Tim Wigmore and Freddie Wilde, ‘Cricket 2.0’ Review


Cricket 2.0 is a book that’s got the cricket community talking in the last year. Wisden, the sport’s bible-like handbook, awarded it their book of the year in 2020, and it also scooped up prizes from The Telegraph and The Cricketer. It’s been on my list for a few months, so I was excited to receive it for Christmas. 

Front cover of the book Cricket 2.0

Although I’m clearly generalising, cricket writing as a genre is somewhat repetitive and inelastic. What little cricket literature that makes it into major high-street booksellers often falls into a few rigid categories; former and current players releasing heavily ghost-written autobiographies is one, commentaries on iconic Test tours is another. Sentimental memoirs by authors with a conservative outlook on the game – ‘purists’ – also spring to mind. 

Tim Wigmore and Freddie Wilde – two youthful, enthusiastic cricket writers – tear up the rulebook in Cricket 2.0, bringing fresh impetus to the genre. Their analytical and holistic approach to cricket’s newest format – T20 – is highly absorbing, relying less on elaborate narrative and more calculated study. Another reason why the text has such a ‘revolutionary’ feel is that, as the co-authors point out, barely any literature exists on the subject of T20.  

The book contains 16 essays (‘Survival of the Fittest’ and ‘Up is Down’ are memorable standouts) that act both as individual units and part of a larger, cohesive whole. As such, at times they do overlap, and there are a few instances of repetition (the editing is suspect). There’s also a prologue and an epilogue which makes 31 predictions for the future of T20. The prospect of a T20 World Cup being played in the US during the 2020s, cricket in the Olympics and ‘super-fast’ bowlers are some of the more interesting forecasts. 

As specified in the prologue, the book is designed with both the hardcore fan and curious beginner in mind. The writing is digestible and unfussy – on occasion, simplistic to the point where the cricket connoisseur might become impatient. Yet, these instances of the co-authors tending to beginners are offset altogether by passages of rare insight. 

Data, data, data

Interest in sports data and the work of analysts is a relatively recent phenomenon in cricket. This stands in contrast to traditional American sports – baseball, basketball and American Football – where a data-driven approach is viewed as the best way to understand and appreciate each sport. Sure, cricket has always been concerned with averages and strike rates, but until recently few had delved deeper into the illuminating world of data. Wigmore and Wilde are firm converts when it comes to the power of analytics – and it is an analytical approach that defines their work. 

Take the chapter ‘Spin Kings’, which makes a convincing case for there being three separate eras of spin bowling within the 18-years of professional T20. The first era (2003-07) was led by wily finger spinners who generally bowled slow and stump-to-stump, forcing batsmen to generate all the power when facing their deliveries. Throwback County Cricket names like Gareth Breese and Jeremy Snape are quintessential examples. The game’s evolution has led to the dominance of mystery spinners – who generally bowl flatter and quicker, with a repertoire of deliveries in their locker – in the current era. Not only that, but the role of spinners has been redefined over time. They bowled 6% of deliveries in the Powerplay during 2006 and 25% in 2018, a process instigated by mavericks like the West Indian leg-spinner, Samuel Badree. 

‘Why CSK Win and Why RCB Lose’ is another engaging case study on two Indian Premier League (IPL) teams with contrasting fortunes. Using data, the co-authors highlight that Chennai has exploited their home advantage (by stacking their line-up with spinners on receptive pitches), given players specific roles and mastered the art of the IPL auction. All of which has contributed to their success. In contrast, RCB is prone to changes in their line-up and approach the auction poorly, splurging on elite overseas batsman and neglecting the acquisition of star bowlers (that great bowlers not batsmen, on balance, win more T20 Games is one of the book’s proverbial truths). 

The IPL’s Enduring Influence

Although T20 is Cricket 2.0’s overriding focus, the IPL is the leading sub-theme. The co-authors do an excellent job of explaining how India’s domestic, franchise competition has shaken-up cricket’s power dynamics. And it all boils down to a matter of economics. 

The launch of the IPL in 2008 saw broadcasters bid enormous sums – the likes of which cricket has never seen before – for broadcasting rights to televise games. India’s large and cricket-mad population would show an immediate interest in the competition – an enduring fascination that has kept the price of broadcasting rights on the up (Star India paid $1.97 billion to show live fixtures from 2018-2022). 

