Thomas W. Hodgkinson and Hubert van der Bergh (Icon) 2015, 382pp, RRP $24.99

Journalist and author Hodgkinson teams up with van der Bergh, writer of the pleasing dictionary-of-fancy-words How To Sound (Really) Clever, for this amusing and helpful directory of 250 notable or maybe infamous people you might well need to know about the next time one of your smarter-arsed friends starts dropping names.How To Sound Cultured Header - Hodgkinson & van der Bergh - Icon - The Clothesline (2)

Grouped into sometimes funny categories, they’re all here…

‘Party Throwers’ like Peggy Guggenheim, Gertrude Stein and Stéphane Mallarmé.

‘Album Artists’ like Jeff Koons, Gerhard Richter and Andy Warhol.

‘The Silver Screen’, which deals with luminaries sometimes name-checked in movies like Marshall McLuhan, Pina Bausch, Jean Baudrillard, F.R. Leavis and Thomas Pynchon.

‘Hermits’ like Arthur Schopenhauer, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Michel de Montaigne, José Saramago and J.M. Coetzee, who isn’t really that hermitic (he just lives in Adelaide).

‘Names That Mean Something’, as in people whose names have been adopted for linguistic use like Plato and Louise Bourgeois.

‘Adolf’, which offers three guys much admired by Hitler: Richard Wagner, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Friedrich Nietzsche.

And even ‘Gruesome Deaths’, including Isadora Duncan (strangled by her scarf), Federico García Lorca (the poet and playwright reportedly shot by soldiers loyal to Franco during the Spanish Civil War) and Che Guevara, who we learn was nicknamed ‘Che’ as it means ‘dude’ in Argentina, had such bad personal hygiene that he was called ‘The Pig’ by friends, and was shot in cold blood by Bolivian forces before having his hands cut off so that his fingerprints could confirm that it was really him.

Although there might be a minor error or two herein (a reliable source insists that the facts about Søren Kierkegaard are incorrect), there’s still much intellectual fun to be had, and you’ll certainly be prepared the next time you need to sound, as the title states, cultured. You might even hit back at a pretentious sort with the pointed comment, “Where’s your Schweitzerian reverence for life?”

Dave Bradley

This title is available through the Allen & Unwin website. Click HERE to purchase your copy.

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