Down To The Sea In Ships: Of Ageless Oceans and Modern Men, by Horatio Clare, Chatto & Windus, RRP£20, 288 pages

Alongside our own landlocked lives runs another parallel world far out at sea: that of the giant container ships braving storms and pirates to maintain our way of life. In the wake of Rose George’s recent investigation of the industry, Deep Sea and Foreign Going, writer Horatio Clare offers a more lyrical portrait of life on board.

In Down To The Sea in Ships he undertakes two voyages: the first from Felixstowe to Los Angeles via the Mediterranean and Suez Canal aboard the 360m long Gerd Maersk, which can carry 9,000 20ft-long metal boxes filled with cars, fruit, scrap metal and various hazardous goods; and the second from Antwerp to Montreal via the bleak north Atlantic in winter. His aim is to uncover a place where “certainty diminishes, modernity recedes and antique ways regather their power”.

It’s an epic and lyrical adventure in which Clare naturally recalls Melville, Conrad, Masefield and Coleridge to evoke a way of life that is so entwined with, yet alien to, our own.

Review by Carl Wilkinson

The Great Indoors: At Home in the Modern British House, by Ben Highmore, Profile books, RRP£14.99, 288 pages

The interior appearance and function of our homes has changed dramatically as a result of the 20th-century’s societal and technological transformations, writes Ben Highmore in his domestic cultural history The Great Indoors.

The rise of ownership, for instance, incentivised new householders to install electricity, plumbing and central heating. The latter opened up new rooms to inhabitants; no longer needing to huddle round the crackling hearth, teenagers fled to their own rooms, marking the ascendancy of what Highmore calls the “teenage bedsit”.

Highmore hits home when making such overarching points – for example, he argues compellingly that the shift from parlour to living room ushered in a new era of informality. But he is preoccupied with chronicling incremental changes and when he speaks grandiosely of the “duvet revolution” or becomes bogged down in the switch from coal to electricity and gas, his history becomes a little too everyday.

Review by Charlie McCann

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