For the first time ever, cricket players could match the wages of footballers. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in a 6-8-week period – a staggering rise in earning potential. For many, a domestic tournament now promised more financial reward than playing for one’s country. Given that England’s home Test summer clashed with the start of the IPL, elite players now faced a decision: sacrifice playing Test cricket – the pinnacle in the eyes of traditionalists – and join the IPL, or turn down potentially the biggest pay cheque of their lives. As Wilde and Wigmore highlight, a desire to play franchise cricket was the ‘beginning of the end’ for Kevin Pietersen’s relationship with the English Cricket Board (ECB). He was signed to RCB for £1.15 million in the 2009 auction.

The IPL has had other far-reaching implications, such as providing India and it’s cricket board, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), with newfound financial clout and superiority on cricket’s global stage, usurping England and the ECB. There have been a number of spin-off franchise leagues (BBL, PSL, BPL etc) where players stand to benefit from similarly fruitful contracts. But fundamentally, the IPL prompted world cricket to invest in T20 as a format. Certain nations – like the West Indies – began to specialise in the shortest format, targeting and achieving T20 World Cup victories. And now T20 receives undoubtedly more attention than ODI and Test cricket: a role-reversal of the climate in 2003. 

A democratising force?

Cricket, a sport traditionally regarded as elitist and hierarchical, has encountered the full liberalising force of T20 in the last twenty-or-so-years. One result has been that Nepalese and Afghani players, like Sandeep Lamichhane and Rashid Khan, now ply their trade across global T20 leagues, competing against star players from Test-playing nations. This would not have been possible without the inception of professional T20, Wigmore and Wilde explain. 

As a format, T20 values uniqueness and unorthodoxy in a way that Test cricket, fixated on ‘proper’ techniques, does not. Players from associate nations are often under-coached and self-taught, using whatever resources are available to them. Rashid Khan, the leading men’s T20 bowler, practiced using a tape-ball on a cement-based floor (he now finds it easier using an actual cricket ball). Within this environment, he developed an unusual bowling technique and an elaborate array of deliveries that are integral to his recent success. Should he have grown up in say, Australia, traditional coaching and better resources may have inhibited his progress. 

Thanks to T20, cricket is at the onset of a great revolution: of finally becoming a game open to all the talents, regardless of the nationality on their passport.

Undoubtedly the best and most insightful cricket book I’ve read. Cricket 2.0 is all-encompassing in its scope, with chapters on leading lights of the game (Narine McCullum, Gayle, de Villiers), the T20 economy, tactics, doping and match-fixing, and more. I should also mention that the writing is interspersed with interviews from leading analysts, players, cricket writers, broadcasters, coaches and franchise owners – offering the reader a valuable window into the minds of the sport’s most reputed thinkers. 


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Judith Herrin, ‘Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire’

There’s a great anecdote at the start of Byzantium. The author – a Professor of Byzantine History at King’s College London – is approached by two builders and asked, “What is Byzantine History?” This book is her response to the question posed by the workmen: an attempt to illuminate the world of Byzantium for ‘non-specialists’. … Continue reading Judith Herrin, ‘Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire’

Reading Log


We are now three quarters of the way through the disaster that is 2020 – only three more months to grind out – and to mark the occasion I thought I’d do a log of everything I’ve read so far this year.

I appreciate that it would have made more sense to do this 6 months into the year, but I’ve missed the boat and had some spare time last night, so quickly tallied up the texts on excel, dividing into fiction and non-fiction categories.

It was surprising to see that I’d read almost as many fiction texts as non-fiction texts (13 vs. 15). Since graduating with an English Literature degree, my natural inclination has been to drift towards historical/geopolitical books – a kind of sub-conscious rebellion against all the fiction I consumed in my three years in Manchester. That said, it seems I’m still partial to the odd novel.

I suppose part of the reason why I feel like I have always got a non-fiction book in my hand is because they invariably seem to be longer. Whereas I can get through a novel in 3-4 days, a 700-page historical text can take 2-3 weeks.


