Cultural Amnesia

Clive James

28 April 2022
912 pages


With fascinating essays on artists from Louis Armstrong to Walter Benjamin, Sigmund Freud to Franz Kafka and Beatrix Potter to Marcel Proust, Cultural Amnesia is one of the crowning achievements in Clive James's illustrious career as a critic.

'One stupendous starburst of wild brilliance' – Simon Schama, historian and author of The Power of Art

A lifetime in the making and containing over one hundred essays, this is a definitive guide to twentieth-century culture. James catalogues and explores the careers of many of the century's greatest thinkers, humanists, musicians, artists and philosophers, with illuminating excursions into the minds of those historical figures – from Sir Thomas Browne to Montesquieu – who paved the way. Altogether, it is an illuminating work of extraordinary erudition.

Organised alphabetically by surname, this almanac invites you to share in the connections James draws, and to make your own – whether you read cover-to-cover, or allow curiosity to guide you. From Anna Akhmatova to Stefan Zweig, via Charles de Gaulle, Hitler, Thomas Mann and Wittgenstein, this varied and unfailingly absorbing book is both story and history, public memoir and personal record – and provides a field-guide to the vast movements of taste, intellect, politics and delusion that helped to prepare the times we live in now.

'Aphoristic and acutely provocative: a crash course in civilization' – J. M. Coetzee, author of Disgrace

'This is a beautiful book' – Observer

Part of the Picador Collection, a series showcasing the best of modern literature.

Clive James is one of the most ingeniously stimulating literary critics. Cultural Amnesia, with its encyclopedic length and organization and the intense jostle of its ideas, is to be dipped into over weeks and months. If the dipper occasionally brings up exasperation, it brings up astonished delight far more often; and, best of all, exasperated astonished delight
[A] fabulously gifted, enviably well-read, generously inclusive, and always commonsensical writer
One stupendous starburst of wild brilliance