been such a pleasure.’
............Francesca Segal, Telegraph

US Reviews

A most unusual debut collection, and a very good one indeed.
............Kirkus reviews

‘Kneale has captured in 12 stories, simply told, the complexity of the world and the ways that people cope, or not, showcasing situations of moral ambiguity where roads not taken make all the difference.’
............Valerie Ryan, Seattle Times

‘THESE 12 pitch-perfect stories take the reader around the world, alighting on different forms of devastation from China to South America to the Middle East. Kneale doesn't so much reinvent short fiction as reinforce the form's ability to move and transform with a satisfying snap.’
............William Georgiades, New York Post

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english passengers .... Reviews of ‘English Passengers’

UK Reviews

'A book shouting with life ... a novel that would be intriguing just for its ambition, but is deeply impressive in the fine grain of its achievement. Every page fizzes with linguistic invention, and the interleaving of high comedy with dramatic terror is expertly handled ... English Passengers deserves to be welcomed into port with a riot of bunting and prizes'
............Steven Poole, The Guardian

'Triumphant ... Although it contains much that is harrowing, English Passengers is also often hilarious. Tart wit generates caustically funny scenes. Relishably ironic fates are dealt out to the book's more dislikeable characters ... From Patrick White and Thomas Kenneally to David Malouf and Peter Carey, colonial Australia has been fortunate in the quality of its literary chroniclers ... English Passengers takes Kneale into this distinguished company'
............Peter Kemp, The Sunday Times

‘For those who know little about (Tasmania’s) past it would be difficult to find a more vivid history ... The voice Matthew Kneale has found for Peevay, the aboriginal, with its very believable idiom of biblical metaphor and convict slang, is perfect ... English Passengers is one of the most satisfying historical novels I have read.’
............Derrek Hines, Times Literary Supplement

'This is an extraordinary novel ... Vivid descriptions of places, weather, settlements and the sea voyage are interspersed with heart-stopping drama ... The book stays in the mind, haunting one's dreams like a novel by Dickens. Indeed, it is imbued with some of Dickens's rage on behalf of the downtrodden. It has moral purpose and the power to change. A very fine novel indeed'
............Susan Hill, Mail On Sunday

'An engrossing, deftly constructed, serious but very readable book ... a very impressive performance: angry and ironic by turns, and confident enough to let the story speak for itself'
............Christopher Tayler, Sunday Telegraph

'One of the most enjoyable and interesting reads I have had in a long time... One of the most shameful events in the history of the British empire ... is fearlessly explored with clear-sighted intelligence and unflinching imagination ... English Passengers is a fascinating story, richly told: a major work by a major talent'
............Charlotte Cory, Independent

'Kneale covers a lot of ground, but the meticulously researched historical details and background are artfully deployed and always keep the novel afloat rather than threatening to sink it. What is really striking about this novel, however, is its structure and technique ... A jolly good yarn, a careful and vivid historical re-enactment and, above all, a tour de force of technical control and stamina'
............John de Falbe, Spectator

'[A] breathtakingly good novel ... funny, savage, compassionate, a brilliant enactment of ideological clashes and the opportunism and sacrifice of the colonial adventure, this is a big, mind-expanding book in every respect.'
............Elizabeth Buchan, Daily Mai

'An engrossing and enjoyable read, the sort of novel that few contemporary writers have either the imagination or the stamina to sustain'
............John Preston, Daily Telegraph

'A dashing historical novel, grand in conception but carefully and steadily executed ... one of the most impressive things about English Passengers is the extent to which it revives our interest in history and truth ... The voices and information that crowd English Passengers have been marshalled to support a compelling adventure story with subversive undertones ... expertly told'
............Ruth Scurr, The Times

‘An ingenious and unusual work that sparkles with comic life ... An unusual historical novel, with elements of Treasure Island-style adventure, brilliant comic flourishes and profoundly moving insights into notions of cultural superiority, English Passengers deserves a wide audience.’
............Christopher Silvester

‘Matthew Kneale’s new novel is a fine piece of historical fiction ... For all its grimness - and the decline of the Tasmanian aborigines is movingly rendered - this is a pleasantly witty book’
............Robert Potts, Observer