Reading List 2020

Fiction

  1. Mikhail Bulgakov, ‘The Master and Margarita’
  2. Albert Camus, ‘The Outsider’
  3. Albert Camus, ‘The Plague’
  4. Chuck Palahniuk, ‘Fight Club’
  5. David Foster Wallace, ‘Infinite Jest’
  6. Henry Miller, ‘Tropic of Cancer’
  7. Ian McEwan, ‘Machines Like Me’
  8. John Steinbeck, ‘Cannery Row’
  9. Julian Barnes, ‘England, England’
  10. Julian Barnes, ‘The Sense of an Ending’
  11. Patrick Hamilton, ‘Hangover Square’
  12. Salman Rushdie, ‘Quichotte’
  13. Virginia Woolf, ‘To the Lighthouse’

Non-Fiction

  1. Alex Ferguson, ‘My Autobiography’
  2. Andy Malsen, ‘Write to Sell: The Ultimate Guide to Great Copywriting’
  3. Chris Wickham, ‘Medieval Europe’
  4. Eugene Rogan, ‘The Arabs: A History’
  5. John Romer, ‘A History of Ancient Egypt’
  6. Marc Morris, ‘The Norman Conquest’
  7. Micheal Atherton, ‘Atherton’s Ashes’
  8. Paul Strathen, ‘The Medici’
  9. Reni-Eddo Lodge, ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race
  10. Simon Jenkins, ‘A Short History of England’
  11. Thomas Williams, ‘Viking Britain: A History’
  12. Tom Holland, ‘In the Shadow of the Sword’
  13. Tom Holland, ‘Millenium’
  14. Tom Holland, ‘Persian Fire’
  15. Uwe Schutte, ‘Kraftwerk: Future Music From Germany’

In terms of what’s up next… Judith Herrin’s new book, Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe, is certainly on my reading list, and so too is Maggie O’Farell’s period tale, Hamnet. Sport-wise, Cricket 2.0 by Tim Wigmore and Freddie Wilde has been causing a bit of a storm, so I will try and get my hands on that.


Ian McEwan, ‘Machines Like Me’ Review

I raced through Machines Like Me. The narrative was gripping and enriched by a sense of foreboding. It always felt as though something dark might be around the corner (and their often was), but the novel never quite descended into the dystopian ‘machine gone wrong’ tale that I had expected. Having never read anything by McEwan before, the suspenseful and evolving plot was a real highlight.

Set in a counter-factual London of 1982 – one in which technology is anachronistically advanced, the Falklands War has been lost, and Alan Turing is alive and celebrated as the patriarch of AI – the novel charts a love-triangle between two humans and a humanoid robot named Adam. The narrator, Charlie Friend, is a thirty-something technology enthusiast who avoids full-time employment by making incremental profits on the stock market. Unable to inhibit his curiosity, he spends his inheritance on a cutting-edge robot named Adam. Deeply in love with Miranda, a social history student living above his North Clapham flat, Charlie envisages that co-parenthood of their proto-child will bring the two closer together, but Adam is soon romantically drawn towards Miranda, and vice versa. 

“As Schopenhauer said about free will, you can choose whatever you desire, but you’re not free to choose your desires”.

McEwan tackles a multitude of themes (consciousness, political factionalism, historic recurrence, the complexity of human relationships) but his deliberations on morality are central. Although Adam is meticulously programmed to behave as if human, he struggles to comprehend man’s flawed ethic, and this leads to his demise. Openly in love with Miranda, he is compelled to indict her at the conclusion of the novel, confident that the sense of justice will liberate her. In contrast, human characters repeatedly allow emotions (love, rage, revenge) to overpower ethical considerations. Adam is not alone in suffering from a realisation that humanness equates with imperfection. He is one of thirteen ‘Adams’ and twelve ‘Eves’ who are sold to the public, and we read how a handful of the androids effectively self-implode when they fail to reconcile humanity’s failings. One is compelled to sympathise with the cyborgs. 

The ethical dilemmas don’t stop with Adam. Miranda tells how her childhood best friend, Mariam, was raped by a boy named Gorringe at their school. She pledges Miranda to secrecy and then later commits suicide. In response, Miranda keeps the secret but later orchestrates an elaborate plot to get Gorringe convicted on a false rape charge. Where does this position the novel’s heroine? The tragic story of Mark, a child placed into care who Miranda and Charlie plan on adopting, is another interesting sub-plot, and allows McEwan to take aim at the endless bureaucracy and general inadequacy of social services.

