Published: 07/04/2005, Volume II5, No. 5949 Page 34

A classic strong-willed Jewish matriarch of clear mind and strong views puts her opinions forcefully about how one should properly treat and defer to one's parents and stings me to guilt. She talks - hectors even - about one's responsibility to family and the need for respect.

But enough of my mother. Rabbi Dame Julia Neuberger has lost none of that erudite, incisive clarity that we knew and loved (and feared) while she was chief executive of the King's Fund. In her latest volume, The Moral State We are In (Harper Collins,£16.99), she looks at how we treat the elderly, children, asylum seekers, the mentally ill, offenders and ex-offenders. It is well-researched, with a massive bibliography and index running to 33 pages.

The publishers call it 'a manifesto for a 21st century society' - yes, for a whole century. This gives it the edge over the usual manifesto that drops on the mat about every four years.

But I mustn't mock. It is frank and bleak. It is not a light, Sunday evening walk in the park. It oppresses and makes you feel like a member of a society of selfish egoists. It is a heavy, intellectual, comprehensive piece dense with real-life examples of abuse, selfishness and lack of morality.

So do not read it all at once. It will do your head in and make you yearn for frippery. I read it in one go and it made me dash out to see 9 Songs ('real' sex and Britpop). Just do not tell my mother.

Steve Collins is deputy chief executive of Surrey and Sussex Hospitals trust.