So Much Things to Say by Roger Steffens review – an oral history of Bob Marley

From shiny hair and satin suit to army fatigues with dreadlocks flashing in the night air, the king of reggae’s story, from different perspectives

When Bob Marley died aged 36 in 1981, Island Records hurried to contact Peter Tosh (one of the original Wailers trio) to alert him before the news reached the general public. In the seven years since their acrimonious split Tosh had watched Marley’s spectacular rise. After a pause on the phone, Tosh startled Island’s messenger with his response to his former friend’s death: “Well, perhaps it’ll leave a little room for the rest of us to come through.”

Robert Nesta Marley cast the world of reggae in his shadow. This is the case even more now than at his death – and is reflected in the global industry feeding collections of albums, T-shirts, mugs, musicals and documentaries. It’s a development that might well have stuck in ...

So Much Things to Say by Roger Steffens review – an oral history of Bob Marley

From shiny hair and satin suit to army fatigues with dreadlocks flashing in the night air, the king of reggae’s story, from different perspectives

When Bob Marley died aged 36 in 1981, Island Records hurried to contact Peter Tosh (one of the original Wailers trio) to alert him before the news reached the general public. In the seven years since their acrimonious split Tosh had watched Marley’s spectacular rise. After a pause on the phone, Tosh startled Island’s messenger with his response to his former friend’s death: “Well, perhaps it’ll leave a little room for the rest of us to come through.”

Robert Nesta Marley cast the world of reggae in his shadow. This is the case even more now than at his death – and is reflected in the global industry feeding collections of albums, T-shirts, mugs, musicals and documentaries. It’s a development that might well have stuck in ...

Pale Rider by Laura Spinney review – the flu pandemic that killed 50 million

Spanish flu in 1918-19 killed vastly more people than the world war it followed, yet has remained in the shadowsA high-security containment facility in Atlanta, Georgia, keeps under lock and key an organism that in the course of a few months from 1918-1919 was responsible for more deaths than the number of people killed in the first world war. Vanished until 2005, the H1N1 strain of the influenza virus was brought back to life for the purpose of better understanding its catastrophic effect on the world’s population a century ago. But as Laura Spinney points out in Pale Rider, the resurrection is not thought universally to be a good idea. The Spanish flu pandemic, which killed at least 50 million people, has remained something of an enigma, not only because scientists are still unsure about why it was so lethal, but because it’s a hugely significant world event ...

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge review – ‘racism is a white problem’

White people avoid discussing race, and when discussions are had, they fail to meet the reality of black experience Ignatius Sancho, whose parents died on the slave ship on which he was born, had the good fortune later in life to receive a classical education courtesy of the Duke of Montagu. As an adult, Sancho was feted as an African man of letters who, entering into a correspondence with Laurence Sterne in 1766, beseeched the author to use his authority to intervene in the plight of enslaved Africans. So for hundreds of years black writers in Britain have sought to engage white people on the subject of race. But not any more – at least as far as Reni Eddo-Lodge is concerned. Yet the title of her book, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – it was first used in a widely read blog she posted ...

Familiar Stranger by Stuart Hall review – from Jamaica to the New Left and Thatcherism

This posthumous memoir by the renowned cultural theorist hinges on his journey from the West Indies to the ‘mother country’ Stuart Hall, who died in 2014, was a radical Caribbean intellectual based in Britain for most of his adult life, an activist and cultural theorist who became a hugely influential figure for his own and subsequent generations. His fierce championing of social engagement – as exemplified in his editorship of the New Left Review – was underpinned by compassion, delivered in a voice as smooth as the finest rum. He was a pioneering thinker about race in Britain, who nonetheless put class first, arguing along with Richard Hoggart and others for the rightful place of the working class and popular art forms in mainstream culture. He helped to define the term “Thatcherism”, and in such prescient books as The Hard Road to Renewal – about Margaret Thatcher and the crisis ...

Island People: The Caribbean and the World review – Naipaul and dancehall

Joshua Jelly-Schapiro’s elegant travel book delves deep into the region’s brutal history and unique allure In 1958 the BBC World Service shut down Caribbean Voices, a programme that had provided a nurturing platform for fledgling West Indian authors, a handful of whom went on to become luminaries of the region. Explaining the reasons for its closure, a BBC official announced that inevitably “the children had outgrown the patronage of the parent”. Four years later Jamaica and Trinidad gained independence from the UK, with a rush of jubilation and anxiety. It is particularly this theme – the fallout from change – that travel writer Joshua Jelly-Schapiro explores cogently in Island People. It takes courage to venture into a territory already inhabited by Anthony Trollope, Patrick Leigh Fermor and VS Naipaul. A writer is bound to ask himself whether he has anything to say – to match their wit and arrogance. ...

Black and British by David Olusoga review – reclaiming a lost past

Olusoga’s insightful ‘forgotten history’ amounts to much more than a text to accompany a TV series. Yet despite its many attributes, is it too temperate? How do you make black British history palatable to white Britons? Actually, hold on a second. How do you make it palatable to black Britons? Let’s start again. How do you compose a history of Britain’s involvement with black people? The answer during my childhood was to accentuate the positive; to tweak the past, for instance, so that schoolchildren were left with the impression that slavery was somehow an abhorrent North American practice and that the British, through the good works of William Wilberforce, should be commended for their part in bringing about the end of the Atlantic slave trade. Related: David Olusoga: ‘There’s a dark side to British history, and we saw a flash of it this summer’ Continue reading...