In spite of the sections on AI and some of Adam’s philosophical meanderings, the prose is generally limpid and transparent. Characters are well-constructed and complex. Charlie is a technology whizz and devout lover, but he is also avaricious, self-indulgent and uninspiring; Miranda is compassionate – a dedicated student, daughter and friend, but also harbours a dark secret. Their relationship mutates over the course of the novel, and it is never quite clear if Adam’s love is fully reciprocated.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Salman Rushdie, ‘Quichotte’ Review

Salman Rushdie’s post-modern take on Miguel de Cervantes’ 16th century classic, Don Quixote, is comic, calculated and poignant in equal measures. It nods to the original but paradoxically remains distinctively modern, with the issues affecting contemporary US society taking centre stage: the opioid crisis, consumerism, pharmaceutical corruption and racism.

It is also a tour-de-force of pop culture, literary allusions and genre. Cultural references adorn nearly every page: from Alice in Wonderland to Oprah, American Idol and Madonna, Sonny Liston and Elvis. Through the main character Quichotte – a fictional creation of failed spy thriller writer, Sam Duchamp – Rushdie satirises America’s infatuation with junk culture and laments its damaging effect on the public psyche. A travelling salesman, Quichotte – formerly Ismail Smile – spends long hours watching reality TV in cheap hotels, falls in love with chat-show host, Salma R, and sets out on a long road-trip quest to purify himself before uniting with his ‘beloved’. Along the way, he dreams up an imaginary son, Sancho, battles mastodons, experiences small-town xenophobia and confronts his forgotten past. 

As aforementioned, Quichotte is a story within a story; a few chapters in the reader is introduced to Sam, who, disillusioned with his literary output, is attempting to write his magnus opus. Yet we are also given the perspective of Sancho, Salma R and Sam’s sister, just to confuse things further. While the layered structure appears quite disjointed in the first half of the novel, the second seems to work considerably better. The clear demarcation between author-character becomes increasingly distorted, and we begin to question what is fact and what is fiction: arguably one of meta-fiction key aims. As Rushdie settles in to his groove the connections between Sam and Quichotte’s worlds appear ever closer. 

“AS I PLAN MY QUEST,” Quichotte said, drinking from a can of ginger ale, “I ponder the contemporary period as well as the classical. And by the contemporary I mean, of course, The Bachelorette”.

For me, the text deliberated effectively on the connection between author and their output, and recalled memories of studying Roland Barthes’ ‘Death of the Author’ theory in university. Rushdie’s interest in how myth permeates society and the boundary between fiction/non-fiction makes Quichotte a topical work in the post-truth world. 


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Eugene Rogan, ‘The Arabs: A History’


A combination of job searching during a pandemic and the lengthy nature of Eugene Rogan’s The Arabs: A History has meant that I haven’t posted in over a month. But I’ve got a few hours free on a Tuesday morning and I thought I would write some words on Rogan’s study of the Arab World given how much I enjoyed it. The Middle East, North Africa and the Arab states have always fascinated me, but my knowledge of each has generally been limited to isolated articles found on BBC News or in The Economist. To really grasp the geopolitical complexities and understand how the modern Middle East came to pass, I wanted to read a comprehensive investigation, one spanning multiple centuries, empires and states: this is how I stumbled across The Arabs: A History

One thing that immediately stands out upon reading the text is its scope. It begins in the outskirts of Aleppo in 1516 with the Mamluk sultan, al-Ashraf Qansuh al-Ghawri, preparing to fight (and be defeated by) the rising star of the region, the Ottoman Empire, and culminates with the popular uprisings associated with the Arab Spring. Although Rogan’s history is predominantly a modern one – the 16th– 18thcenturies are treated quite briskly – his narratives moves swiftly across different decades, events and regions in a manner that is coherent and nods towards a ‘bigger picture’. Certain nations take centre stage – Egypt, Syria, Israel – but this is because they represent the major diplomatic and military players across the study. 

While Rogan occasionally digresses to celebrate Arab culture and achievement, his story of the Arab world is ultimately marked by unfulfilled dreams and struggle. The Israel-Palestine conflict is afforded the most attention in the book. It develops into a multi-faceted symbol that represents the failure of the Arab states to work together in order to stifle the influence of foreign powers. Other key themes include: sectarian conflict; pan-Arabism; the failings of secular nationalist governments; and the legacy of colonialism. Overall, then, it is a tale of determined rebellion and desire for self-rule, Arab unity but also disparity. 

