All posts by Richard Brown

Sea of Poppies


What was the impact of the opium trade on India? This wasn’t a question I’d ever considered until I read Sea of Poppies, the wonderful new novel from Amitav Ghosh. Set in the period leading up to the outbreak of the First Opium War, the book describes the epic voyage of the ship Ibis and its motley crew of convicts, indentured laborers, sailors, and ex-pirates from Calcutta to the island of Mauritius. Continue reading Sea of Poppies

The Cult of the Amateur


While PCs and the Internet have given hundreds of millions of people the opportunity to post their thoughts and opinions to a global audience for the first time in history, this “free, user-generated content spawned by the Web 2.0 revolution is decimating the ranks of our cultural gatekeepers, as professional critics, journalists, editors, musicians, moviemakers, and other purveyors of expert information are being replaced…by amateur bloggers, hack reviewers, and homespun moviemakers, and attic recording artists”. Continue reading The Cult of the Amateur

The Story of my Assassins


Half way through The Story of My Assassins by Tarun Tejpal, I felt like giving up on the book. This was not because the writing was poor or the plot was boring; it was simply that I felt as if my head was being constantly battered by a sledgehammer, so intense and depressing were the author’s descriptions of what the blurb on the dust jacket calls the “dark underside” and “unbearable realities” of modern India. Continue reading The Story of my Assassins



It’s quite amazing how much excellent popular Roman historical fiction is available these days. From the majestic Masters of Rome Series by Colleen McCullough and the novels Pompeii and Imperium by Robert Harris to the Marcus Didius Falco detective novels by Lindsey Davis and Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub-Rosa series about Gordianus the Finder, you can get a wonderfully rich taste of what life must have been like during the city state’s tumultuous history not just for the leading figures such as Gaius Marius, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, and Julius Caesar but also the common people. Continue reading Roma