‘In the strenuousness of its research, in its potent blend of comedy, satire and tragedy, and in the ardour, effervescence and the exactness of its writing, it remains an outstanding achievement.’
............Francis King, Literary Review

‘Matthew Kneale’s ‘English Passengers’ is big, brave and brilliant ... Rigorously researched and seven years in the writing, ‘English Passengers’ is edifying but never dull. Inexorable tragedy vies on each page with Mr Kneale’s sense of humour. Substantial, compelling and unimpeachably well written, it is a fine and classically satisfying novel.’
............The Economist

'Fantastic. One of the best books I've read since we started doing this programme. It's an absolute cracker. Run out everybody and get copies'
............Susan Jeffries, Saturday Review

‘This intelligent and entertaining novel sweeps from Victorian England across the world to an Australia ... The journey is made in a ship loaded with characters Stevenson might have envied ... Matthew Kneale has conjured a tale of adventure and humour which is also deadly serious about the effects of racism and colonial exploitation’
............James Robertson, Scotland on Sunday

‘The story is, by turns, funny, cynical and moving. At times it descends into farce, though always with a sinister undercurrent. As if this were not enough, the writer also manages to fire indignation at the appalling way Tasmanians were treated by the self-satisfied Victorians.’
............Leslie Geddes-Brown, Country Life

‘Hold-outs who insist on regarding fiction as pleasure should be advised that Matthew Kneale’s ‘English Passengers’, however ambitious, also provides plentiful entertainment. Seven years in the writing, this exhaustingly researched novel is never exhausting ... While abundantly edifying about a vicious chapter of British history, Mr Kneale still manages to duplicate the experience common to avid readers in childhood and lamentably rare for adults: the subjugation of dinner and sleep to the voracious consumption of another fifty pages.’
............Lionel Shriver, Wall Street Journal Europe, ‘My vote for the Booker’

‘This book should become a classic of its time.’
............Cities to Cities magazine

US Reviews

‘Kneale’s careful research and colourful storytelling result in an impressive epic.’
............Publishers Weekly (starred)

‘A richly satisfying debut ... an original, impressively knowleadgable and very moving historical novel.’
............Kirkus Reviews (starred)

‘Some novels are to be savored while curled up in front of a roaring fire. Matthew Kneale’s robust and rollocking historical novel ‘English Passengers’ is one of them ... It’s tough to pull off a memorable epic, but Kneale has done it. So get comfortable - and be prepared to enter a fascinating world.’
............Bill Hoffman, New York Post

‘With its scathing exposure of British colonialism and its populous and heavily caricatured cast, Kneale’s adventure tale takes on a Dickensian seriousness ... Kneale’s detailed exposition of the consequences of Christian zeal and 19th century eugenics brings complexity to this novel, making the tale as horrifying as it is funny.’
............Paula Friedman, LA Times

‘Everyone gets his and her just desserts in ways that preserve the work as art; as in real life, redeeming values emerge, murkily, out of a malestrom of self-inflicted insanity. In the end Tasmanaia can be seen as a down under kind of Australian Eden, and the novel expresses in picaresque form the birth of a nation. And for all its outrageous volatility, the whole bloody mess rings true.’
............Neal Matthews, San Diego Tribune

‘There is much to like about this novel ... The book is so colourful and sweeping, it is easy to overlook some of its deeper underpinnings ... This is the mark of a skilled writer who knows his stuff. Tell us more.’
............John Foster, Bookpage

‘This is an old-fashioned book in the best sense, epic in scale, crammed with outsize characters ... Both popular entertainment and serious fiction.’ A -
............Vanessa V. Friedman, Entertainment Weekly

‘In his American debut, Kneale employs a delicious sly and clever wit to tell his story about the colonization of both the land and the mind ... A delight to read. As Peevay would put it, this is a book for “Cherishings”’.
............Neal Wyatt, Booklist