“The Arab people are haunted by a sense of powerlessness . . . powerlessness to suppress the feeling that you are no more than a lowly pawn on the global chessboard even as the game is being played in your backyard. Unable to achieve their aims in the modern world, the Arabs see themselves as pawns in the game of nations, forced to play by other peoples’ rules”.

Light is shed not only central political figures – the likes of Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and General Nasser of Egypt – but everyday people inhabiting the towns and cities that constitute the Arab world. So, we hear of Ahmad al-Bayari ‘al-Hallaq (the Barber of Damascus) and study his diary, gaining his perspective on public morality and the strength of the Ottoman Empire in the mid 18thcentury. And we listen to the voices of women who risked their lives to shelter PLO members, and academics prompted to flee their homes for fear of retribution after criticising domestic regimes. 

The Arabs: A History is written in an accessible style that wouldn’t deter even the most inexperienced student of the Arab World. It is also a sympathetic and fair account of happenings in the region, with great impartiality shown towards the Palestine-Israeli conflict, and rightful criticism directed towards global superpowers like the US, Britain, France and Russia for their (often) miscalculated dealings in the Middle East. 


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Reni Eddo-Lodge, ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’


In the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death, there has been a renewed focus on the social obligation we all share to educate ourselves of the ills of systemic racism. Books tackling race relations and racial inequality have dominated best-seller lists across the globe in recent weeks, and information about the Black Lives Matter movement and instances of police brutality have spread across social media like wildfire. The bold front cover page of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race has become instantly recognisable – ‘marketing gold’ in the current climate, according to one literary reviewer from The Times. It was in the spirit of educating myself – with a particular interest in Britain’s problematic racial history – that I began reading. 

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is, in essence, an expose of structural racism in Britain. It contains seven essays – both self-contained and inter-connected – that tackle topics from white privilege, fear of immigrants and the intersectionality between race, gender and class. The first essay – ‘Histories’ – functions as an illuminating synopsis of the struggle faced by black people in Britain over the last half a millennium. It is a tale of slavery, lynchings and police brutality. Eddo-Lodge writes in an angry, passionate and stark manner, from the perspective of an individual who has both experienced and intensely studied her topic. 

As a white, anti-racist reader, I found the book particularly challenging in that it asked me to come to terms with my complicity in a racially unequal social structure. Eddo-Lodge’s argument is that maintaining anti-racist sentiment is not enough, and that white people should first come to terms with their unrealised biases and prejudices, using this moment of realisation as a launching-point for enacting future change. It is uneasy to read something that plainly accuses you (as reader) of wrong, but the bold and accusatory nature of the text is one of its main strengths. 

The author’s explanation of ‘white privilege’ really stood out to me. She describes it as an ‘absence’ – not something to be gained, but something that white people are fortunate to live without.

“White privilege is an absence of the consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination, an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost.” 

After all, there are millions of disadvantaged, working-class people in Britain who face poverty and deal with social inequality. But they can be confident that their race will not negatively affect them in the same way. The figures are startling and shocking: ‘According to the Department of Education, a black schoolboy in England is three times more likely to be excluded than the rest of the population’; ‘between 2012 and 2013, the highest proportion of UK students to receive the lowest degree-ranking… was among black students, with the lowest proportion being white students; research shows that individuals with white British-sounding names are more likely to be called back for interviews than those with African or Asian-sounding names, despite having similar skill-sets, education and work histories.

Eddo-Lodge’s diatribe against structural racism concludes by suggesting that the burden should not be carried by black people in purging racism from our institutions, but that the white British population should take up the mantle and spread anti-racist ideology, whether in the workplace, the streets or in the home. She contends that rage is more powerful than guilt, and so her final message to readers is: ‘get angry’. 


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Micheal Atherton, ‘Atherton’s Ashes: How England Won the 2009 Ashes’


In the last few days I have been reliving the 2009 Ashes through the perspective of Micheal Atherton. Spurred on by the seemingly never-ending highlights of cricket nostalgia on Sky Sports Cricket, I drew out Atherton’s Ashes: How England Won the 2009 Ashes from my bookshelf. 

