July 17th, 2019

The Economist Book Of Obituaries: Keith Colquhoun and Ann Wroe

The Economist is a weekly paper that publishes a single obituary per issue. Clearly the editor has to be selective- and the dead people who make the cut aren't always the obvious ones. Ted Heath is here- as are Gerald Ford and John Paul II but they rub shoulders with the last surviving British cavalryman of the Great War, a Frenchwoman who lived to be 122, a monk who bred a disease resistant bee and a spirit medium who took dictation from dead composers. Often the death is used as a peg on which to hang a little essay on cultural and social attitudes. Judgement is skewed towards the personal. Whoever wrote the piece on George Harrison isn't much of a Beatles fan and Alan Ginsberg is treated with something less than full seriousness. There seem to be rather a lot of Catholic priests in the mix and a paucity of the 57 other varieties of religious leader. Taken as a whole the book amounts to a quirky, frequently amusing overview of the 20th century. I've been dipping in and out- and my mood on putting the book aside is always a little less sunny than it was when I took it up.

We have lived through dispiriting times.