TALKING AT THE GATES
Aged just 14, James Baldwin became a preacher at the Fireside Pentecostal Assembly in Harlem, and his talent for oratory lived on in his writing, making him one of the most influential black voices of 20th-century America. James Campbell, born in Glasgow in 1951, knew Baldwin for the last 10 years of the latter’s life and brings a fond, personal touch to this biography of the “compulsively sociable” yet “darkly introverted” author, though he doesn’t let friendship get in the way of solid criticism. Drawing on correspondence and interviews, poring over the FBI’s file on him (Baldwin believed, rightly, he was under surveillance) and examining his relationships with writers like Langston Hughes, Richard Wright and Norman Mailer, Campbell has produced a vivid, candid portrait of a fascinating man. This new edition comes with an introduction acknowledging that Baldwin’s politics and his “intersectionality” have left him ripe for rediscovery after many low-profile years.
Gibson, who introduced the world to the term “cyberpunk” 37 years ago, still feels impressively current. The Agency is the middle book of a trilogy which began with 2014’s Peripheral, taking place partly in a dystopian 2136 ruled by the shady “klept”, descendants of Russian oligarchs. Some klept amuse themselves by employing quantum technology to communicate with the past and thus create alternate timelines, and it’s Ainsley Lowbeer’s job to prevent that happening, or deal with the consequences when it does. To avert a catastrophe, she reaches through time to app-tester Verity and artificial intelligence Eunice in an alternate 2017 where Hillary Clinton is President but which is heading for a nuclear apocalypse. As usual, Gibson’s world-building is second to none and, if The Agency lacks the freshness of his breakthrough novels, its themes and concerns resonate all the more strongly in a world that seems to have modelled itself on his visions.
THE WISDOM OF PSYCHOPATHS
Dr Kevin Dutton
It’s becoming more widely recognised that psychopaths aren’t just cold murderers but are spread throughout the population, flourishing particularly well in corporate environments, politics and finance, so Kevin Dutton’s pop-psychology exploration of the subject won’t go short of readers. His breezy tone might grate after a while, but he is genuinely concerned that the way contemporary society rewards psychopathic behaviour might nudge more people in that direction. He has the secondary aim, too, of understanding his father, an East End market trader, who displayed many of the same traits. Fascinated by their mental workings, he argues that society needs its share of unflappable surgeons, soldiers and bomb disposal experts. But he also visits Broadmoor to see what he can learn from murderers and con men. Most interestingly, Dutton undergoes a procedure to deaden the emotional centres of his brain, allowing him temporarily to experience a state akin to the psychopathic mindset.