cover image True Stories and Other Essays

True Stories and Other Essays

Francis Spufford. Yale Univ., $25 (360p) ISBN 978-0-300-23005-5

This debut essay collection from novelist Spufford (Golden Hill) has many strengths, chief among them the diversity of topics covered. Antarctica is discussed in the section entitled “Cold” and The Jungle Book is discussed in the section entitled “Printed.” Each of the book’s five sections receives a one-word title, with “Sacred” notably including an essay defending Christianity against the “Puritanism” of the new atheists. “Red” and “Technical” respectively examine the ephemeral moments when the Soviet political experiment and British rocketry programs seemed poised for success. Spufford’s interests range so widely that it’s hard to imagine them coalescing, but what holds the 37 selections together is his skeptical yet wondering engagement with science—and his original, incisive voice. It’s hard to pick the best essays. Contenders include the lyrical “Ice,” with its invocations of Shelley and Hans Christian Andersen, “Dear Atheists,” a deft and witty rebuttal to Richard Dawkins, and “Robinson’s Mars,” an analysis of what Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy says about utopian fiction. The essays challenge one’s imagination, are never repetitive, and show a welcome breadth of mind in an era of narrow specialization. Spufford fits no cookie-cutter definition: he is journalist and scholar, science lover and Christian, word lover and poet, and his writing satisfies deeply. [em](Oct.) [/em]