This is an unusual and important book. As the sub-title records, it is 'an eye-witness account of Peter Brook's production from first rehearsal to first night.' The production in question was a famous one that had its opening night on 27 August 1970. Audiences loved it, as, indeed, did most critics, Clive Barnes of the New York Times going so far as to say, 'It is a magnificent production, the most important yet of the world's most imaginative and inventive director. If Peter Brook had done nothing else but this Dream, he would have deserved a place in theatre history.' All the more reason therefore to be grateful for this unique account of this production's gestation during its weeks of rehearsals. In a typically stimulating preface, David Selbourne concludes by saying, 'What follows, then, is not hindsight. It is, instead, an attempt to reinstate the true density of first impressions . . . as well as to recover fleeting moments in the posthumous life of Shakespeare's writing, in one of the very greatest of his plays.' Simon Trussler, in his introduction, judges it to be 'an important work, both in the critical portrait it offers of a leading director at work, and in its demonstration of the kinds of bluff, self-deception, and unhappy accident that can as much contribute to the making of a theatrical 'triumph' as our more orthodox expectations of creative struggle, fruitful improvisation, and dialectic discovery - present in full measure though these undoubtedly were. All the ingredients are there in the seven-week mix of rehearsals of which the detailed record now follows. ' 'An indispensable theatre book . . . It explains more than we could have hoped how the miracle was wrought.' John Barber, Daily Telegraph 'The process of theatrical creation comes across with rare force, expressed in language - Mr Selbourne writes very well - of rare beauty.' Michael Coveney, Plays and Players
'This diary records, in the terse fashion of a man with little time to spare, three driven, harassed years in the life of a hospital consultant. . . We can't guess at the diarist's intentions; in his worst moments he thought his words would never be read, let alone published. So constraints are off. Uncensored opinions are expressed and the writer himself, in all his irascible selfhood, takes us by the sleeve and furnishes us with an uncalculated account of his life and times.' So wrote Hilary Mantel in the Guardian in 2008. This is only an extract from a much longer piece in which Hilary Mantel reveals her pleasure at rediscovering this book. It is edited by David Selbourne, Hugh Selbourne's son, and in his introduction he writes, ' This record provides a self-portrait, a medical portrait of a community, and one observant man's response to a time of flux in the early 1960s. Moreover, there is to be found in the circumstances which brought people down and hence to my father's attentions, a complex part of the social history of our times, a part which is usually hidden. It was a period of cultural overlap, in which patients who could have stepped from the pages of Dickens, and who were ''bred by the conditions of of the industrial revolution'', rubbed shoulders with the first generation of post-war working class and welfare state teenagers.' The eloquent advocacy of Hilary Mantel and David Selbourne is more than justified: open this diary anywhere, but if you are sensible you will start at the beginning, and you will be drawn in immediately.
