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In brief

The Mystery of Things. By A C Grayling. Weidenfeld amp; Nicholson. pound;12.99

This informative, witty collection of essays and reviews is loosely tied together by the idea that reflecting on the inner nature of things, the personal aspect of philosophy, happens most readily in the areas of the arts, history and science. As ever, Grayling, a prolific academic contributor to Prospect, the Times and other publications, is worth reading, partly for the sheer weight of knowledge he brings to bear.

Those who like to read a whole book rather than dip in will be dissatisfied, however: these occasional pieces are poorly linked by the structure imposed on them, and the heavy loading of knowledge to argument, the lack of progress in thought and the constant flow of polished sentences can simply get on your nerves.

If that seems ungrateful, as Grayling's is clearly a more intelligent book than 99 per cent of others, just consider its range: from Hitler to George Eliot to Shakespeare to Machiavelli to the Bront s to Virgil to Old Testament battles. Practically the only linking factor is the past 3,000 years in the west. A smashing bedside companion, though.

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