Rory Stewart, The places in between, 2004 (revised edition 2014):
Foreigners… often spoke about rural Afghanistan as ‘a failed state’ or ‘ungoverned space’. But I had found on the walk that most of it was densely governed (even if not in the sense that foreigners intended). Although there had been no police and civil servants in the villages of central Afghanistan for over twenty-five years, it had proved possible for me to walk alone and unarmed for 300 miles through the most remote parts of Afghanistan without being robbed or killed.
Fintan O’Toole on Wolf Hall, New York Review of Books, 21 May 2015:
What makes [Hilary] Mantel’s Cromwell appealing to readers, audiences and TV viewers is that he is rather like most of them. He is a middle-class man trying to get by in an oligarchic world. Thirty years ago, Mantel’s Cromwell would have been of limited interest. His virtues – hard work, self-discipline, domestic respectability, a talent for office politics, the steady accumulation of money, a valuing of stability above all else – would have been dismissed as mere bourgeois orthodoxies. If they were not so boring they would have been contemptible. They were, in a damning word, safe.
But they’re not safe any more… This is the drama of Mantel’s Cromwell – he is the perfect bourgeois in a world where being perfectly bourgeois doesn’t buy you freedom from the knowledge that everything you have can be whipped away from you at any moment.
(The picture, from 2013, shows Wilmslow, Cheshire, where I grew up. At 17 I was offered a job in a fish shop just round this corner; but I would not agree to cut my hair.)