'In the forty years it took me to write this book, I only gradually realized that the finished work, if it were going to be true to the pattern of my experience, would have no pattern . . . The book I wanted to write had its origins in the books I was reading. Several times, in my early days, I had to sell my best books to buy food, so I never underlined anything. When conditions improved I became less fastidious. Not long after I began marking passages for future consideration, I also began keeping notes in the margin beside the markings, and then longer notes on the endpapers . . . As the time for assembling my reflections approached, I resolved that a premature synthesis was the thing to be avoided. So this is a book about how not to reach one. If I have done my job properly, themes will emerge from the apparent randomness and make this work intelligible. But it will undoubtedly be a turbulent read, and if this book were not difficult, it would not be true.' A lifetime in the making, Cultural Amnesia is the book Clive James has always wanted to write. Organized from A through to Z, and containing over 100 essays, it's the ultimate guide to the twentieth century, illuminating the careers of many of its greatest thinkers, humanists, musicians, artists and philosophers. From Louis Armstrong to Ludwig Wittgenstein, via Walter Benjamin, Sigmund Freud, Franz Kafka and Marcel Proust, it's a book for our times - and, indeed, for all time.