James Attlee


Can you be a pilgrim without leaving your life behind? How does it feel to approach everyday places with the same reverence as grand cathedrals? And how are we changed by even the smallest of journeys? James Attlee asks these questions and more in his thoughtful, streetwise, and personal account of a pilgrimage to a place he thought he already knew: the Cowley Road in Oxford, right outside his door.

Attlee’s Cowley has little to do with the dreaming spires of his city. Leaving tourism and student life aside, Attlee instead presents a vital and delightfully motley collection of places, people, languages, and cultures. From a sojourn in a sensory-deprivation tank to a furtive visit to an unmarked pornography emporium, from halal shops to Brazilian art dealers to reggae clubs to quiet churchyards, Attlee celebrates the appealing and homegrown eclecticism that so often comes under attack from predatory developers.

Drawing inspiration from sources ranging from Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy to contemporary art, Isolarion is at once a charming road movie, a battle cry raised against creeping homogenisation, and a love song to the gloriously messy real life of the city he calls home.

Paperback: £9.99
EBook: £6.99
Print status: Upcoming
Author: James Attlee
Original language: English
Format: B-format paperback
Publication date: 5 March 2020
ISBN: 9781911508908
Ebook ISBN: 9781911508915
Availability: UK & C (excl Canada) and Europe (some exclusions)
Number of pages: 400


Geoff Dyer
The Guardian

‘The attraction, for Attlee, is that the Cowley Road ’is both unique and nothing special’; the resulting book is unique and very special . . . Residents of East Oxford can be proud to have this eccentric advocate and eloquent explorer in their midst.’

Richard B. Woodward
The New York Times

‘A new Oxford that no guide book has yet captured.’

Sunday Telegraph

‘Attlee proves that good travel writing is not about where you go, or how you go there, but the way that you look at the world that you pass through.’

Financial Times

‘Isolarion, despite its title, is about engagement. Attlee shows the hidden beauty of the plural society.’

Paul Kingsnorth
The Independent

‘Attlee captures the essence of this city better than any tour bus ever could.’

The Economist

‘A vivid account of daily life, fluid and unsettling, in a modern British town with powerful allegorical reflections on the connections between past and present, time and space, and high culture and the hard-scrabble world that sustains it. Oxford may be the city of lost causes, and this book is indeed ambitious; it could easily sound sententious or twee. But it works, gloriously.’

Colin Dexter, OBE

‘I have written much about the streets of Oxford myself, but seldom so perceptively or interestingly . . . Anyone who can drag Lucretius, Susanna, Bathsheba, and St. Jerome into a Cowley Road porn shop deserves our attention and admiration.’

John Bayley

‘I have never read a better book about Oxford – its oddities and eccentricities. The peripatetic local form of James Attlee’s delightful book makes it a storehouse of information as well as a joy to read for its wit and humour.’

Rebecca Mead

‘The fish-out-of water travelogue is a staple of the bookstore, but Attlee . . . has set himself a different task: to be the fish, and to give a detailed description of the properties of the water. . . Attlee’s reading is deep and wide and engagingly circuitous, and this book frequently provides the delights of discovery that make any adventure worth undertaking.’

National Geographic Traveler

‘All the messy glories of Cowley Road – pubs and porn shops alike – come to life in this work, which becomes a meditation on home and the nature of pilgrimage.’

Eric Christiansen
The Spectator

‘A force for good when it comes to resisting the drive and the dismal dialect of modernisation . . . To stiffen the sinews for the rearguard action every Oxonian should buy this book.’

Elizabeth Garner
London Times

‘In an age in which air travel opens up the world, and holidays are to escape the mundane, Attlee encourages us to look at the riches on our doorstep . . . The end of our journey as humankind is not known, but Isolarion provides an invaluable guide to how to progress along the way.’

Sydney Morning Herald

‘The vignettes, like marks on a painting by a pointillist, eventually coalesce to become a beautiful work of art.’

Andrew Mead
Architect's Journal

‘It’s now a familiar story of the local versus the global; the tide of increasing uniformity as chains proliferate and streets succumb to banal prescriptions . . . But Attlee tells the story vividly and well, and it’s a book that anyone concerned for the future of their own town’s Cowley Road could read with profit.’