Allan Massie rss

For France, the murder of John the Fearless was ‘a tragedy on an epic scale’

The drama of St Crispian’s Day: Shakespeare got it right

29 August 2015
Cursed Kings: The Hundred Years War, IV Jonathan Sumption

Faber, pp.909, £40, ISBN: 9780571274543

Charles VI of France died on 21 October 1422. He had been intermittently mad for most of his long reign, ‘a pathetic figure’ flitting, often witless, around his palaces. He… Read more

King John at Runnymede: at odds with his barons, he came to rely on mercenaries whom he couldn’t afford

King John was not a good man: two distinguished historians echo A.A. Milne

11 April 2015
King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant Stephen Church

Macmillan, pp.311, £25, ISBN: 9780230772458

King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta Marc Morris

Hutchinson, pp.346, £25, ISBN: 9780091954239

This being the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, it is not surprising that there should be two new biographies of King John; not surprising either that one… Read more

Retreat of the Highlanders from Perth after the Jacobite Rising, C. 1745

Scotland’s miraculous century (it started with the Union)

22 November 2014
A Higher World: Scotland 1707–1815 Michael Fry

Berlinn, pp.462, £25, ISBN: 9781780272337

In 1707 Scotland surrendered what it had of its independence by the Treaty of Union with England. That independence had been limited since the Union of the Crowns in 1603,… Read more


Business books aren't meant to cheer you up. But this one will

8 November 2014
Any Other Business - Life in and out of the City: Collected Writings from The Spectator and Elsewhere Martin Vander Weyer

Elliott & Thompson, pp.274, £18.99, ISBN: 9781783960163

Economics is known as ‘the dismal science’, and certainly there have been — and indeed are — economists whose day seems to have been wasted if they have left their… Read more

Ovid Banished from Rome, J.M.W. Turner, 1838 (Photo: The Athenaeum)

Roman baths didn't make you clean — and other gems from Peter Jones's Veni, Vedi, Vici

9 November 2013
Veni, Vidi, Vici Peter Jones

Atlantic Books, pp.400, £19.99, ISBN: 9781848879034

Spectator readers need no introduction to Peter Jones. His Ancient and Modern column has instructed and delighted us for many years. Now he has written an equally delightful and instructive… Read more

Laidlaw by William McIlvanney - review

6 July 2013
Laidlaw William McIlvanney

Canongate, pp.280, £7.99, ISBN: 9780857869869

Laidlaw was first published in 1977, 36 years back from now, 38 on from The Big Sleep. Like Chandler’s classic it has survived the passage of time. William McIlvanney did… Read more

About to cop it?

10 November 2012
Standing in Another Man’s Grave Ian Rankin

Orion, pp.459, £18.99, ISBN: 9781409144717

Rebus is back, in a novel long, meaty and persuasive enough to make up for the years of absence. Actually, he is only part-way back — on a civilian attachment… Read more


Life and letters

28 July 2012

With few exceptions, literary journalists moulder in the grave and are soon forgotten. They may get some sort of posthumous life if they are made the subject of other books.… Read more

Give me excess of it

23 June 2012
The Fix Damian Thompson

HarperCollins, pp.226, £20, ISBN: 9780007459803

There is a joke about a retired colonel whose aberrant behaviour had him referred to a psychoanalyst. He emerged from the session fuming. ‘Damn fool says I’m in love with… Read more


Life & Letters: A PM’s summer reading

7 April 2012

One of the weaknesses of many political biographies is that they are so often all about politics. The authors either forget that politicians are people, and sometimes interesting people, or… Read more


Storm in a wastepaper basket

11 February 2012
The Dreyfus Affair Piers Paul Read

Bloomsbury, pp.408, 25

‘It’s the revenge of Dreyfus,’ came the cry from the dock. The speaker was the veteran right-wing ideologue, Charles Maurras, found guilty of treason in 1945 for his support of… Read more


Life & Letters: The Creative Writing controversy

28 January 2012

It came as a bit of a shock to learn from Philip Hensher’s review of Body of Work: 40 Years of Creative Writing at UEA (31 December) that there are… Read more


Life & Letters: Shakespeare’s women

3 December 2011

Gordon Bottomley, Georgian poet with an unpoetic name, wrote a play called King Lear’s Wife with which he hoped to inspire a poetic revival in the theatre. It might be… Read more

The fascist vote

20 August 2011

At the age of 72, I begin to wonder, for the first time in my life, if there might be a future for a fascist party in Britain. The thought… Read more

The country of criticism

13 August 2011
Tretower to Clyro Karl Miller

Quercus, pp.240, £20

Karl Miller wrote a book called Doubles, exploring the duality of human nature, Jekyll and Hyde, and such like. Duality fascinates him. Another book was Cockburn’s Millennium, a study of… Read more

Life & Letters

30 July 2011

There was a photograph the other day of a Hemingway lookalike competition in Key West, Florida. Bizarre? Perhaps not. It’s 50 years since he put the barrel of a shotgun… Read more

Coolness under fire

25 June 2011
Tides of War Stella Tillyard

Chatto, pp.375, 12.99

On His Majesty’s Service Allan Mallinson

Bantam, pp.317, 18.99

The early 19th century was the age of the dandy, and the essence of dandyism was cool self-control. The dandy shunned displays of feeling. There is feeling a-plenty in both… Read more


Life & Letters

26 March 2011

When cares attack, and life seems black, How sweet it is to pot a yak, Or puncture hares or grizzly bears, And others I could mention; But in my animal… Read more

Life & Letters: If you can’t make a table…

19 February 2011

Why do you write? The question is sometimes posed by interviewers or by members of the audience at book festivals. My answer is usually rather feeble. ‘Well,’ I say, ‘I… Read more

Life & Letters: Memoirs as literature

15 January 2011

Laurence Sterne remarked rather a long time ago that they order these matters better in France, and happily this is still the case. Fifteen hundred teachers of literature recently protested… Read more

Less is more

16 October 2010

‘A good rule for writers: do not explain over-much’ ‘A good rule for writers: do not explain over-much’ (Somerset Maugham: A Writer’s Notebook). Like most of what he had to… Read more


The laird and his legend

28 August 2010
Scott-Land: The Man who Invented a Nation Stuart Kelly

Polygon, pp.328, 16.99

‘Stuart Kelly’ the author’s note declares, ‘was born and brought up in the Scottish Borders.’ Not so, as he tells us; he was born in Falkirk, which is in central… Read more


The hell of working

30 June 2010

Joseph Conrad was 38, more than halfway through his life, when his first novel, Almayer’s Folly, was published in 1895. He died in 1924 with more than 30 books to… Read more


In the house of Hanover

9 June 2010
Courtiers Lucy Worsley

Faber, pp.402, 20

Either Lucy Worsley or, more probably, her publisher has given her book the subtitle ‘The Secret History of Kensington Palace.’ This is enticing, or intended to be so; it is… Read more