‘If you carry on like this, you’ll do nothing but play football and cricket all your life.’
These were the exasperated words of Mike Brearley’s mother, as he once again trod mud into the family home after a long day playing outdoors. They were also an unwitting but half-accurate prediction, for Brearley would become one of the most successful sportsmen of his generation by playing cricket for Cambridge, Middlesex and then becoming one of England’s finest captains. But for Brearley, cricket wasn’t just a physical activity, it was also an intellectual game, offering the chance to bring closer together body and mind. When his cricketing career came to end – during his playing days he had had a hiatus as a philosophy lecturer – he eschewed sporting commentary for a career as a psychoanalyst.
In Turning Over the Pebbles, which he calls a ‘memoir of the mind’, Brearley reviews his life with its attendant emotions, tensions and moves. It is also a book of his second thoughts and reassessments, allowing him to understand more fully things that were obscure to him earlier. After all, he says, ‘captaining ourselves, like captaining a team, requires a willingness to allow thoughts and feelings their space’.
Deeply thoughtful, erudite and elegantly framed, this book seamlessly blends all aspects of Brearley’s life into a single integrated narrative. With wide-ranging meditations on sport, philosophy, literature, religion, leadership, psychoanalysis, music and more, Brearley delves into his private passions and candidly examines the various shifts, conflicts and triumphs of his extraordinary life and career, both on and off the field.