‘SOMETIMES a book comes along so full of wit and charm that it makes you glad you learned to read. Matthew Kneale's historical novel English Passengers is that kind of book... Kneale's great success lies in his ability to weave the characters in and out of this robust tale, keeping their many voices distinct and authentic ... Pure pleasure, this book.’
............Barbara Liss, Houston Chronicle

‘What you have here is a rip-roaring tale ingeniously told in language that frequently rises to the level of poetry. Moreover, Kneale achieves a powerful moral resonance without ever once climbing onto a soapbox. There isn’t much more you can ask of an author - or find in a book.’
............Frank Wilson, Philadelphia Inquirer

‘A wrily comic, beautifully told seafaring yarn.’
............Newsweek

Canada Reviews

‘A robust intellectual entertainment, a comic sea adventure, survival tale and quest for the Garden of Eden all bound into one.’
............Andrew Pyper, Globe & Mail

‘Picked from its beach and put to the ear, English Passengers will do more than sound like the sea. It will drown you, it will sweep you away, laughing, in a torrent of voices from 150 years ago and still with so much to say.’
............Darryl Whetter, National Post

‘An outstanding historical novel by English author Matthew Kneale ... A wonderfully contrived and engrossing book, the brilliance of the narrative techniques highlights the tragic ironies to give a comprehensive examination of this shameful drama.’
............Chris Gordon-Craig, Edmonton Journal

‘This is a master storyteller at work, and he has written an astonishingly vivid and moving novel - wholly persuasive, blisteringly critical and very, very funny.’
............Kevin Patterson


Australia Reviews

‘Although Kneale’s writing luxuriates in the purest storytelling bravado, the important elements of the novel, particularly the Tasmanian sections, are firmly anchored to historical accuracy ... The result is a marvellously different novel, and one that gusts along, like the Sincerity, with superb verve and confidence, until everything explodes in a magnificent conclusion in which the fates are sealed, wrongs righted and ironies deliciously delivered.’
............Janet Chimonyo, The Weekend Australian

‘Matthew Kneale’s ENGLISH PASSENGERS is a fine foray into the history of Tasmania ... Kneale’s greatest success lies in demonstrating that there is nothing like the artifice of fiction to bring the truth from the past. By mixing historical fact with farcical comedy, he successively makes even those well-known episodes from Tasmania’s past appear unreal, and he ignites in the reader a genuine desire to find out whether other moments are fictional or not.’
............Catherine Keenan, Sydney Morning Herald

‘Some books can be galloped through, hurdling over slow prose to catch the story in the easy meadows of dialogue. Others need to be grazed at leisure, preferably beside a slow fire with a superior malt to complete the contentment. Such a book is Matthew Kneale’s epic English Passengers ... The story of the humiliations and cruelties heaped upon the native people by colonists high Christian self-righteousness and scientific hubris has rarely been told so touchingly and with such savage effect as in Kneale’s engrossing novel. It is a beautifully written book to be read slowly and savoured for its rich scholarship, inventive construction and splendid prose.’
............Frank O’Shea, Canberra Times

‘Kneale’s use of this polyglottic form possesses utopian force, endowing our early colonial period with a full ecology of voices ... The ship narrative is delightfully picaresque and often savagely funny ... Kneale throws out a challenge to other novelists and readers to find inclusive ways of writing and speaking, new forms for our historical imagination.’
............Delia Falconer, The Age, 17th June 2000

‘It looks as if England’s Matthew Kneale has produced this year’s most impressive Australian historical novel. His English Passengers is an immensely readable, unsettling view of the slaughter of Tasmania’s Aborigines. This bleak subject might be well-explored territory in our own fiction, but Kneale makes it new with 20 narrrative voices and a Shakespearean flair for comic invention.
............Sally Blakeney, The Book Bulletin

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sweet thames .... Sweet Thames Reviews


‘In this excellent novel Matthew Kneale takes the fashionable course of setting his story in a previous century, in this case the London of 1849, while at the same time taking the less fashionable course of having a clearly defined purpose and a well-constructed, continually appealing plot. It is a pleasure to read a novel which has a reason for being written beyond either showing off a facility with the rhythms of non-20th-century speech or conducting experiments with structure…. The gradual unfolding of the plot is superbly done, as is the slow unravelling and remaking of Joshua Jeavons, who is woken from the ‘toxic slumber of unanimity’ and forced to think, for the first time in his life, independently.’
............Mark Illis, Spectator, 8th August 1992

