How does he do it? In the space of a few years we've had accessible interpretations of London and of Dickens. Now Peter Ackroyd is tackling a subject even more broad in scope - the origins of English culture - but with the thoroughness of research and liveliness of style common to all his non-fiction. The main thread of this 500-page work, as he phrases it, is with 'beginnings rather than endings'. However, Ackroyd still manages to make the most curious and playful of connections throughout the ages, whether it be Beowulf's intimidating influence on Dryden, or the Carry On films' debt to medieval mystery plays and their penchant for lines such as 'Com kis myne ars!'