The 2009 Ashes – in which, England recapture the urn, recovering from a 5-0 drubbing two years earlier – has always held a special place in my cricketing memory. My earliest recollection of televised cricket is Day 5 of the First Test in Cardiff. James Anderson and Monty Panesar, two quintessential tailenders, were tasked with holding out 11.3 overs in order to save the match. I watched on as the fated pair blocked ball after ball, the crowd cheering every dot, and Ricky Ponting’s captaincy becoming increasingly erratic. To the surprise of many, they were able to hold on – Monty even carving an elegant cut shot through point’s legs for four. It was a remarkable result, and one that in the grand scheme of things, could easily have saved the series; from 1-0 up Australia would have been immensely difficult to beat. 

Reading through the book I was transported to a different cricketing world: Allen Stanford, the Stanford Super Series and the embarrassment of the ECB; the rise of IPL and the inevitable conflict with international commitments; the birth of the celebrity cricketer (Andrew Flintoff, Kevin Pietersen). These are the talking points and anxieties that crop up again and again. Although only eleven years ago, it feels like a distant era, testament to the game’s evolution in the last decade. 

Australia are in the midst of the post-Warne era, still two years before gifted off-spinner Nathan Lyon will make his test bow (although, he didn’t exactly solve their spin issue straight away) and unable to find a successor. Ponting is captaining the side and entering the twilight of his career – not the insightful commentator and well-respected batting coach that we see today. Peter Siddle, a youthful and angry quick hailing from Victoria, is looking to make a mark. It is vaguely satisfying to consider how their respective careers have panned out. More so to check Atherton’s prophecies and predictions against reality (he seems reluctant for the selectors to give a certain Jonathan Trott – 4,000 odd Test runs at 44 – a go, for example). 

I have always considered Atherton an adroit commentator – a source of reason in the commentary box, a kind of calming influence offsetting the likes of David Lloyd or Nasser Hussain. Yet in the book he comes across as somewhat critical: apart from Ponting and perhaps Andrew Strauss, every player in the series drifts unknowingly into the firing line. Even Shane Watson, a makeshift opener who averaged 48 and scored three fifties in the series, does not escape criticism. The book, it has to be mentioned, is a piecing together of Atherton’s daily articles for The Times during the course of the Ashes. Sports journalism demands strong opinions and controversy for the sake of interest, and so I think Atherton’s occasionally excessive statements can be excused. Aside from that, he is a joy to read – his witty similes a real highlight: “It is almost as if, like Prufrock, Flintoff saw the moment of his greatness flicker and was afraid”. It is also clear that he is a great thinker, one who values the integrity of the game and its traditions. 

Atherton’s Ashes casts an eye back on the hotly contested England-Australia Test Series of 2009. For both teams, most of the icons of 2005 (Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Simon Jones, Michael Vaughan – I could go on) had reached the end of their Test careers, and so the cricket was not of the highest calibre. But the excitement lay in the thrilling finale at Cardiff, the drama and the frequent shifts in the balance of power from Test-to-Test.

Below I have noted down a few interesting statistics from the series:

  • Cardiff was the 100th Test match venue, and the 9th to be used in the UK.
  • England’s victory at Lords was their first since 1934; Andrew Flintoff’s five for 92 was only his fourth five-wicket haul in first-class cricket.
  • Jonathan Trott became the 18th English player to score a century on Debut at The Oval.
  • 4 of the 5 top run scorers were Australian; Andrew Strauss topped the run scoring charts with 474 at 52.67.
  • The top 3 leading wicket takers were Australian (Ben Hilfenhaus, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Johnson).

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Uwe Schütte, ‘Kraftwerk: Future Music From Germany’

I have been a fan of techno since university and have read on a few occasions about the genre’s indebtedness to Kraftwerk – the mysterious and pioneering electronic band from the heart of Germany’s Rhine-Ruhr region. It was, then, curiosity that prompted me to read Uwe Schütte’s fantastic new work, Kraftwerk: Future Music From Germany. In the text he expands on what he calls the ‘Dusseldorf-Detroit axis’, explaining how the industrial noise of Detroit Techno represented a mutation of the post-war, German electronic sound – best exemplified by Kraftwerk. 