‘Fascination with the squalor of the past makes Matthew Kneale’s novel Sweet Thames irrestistable.’
............Jennifer Selway, Observer

‘Here, indeed, is music to English ears.’
............Christopher Hawtree, Evening Standard

‘The re-creating of 1849 London in all its pungent vitality and mortality is Kneale’s forte... Muck - 19th and 20th century - has prove3d a remarkable fertiliser to Kneale’s robust imagination.’
............Peter Kemp, Sunday Times

‘A fascinating novel which succeeds in being a fast-moving suspense story as well as an absorbing account of the problems of sewage disposal in nineteenth-century London. I’m normally deeply resistant to historical fiction, but this won me over within the first few pages.’
............Penelope Lively

‘Kneale brings vividly to life the corruption and hardship of Victorian London in a vintage mystery story full of fascinating detail and human comedy.’
............Times


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whore banquets mr foreigner .... Whore Banquets / Mr Foreigner Reviews


‘Part thriller and part black comedy, the book moves at a cracking pace.’
............Anne Bilson, Time out, 14th January 1987

‘Whore Banquets is Matthew Kneale’s first novel. It has a light, unpretentious touch, and its dialogue convincingly mimics a varied range of English and would-be English registers ... The novel is highly readable and marks a confident start.’
............Richard Deveson, Times Literary Supplement, 30th Jan 1987

‘It’s exciting to read a first novel and realise that we have a promising new writer. Whore Banquets is a short, sinister and horribly funny book about a footloose young Englishman, Daniel, who gets into trouble in Tokyo.’
............Victoria Glendinning, Cosmopolitan, 5th Jan 1987

‘One is left eager for its successor.’
............Daily Telegraph, 6th February 1987

‘A first novel full of dry humour and menace.’
............Observer, 1st February 1987

‘This is a fine book, its comedy nicely underplayed, making the world seem big and frightening after reading it, and the business of crossing frontiers only for the brave.’
............Sunday Telegraph, 22nd February 1987

‘Enticing as the title of Matthew Kneale’s first novel may be, the characterisation, language, humour and irony produce an overall effect that is deeply disturbing as well as comic…’
............Emily Robinson, Literary Review

 



......an atheist's history of belief.

...

LATEST BOOK....

A fascinating history of the city of Rome, seen through the eyes of its most significant sackings, from the Gauls to the Nazis and everything in between.

No city on earth has preserved its past as has Rome. Visitors stand on bridges that were crossed by Julius Caesar and Cicero, walk around temples visited by Roman emperors, and step into churches that have hardly changed since popes celebrated mass in them sixteen centuries ago. These architectural survivals are all the more remarkable considering the violent disasters that have struck the city. Afflicted by earthquakes, floods, fires and plagues, it has most of all been repeatedly ravaged by roving armies. Rome: A History in Seven Sackings examines the most important of these attacks and reveals, with fascinating insight, how they transformed the city - and not always for the worse.

From the Gauls to the Nazis, Kneale vividly recounts those threatening the city, while drawing an intense and vibrant portrait of the city and its inhabitants, both before and after being attacked. In these troubled times when our cities can seem fragile, Rome's history offers a picture that is both shocking and also reassuring. Like the Neapolitans from Norman Lewis's Naples 44, Romans have repeatedly shrugged off catastrophes and made their city anew.

A meticulously researched, magical and novel blend of travelogue, social and cultural history, Rome: A History in Seven Sackings is part celebration of the fierce courage, panache and vitality of the Roman people, and part passionate love letter to Rome. This is a popular history of the famous, incomparable city like no other.


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Copyright Matthew Kneale 2013
Matthew Kneale - An Atheist's History of Belief, Understanding our most extraordinary invention - the new non-fiction book from the author of 'English Passengers', winner of the Whitbread Book of the year Award