For no other reason than I'm flying to Sydney in few hours and I need to write something to calm my nerves, here are five authors I enjoy. Readers are invited to leave a comment with their own suggestions.
A genuinely accessible yet challenging science writer, Dawkins shares with the likes of Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould a concern not only for science itself, but for society in general. Over the past thirty years, Dawkins has outlined a highly persuasive theory of evolution, while simultaneously defending science from the superstition and religious fundamentalism that seeks to undermine and distort it.
The most brilliant English novelist of the past thirty years, and he's up there as a critic, too. Best books: The Rachel Papers, Money, London Fields, The War Against Cliche, Experience.
Unjustly neglected Australian-born author, best known for The Man Who Loved Children, although the only book of hers I've read so far is The Salzburg Tales. It's essentially a collection of short stories, framed by the Decameron-esque technique of having each tale related by one of a group of Salzburg Festival attendees. Many of the stories are fantastic or simply odd, and Stead's dense, descriptive prose suits the mood well.
William Hazlitt (with a doff of the hat to Ladycracker)
A grumpy old man even in his youth, Hazlitt had an impressive range, his essays covering everything from the Lake poets (with whom he was on familiar, if not always cordial terms), to painting, politics (he was a staunch Bonepartist), and general reportage. Best of all, in contrast to many 19th century essayists, he remains a highly enjoyable read, in the vein of an angry, radical Montaigne.
Defense attorney Horace Rumpole is one of the most endearing comic characters of recent decades. The tv series was before my time, but if it was anything like the books I'd love to see it. The Rumpole series is one of the greatest pick-me-ups devised by man, and from what I've heard, Mortimer's non-Rumpole work is almost as good.