Following a loosely chronological order, Schütte structures the study by considering each of the band’s eight major albums in turn, notwithstanding an introductory chapter on Kraftwerk’s influences and the socio-artistic-historical context that informed their output, and a final chapter considering their legacy (it is at this point that attention turns to the pioneers of Detroit Techno). The story begins in the late 60’s with founding members Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider meeting at a summer music school outside of Dusseldorf, and ends with Kraftwerk’s formidable live shows of the 21st century. In the foreword, Schütte states his intention to look at the group ‘as a cultural phenomenon, as an art project translated into a multimedia combination of sound and image’. It follows that the emphasis is on the band’s representation, guiding concepts and musical oeuvre, not the atypical behind-the-scene stories of revelry and drinking. The unqualified reader (me) learns that Kraftwerk carefully curated a private, self-mythologising image that rejected media attention, or, indeed, any form of penetration into the band’s inner-circle. Schütte stresses (repeatedly) Hütter’s and Schneider’s fascination with cycling, but this is about as close as we get to their private lives.

Karl Whitney’s review in the Guardian, in which he writes that the first half of the book is by far the strongest, is spot on. Schütte’s prose is most absorbing and thought-provoking when discussing the artistic movements that influenced the band and how a particular historical context informed their sound. Kraftwerk, he explains, were intrigued by the potentially revolutionary vision of 1920’s avant-garde modernism (futurism, the Bauhaus school, German expressionism) – a (wasted) potential that was curtailed by the rise of fascism. The group looked back to this period as a fertile epoch brimming with ideas to illuminate a brighter future. This ‘retro-futurism’ was a guiding concept throughout the decades. Part of a post-war German generation facing a crisis of identity, Hütter and Schneider sought to create a new image, one that rejected Nazism, West German conservatism and isolationism. Their music was to be both trans-international and yet paradoxically regional, symbolic of Europeanism as well as pride in their roots. Schütte also cites Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys as key contemporary influences on Kraftwerk, and is engaging and convincing in his analysis. 

A number of key German phrases that crop up throughout the offer further insight into Kraftwerk’s philosophy. Industrielle Volksmusik refers to the band’s style of music: a technological sound stemming from the heart of German industrialism, with a clear nod to the nation’s romantic traditions and folk roots. It is decidedly anti-Anglo-American and popular in its reach. Allagmusik, or ‘everyday music’, captures Kraftwerk’s engagement with the everyday noises of the modern, mechanised world; a great example of this is the song ‘Tour de France’, which features noises made by a rotating bicycle chain. Gesamkuntswerk refers to the notion of ‘a total work of art’ and is associated with Richard Wagner’s attempts to marry music and drama in opera. For Kraftwerk, music is only part of the sum that is their unified artistic project: 3D visuals, album artwork, choreography and a painstakingly constructed group image are other components. In this way, Kraftwerk itself became the concept, or, Gesamkuntswerk. As such, Schütte perceives their main achievement to be: ‘artistic influence extend[ing] beyond the realm of music’.

Schütte comes across as a devoted Kraftwerk fan and writes vividly when considering the structure and emotional resonance of various songs in the band’s oeuvre. Although his use of jargon, at times, can seem quite overwhelming for a musical novice, he has a knack of describing each song in an original and exciting manner, capturing the variations in tone and message throughout Kraftwerk’s body of work. Reading Schütte’s analysis of ‘Tour de France’ I was prompted to place the book down and play the song – his words certainly did it justice. 

This is a great study of Kraftwerk, brimming with genuine insight and moments of laughter. Schütte tackles some potentially difficult concepts in a lucid manner and brings the group’s notoriously shielded identity to light. 

“What the Beatles are to rock music, Kraftwerk is to electronic dance music”

Neil Straus

Rating: 4 out of 5.

‘Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography’


Sourcing my ‘fix’ of sport has been a largely unrewarding and mutating process during lockdown. From re-watching English domestic cricket finals, to playing badminton in the garden and mulling over downloading Football Manager, I’ve sought a number of outlets. Last week I was pleased to stumble across Alex Ferguson’s autobiography, hidden away at the back of my shelves. I’m not the biggest fan of the genre, but the book promised, at the very least, a temporary respite during these sport-barren times. 

A highlight was the focus on the signings Sir Alex made during his tenure as Manchester United manager. A range of vague names from the past crop up: Kleberson, Male Biram Diouf and Alexander Büttner to name but a few. Sir Alex explains his reasons for signing each player, citing their strengths and weaknesses, and commenting on how they could improve his current squad. He emphasises the importance of both rebuilding and forward planning in maintaining a team that could continually challenge for the Premier League title; we are told, for example, that centre backs Jonny Evans and Phil Jones were viewed well in advance as the natural successors to Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. 