The Principle of Duty is an important book. In the preface to the 1997 edition (the edition being reissued by Faber Finds) David Selbourne states his aim to be, 'to address the oldest traditions and propositions of political philosophy as well as the most modern of our anxieties, so that, by means of a restatement of civic principles rooted in the Judeo-Christian and Greco-Romon worlds, we might begin to rediscover the conditions for living together in our tormented age.' In short, The Principle of Duty argues that limits must be set to selfish individual entitlement if a free social order is to be preserved. Amplified a little in David Selbourne's own words, ' a leading theme in my book . . . is that, just as the citizen owes obligations to himself or herself, to his or her fellows, and to the civic order to which he or she belongs, so the civic order owes obligations, political, economic, social, educational and cultural in the widest sense, to the citizen.' A careful reading of that makes it clear this book politically is neither to the left or to the right, indeed, to quote David Selbourne again, 'my civic objections to market-driven notions (especially those which lead to the dispersal of public goods by ''privatisation'') provoked much of the ''right'', while my invocation of civic duty alienated some on the ''left''.' More positively, however, it was widely praised across the political gamut: 'Rarely has a work of political theory seemed so timely. At a moment of popular malaise and political exhaustion, The Principle of Duty seeks to identify the structural flaws in modern liberal society and to suggest energetic ways in which it might be reformed...It should encourage politicians, academics and journalists to employ its language and to enter the forgotten philosophical terrain which it explores'. Editorial, The Times, 23 May 1994 'Timely and compelling . . . Selbourne's solution is to reassert an argument which both the liberal tradition and the common law have long recognised, but has been progressively ignored: that people have duties to themselves, their fellows and society, which are fully the moral equivalents of their rights . . . He has tried to think his way not just into the theory of a better social order, but of its practicalities. There is much in what he says that demands and deserves very careful thought.' A. C. Grayling, Financial Times 'Selbourne's arresting, irascible and sometimes moving book is an important contribution to political thought, made at one of the turning-points of political discourse in Britain.' John Gray, Times Literary Supplement 'Important . . . the work of a much fiercer apostate from the old brand of socialism . . . As a summons to reconsider the tenets of of exclusive self-interest, whether expressed y right of left, it is a genuinely original contribution to the modern debate . . .' Hugo Young, Guardian 'Passionate . . . One of the few books that manages to be both withering about the world we live in and optimistic about how we should make it a better one. It has changed the way I look at a lot of things. It also made me realize the debt we owe to the great western political philosophers and how little we heed them.' Nicholas Tate, Books of the Year, Times Educational Supplement 'Stimulating and noble . . . The Principle of Duty lets no one smirk in solitary selfishness . . . Politicians of every hue should be made to read this dense and careful book, then be shut away for a week to ponder its peculiar relevance before releasing more dollops of their platitudinous drivel. Their first civic duty is to understand, in a profound sense, what they are talking about. David Selbourne has shown the way, and he deserves our full attention.' Brian Masters, Mail on Sunday
The title is taken from an extraordinarily prophetic observation made by Heinrich Heine in 1842. 'Communism, though little discussed now and loitering in hidden garrets on miserable straw pallets, is the dark hero destined for a great, if temporary, role in the modern tragedy . . .' For three years, from early 1987, David Selbourne travelled the countries of Eastern Europe as the momentum of reform gathered pace and ended in uprising and revolution. This is a record of those sensational events, the most profound since the end of the Second World War. What happened and why? The historic answers were revealed by the protagonists themselves as events unfolded, in a period in which former outlaws became heroes, leaders of the old order were vanquished, and nations were liberated from thraldom. Combining fine observation and a thorough grasp of the issues involved, the writer , by skilful questioning, elicited from some of the leading actors in these dramas their fears, hopes and reactions to events around them. The fall of communism in Europe was epoch-making. David Selbourne's account, first published in 1990, transcended mere journalism then: it reads now as a vivid and authoritative work of history. 'A wonderfully absorbing account of the last days of the old regimes . . . gripping encounters with some of the nastiest specimens of stagnant pond-life in the workers' Edens.' Christopher Hope, Independent on Sunday 'One of the strengths of his book, which combines analysis with reportage, is his grasp of the history behind each country's yearning for change . . . He is as keenly alert to the topographical as he is to the moral landscape, and it is as if the very stones of the old capitals of Eastern and Central Europe were reasserting their ancient identity.' Peter Ackroyd, The Times 'I take my hat off to David Selbourne for achieving a tour de force . . a brilliantly written description of his journeys from the first whiffs of liberation in 1987 to the crash of the dictatorships in 1989-90. Selbourne is that rare thing, a gumshoe journalist with a mind. He goes to the places that matter, asks the right questions and understands the answers superbly.' Norman Stone, Sunday Times 'Provides an insight into the mentalite of an age that is passing . . . The book is essential for all those studying the revolutions of 1989, but it is equally importantto those who want to make sense of the post-communist world.' Richard Sakwa, Journal of Communist Studies