Origin by Dan Brown – a Nostradamus for our muddled times

Machines with synthetic brains pose a danger to mankind in Brown’s latest dotty apocalyptic thriller

I used to think Dan Brown was merely a crackpot. Now I wonder if he might not be a prophet. What once seemed to be his deranged fantasy increasingly looks like our daily reality. In our myth-maddened world, we are befuddled by bloggers peddling conspiracy theories and menaced by transactions on the dark web; we can’t cross a road without dreading some runaway act of messianic terror, and we experience an implosion of identity if we lose our smartphones or forget our passwords. In listing those perils I have summed up the plot of Brown’s new novel Origin: whether or not we read his apocalyptic thrillers, we are living inside them.

Origin stirs up again the witches’ brew that Brown first concocted in The Da Vinci Code. Scientific enlightenment engages in another battle with religious ...

South and West: From a Notebook by Joan Didion review – back to the future of the US

These prescient essays from 1970 record the California writer’s reflections as she travelled through America’s ‘gothic’ deep south

In 1970 Joan Didion – a good novelist but one of America’s great essayists – sentenced herself to a hardship posting. She volunteered to spend a month aimlessly on the road in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, thinking that her trip “might be a piece”. She never wrote the article; now, luckily, her notes have been unearthed, along with some later musings about California, where she then lived. The result is a little book with a chilling power of prediction. In the intervening decades, the isolated, somnolent rednecks Didion encounters – people who even back then before cable news fed on information that was “fifth-hand, and mythicised in the handing down” – acquired an inordinate political power because of demographic shifts; last year they had their revenge when, in collusion with rust-begrimed losers ...

South and West: From a Notebook by Joan Didion review – back to the future of the US

These prescient essays from 1970 record the California writer’s reflections as she travelled through America’s ‘gothic’ deep south

In 1970 Joan Didion – a good novelist but one of America’s great essayists – sentenced herself to a hardship posting. She volunteered to spend a month aimlessly on the road in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, thinking that her trip “might be a piece”. She never wrote the article; now, luckily, her notes have been unearthed, along with some later musings about California, where she then lived. The result is a little book with a chilling power of prediction. In the intervening decades, the isolated, somnolent rednecks Didion encounters – people who even back then before cable news fed on information that was “fifth-hand, and mythicised in the handing down” – acquired an inordinate political power because of demographic shifts; last year they had their revenge when, in collusion with rust-begrimed losers ...

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton review – no twinge of remorse

The presidential candidate blames everyone but herself for her shock defeat by Trump in this hubristic memoir

In common with everyone who is likely to read this review, I grieved when Hillary Clinton lost the election last November. Now there is an extra reason for regret: with time on her hands, the woman who was so qualified to be an able, diligent, clear-headed president has hastily written – or presided over the writing of – an unreflective book that in its combination of number-crunching wonkery and strenuously pious uplift reveals more than she might have intended about why she lost. Her bewilderment is easy to understand, but couldn’t she have waited before monetising failure and relaunching her brand with a nationwide book tour?

Bill Clinton’s mantra was “I feel your pain”, a phrase he uttered not at the site of a flood or a quake but in a Manhattan nightclub, ...

The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve review – fanfare for God’s first couple

Stephen Greenblatt gives Adam and Eve the benefit of the doubt in this enthralling study

We may be a godless lot, but our world remains hopelessly religious. As Stephen Greenblatt demonstrates in his enthralling, thrilling book about Genesis and its afterlife, myths that once compelled belief have dwindled into make-believe, but in the “post-truth” era fiction and fantasy still determine the lives of many – Islamic fanatics, members of the Jedi church, Trump loyalists – and make them bow down before false gods.

Greenblatt – a professor of humanities at Harvard, academically celebrated as the biographer of Shakespeare and the founder of the new defunct fashion in literary criticism known as the new historicism – here picks apart the most invidious and onerous of myths. Genesis devised a story that told us where we are, why we are here, and established rules for our conduct. Human history in the Christian ...

Selfie by Will Storr review – me, my selfie and I in an age of ego

Will Storr crafts an entertaining history of the self, from Narcissus to Kardashian to TrumpInfatuated with his own reflection in a pool, Narcissus pined away and died of self-love. Freud diagnosed this folly as a perversion, a neurotic choice of sterile solitude, but the warning was futile. The iPhone has mechanised narcissism and a gadget meant to facilitate communication with others has caused its most addicted users to behave like long-lost Kardashian cousins, cheesily grinning as they document their unexceptional doings. In his book on the phenomenon, Will Storr interviews a young woman who has hundreds of thousands of selfies stored on memory cards, a hard drive and a sagging, overburdened iCloud. She frequently works through the night to edit and filter her daily quota of new images in readiness for disseminating them on social media. The unexamined life may not be worth living, but do all lives deserve ...

Selfie by Will Storr review – me, my selfie and I in an age of ego

Will Storr crafts an entertaining history of the self, from Narcissus to Kardashian to TrumpInfatuated with his own reflection in a pool, Narcissus pined away and died of self-love. Freud diagnosed this folly as a perversion, a neurotic choice of sterile solitude, but the warning was futile. The iPhone has mechanised narcissism and a gadget meant to facilitate communication with others has caused its most addicted users to behave like long-lost Kardashian cousins, cheesily grinning as they document their unexceptional doings. In his book on the phenomenon, Will Storr interviews a young woman who has hundreds of thousands of selfies stored on memory cards, a hard drive and a sagging, overburdened iCloud. She frequently works through the night to edit and filter her daily quota of new images in readiness for disseminating them on social media. The unexamined life may not be worth living, but do all lives deserve ...