In the Shadow of the Sword by Tom Holland, is an account of the growth of the Arab empire in and around the 7th century AD. The most fascinating aspect was how monotheism became an imperial tool – indispensable to Roman, Persian, Arab and Jew. If the Arabs had had to wait much longer for a voice-hearing prophet all their own, would they eventually have thrown in their lot with their fellow-Semites or with the fashionable new Christians? What a different world it would be.
I recommend Beasts of the Southern Wild, an American film directed by Benh Zeitlin about a little girl in a storm-tossed bayou off Louisiana. Also Wadjda, a film set in Saudi Arabia, about a schoolgirl whose great ambition is to own a bicycle. Finally a small British film called The Comedian, directed by Tom Shkolnik.
I like Sky Sports coverage of the rugby premiership and I like Stuart Barnes as a commentator. I mostly watch sport.
Damien Hirst at Tate Modern was dismal. The Gerhard Richter show, also at Tate Modern, had appalling audio commentary: literally nonsensical in places. The Leonardo at the National was as good as they said, and I saw a good Degas at the Musée d’Orsay.
Sebastian Faulks’s ‘A Possible Life’ is out now.