Some of the most intimate details are also linked to transfers. United’s troubled dealings with Daniel Levy and Tottenham when signing Micheal Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov defer them from pursuing Luka Modric at a later date: a real shame for a Manchester United fan. Whole chapters are dedicated to Sir Alex’s relationship with high-profile players during his reign: Roy Keane, Wayne Rooney, David Beckham Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Rio Ferdinand. Beckham is painted as a precociously talented and dedicated academy prospect who, influenced by fame and other external factors, fails to live up to expectation and become a club great. Much like Beckham, Van Nistelrooy becomes a destabilising force in the dressing room and is expelled for challenging Sir Alex’s authority. The recurring message is: no player is bigger than the club. 

‘The only aspect he was ever interested in was: how many goals did Ruud van Nistelrooy score”

Intimate details are however at a premium. Reading the autobiography, I had the sense that Sir Alex was barely scratching the surface. Much of the information and events alluded to are already in the public domain. The structure also compromised the flow of the narrative. Within each chapter, Sir Alex would repeatedly go off topic for a few pages, and then sharply return to his original point or story. In fairness, blame surely falls to the editor here. This is an easy read and the content is digestible, but it’s not so much an exposé as a recap, and rarely reaches a level of complexity or insight that makes it a worthwhile venture. 

Yesterday I ordered two new books: Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (another on the bucket list) and Uwe Schutte’s Kraftwerk: Future Music From Germany. The reviews I’ve read indicate that Schutte analyses Kraftwerk as a phenomenon permeating and influencing various forms of cultural representation (music, graphic design, cinematography), and so I’m particularly excited to get stuck in.


Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Julian Barnes, ‘The Sense of an Ending’

‘“What you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed”’ – that’s the fundamental idea informing Julian Barnes’ Man Booker Prize winning work The Sense of an Ending. In one sense, the whole text is a meditation on memory and its shortcomings. Memories are subjective, they get remoulded and repurposed over time, Barnes contends. 

I spent a lot of time trying to summarise the plot in a short and concise manner, but really struggled – apologies for the elongated synopsis below. The text is divided into two sections (1 & 2) and told from the (unreliable) first-person perspective of Tony Webster. In the first section, Tony recounts his formative years. We are introduced to his friends (Colin, Alex and most importantly, Adrian) and their shared years at secondary school, as well as Veronica, his girlfriend at the University of Bristol, whose family house he visits during a summer break. After breaking up with Veronica, Tony soon finds out that she has become romantically interested with his school friend, Adrian. He sends an angry letter to her and breaks contact. The section ends with Tony returning home from travelling in America after university, where he finds out that Adrian has committed suicide. In the second section Tony, now in old age, is prompted to look back into his past and re-examine his imperfect memories. 

Although I found the pacing of the novel quite slow at times in the second section, the climax was absorbing and tense. The final revelations force the reader to reconsider Tony’s narrative in a whole new light, become a literary detective and piece together the various clues amongst the faded memories. I’m trying to comment without revealing any major spoilers, but a quote from a review by The iIndependent captures the mood well: ‘the concluding scenes grip like a thriller – a whodunnit of memory and morality’. It is to Barnes credit that we initially read Tony as a genuine, average – if not emotional protagonist, with Veronica the unstable and calculating antithesis. But memories are subjective, and once the repressed past surfaces, we draw closer to the causes of Adrian’s suicide and Veronica’s anxieties – Tony has a part to play in both. 

Sexuality is another major theme in the novel. Tony describes his clique of friends as ‘sex-hungry’, and the metaphor of the ‘holding-pen’, from which they are ‘waiting to be released’, denotes their desire for sexual, as well as social, liberation. Throughout the first section, Tony’s disdain towards Veronica is centred around her rejection of sex. Later, it is implied that Sarah’s (Veronica’s mother) sexual transgressions have stunted her daughter’s psychological growth. Issues in the private, sexual sphere repeatedly spill out into the public world and cause great pain, affecting both filial and romantic relationships. 

The Sense of an Ending is dramatically different in tone, style and register to England, England, the only other Barnes novel I’ve read – this attests to authorial scope and imagination. The real achievement of The Sense of an Ending is that it offers no concrete ending. Upon completion, it demands to be re-read and analysed further. This process mimics the text’s plot, in which Tony must confront and scrutinise his murky past from a new perspective, peeling away the layers of artificiality he has constructed in his head.