Hardcover: 250 pages
Publisher: Faber and Faber (3 Dec 2003)
This is an odd book, but a charming one. It comprises 6 chapters, each one of which describes a particular technical project, from the British satellite launch (Prospero - still up there) through the computer game Elite to how the Wellcome Trust kept the human genome in the public domain. These are recent episodes, so it's not quite History (OK, so some of it was before some of you were born, and I wasn't a teenager when Prospero went up), but it's not Current Affairs either.
They say that the best way of judging the overall accuracy of a writer is to examine his work in an area you know well, and assume that he is as accurate elsewhere. Well, on that basis, I can say that Spufford is pretty accurate, and where he differs from me, I'm almost ready to believe he's right and I'm wrong. (Unlike, say, Dan Brown, whose accuracy in the areas I know about is utterly appalling.) Talking about the game Elite, Spufford mentions details that are surely down to him having been in the room on some occasions. He's not perfect -- my name is not Chris Jordan, and it was me that was doing the bug-hunting on that project. However, as a journalist, he can really only know what people have told him, and I really don't know if anyone was writing down what we were doing at the time. It's episodes like this that make me aware that History is not what happened, it's what people think happened.
Part of it this is part of my early adulthood.