FABER & FABER, £12.99 Order for £11.69 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Believe in People: The Essential Karel Capek, Translated by Earka Tobrmanova-Kuhnova

Ordinary lives become exceptional

A key aspect of the mid-20th century, one might say, was the quarrel between popular and serious culture.

For George Orwell no artefact was too lowly for considered analysis. In a legendary essay of 1939, "Boys' Weeklies", he scrutinised Wizard and Hotspur for evidence of racism. Before Orwell, the Czech writer Karel Capek had applied literary judgement to ephemera in much the same way.

"I am interested in everything that exists," Capek declared, by which he meant subjects from football to barn owls to Charlie Chaplin. Capek is best known for inventing the word "robot" in his 1920 play Rossum's Universal Robots. Much of his work has a science-fiction flavour. His 1936 novel War with the Newts offered a satire on Hitler's drive to acquire living-space in the East. Graham Greene warmly recommended Capek's fantasy: it was reminiscent of early H G Wells, he said, only with "more wit and less horror".

Believe in People, a selection of Capek's newspaper journalism from the 1920s and 1930s, is distinguished by an impish wit and gently subversive tone. The bulk of it has not been translated into English before. For 18 years, Capek wrote for the Prague-based daily The People's Paper, becoming its star contributor. With agreeable courtesy, his journalism made literature and politics accessible to the layman. With a free rein, Capek put his keen mind to the dangers of blind adherence to ideology, as well as the uses and abuses of language.

Capek's literary credo was that the proper study of mankind is man. His articles exude an affecting modesty and polymath's enthusiasm for such everyday matters as gardening, cabbages and soap. With his old-fashioned reverence for work, he eulogises the toil of shoemakers, blacksmiths and woodcutters who work with their hands and take pride in a job well done. "Now I, too, have my craft," he says. In seeking to close the gap between high and low culture, Capek was a writer ahead of his time. He died on Christmas Day 1938, three months before the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, having been placed at number three on the Gestapo list.

Ian Thomson's 'The Dead Yard' won the 2010 Ondaatje Prize and the Dolman Travel Book of the Year Award

Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
Arts and Entertainment
Crowd control: institutions like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art are packed

Art
Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices