Allan Massie

Long Walk in Africa

Colin Thubron’s Night of Fire both disturbs and consoles

13 August 2016 9:00 am

Night of Fire is Colin Thubron’s first novel for 14 years. For most of us he is better known as…

Gentlest and sweetest of dogs

Beautiful, wilful, never dull: in praise of Clumber spaniels

7 May 2016 9:00 am

For the first time in more than 30 years we have no Clumber spaniel. We have had five: Henry, Judith,…

St Paul's Cathedral, The Great Fire of London, 1666 (Photo: Getty)

When London burned like rotten sticks

9 April 2016 9:00 am

Spectator readers know Andrew Taylor from his reviews of crime fiction. Many will also know him as an admirable writer…

Mussolini wanted it straightened

Beyond the Leaning Tower: the wonders of Pisa

12 December 2015 9:00 am

Say ‘Pisa’ and everyone thinks of the Leaning Tower. Fair enough; it’s a curiosity, and the tourist board must be…

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 9:00 am

Charles VI of France died on 21 October 1422. He had been intermittently mad for most of his long reign,…

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 9:00 am

This being the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, it is not surprising that there should be two…

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

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

22 November 2014 9:00 am

In 1707 Scotland surrendered what it had of its independence by the Treaty of Union with England. That independence had…


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

8 November 2014 9:00 am

Economics is known as ‘the dismal science’, and certainly there have been — and indeed are — economists whose day…

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 9:00 am

Spectator readers need no introduction to Peter Jones. His Ancient and Modern column has instructed and delighted us for many…

Laidlaw by William McIlvanney - review

6 July 2013 9:00 am

Laidlaw was first published in 1977, 36 years back from now, 38 on from The Big Sleep. Like Chandler’s classic…

About to cop it?

10 November 2012 9:00 am

Rebus is back, in a novel long, meaty and persuasive enough to make up for the years of absence. Actually,…


Life and letters

28 July 2012 6:00 am

With few exceptions, literary journalists moulder in the grave and are soon forgotten. They may get some sort of posthumous…

Give me excess of it

23 June 2012 6:00 am

There is a joke about a retired colonel whose aberrant behaviour had him referred to a psychoanalyst. He emerged from…


Life & Letters: A PM’s summer reading

7 April 2012 11:00 am

One of the weaknesses of many political biographies is that they are so often all about politics. The authors either…


Storm in a wastepaper basket

11 February 2012 10:00 am

‘It’s the revenge of Dreyfus,’ came the cry from the dock. The speaker was the veteran right-wing ideologue, Charles Maurras,…


Life & Letters: The Creative Writing controversy

28 January 2012 5:00 pm

It came as a bit of a shock to learn from Philip Hensher’s review of Body of Work: 40 Years…


Life & Letters: Shakespeare’s women

3 December 2011 10:00 am

Gordon Bottomley, Georgian poet with an unpoetic name, wrote a play called King Lear’s Wife with which he hoped to…

The fascist vote

20 August 2011 12:00 am

Public responses to the riots show a disturbing appetite for authoritarian politics in Britain

The country of criticism

13 August 2011 12:00 am

On Karl Miller's essays

Life & Letters

30 July 2011 12:00 pm

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 in his mouth and blew his head off, but he remains the most famous and widely recognised American writer of the 20th century, indeed of all time. Sadly, however, the lookalikes all take after the bearded bust-up Papa of his last miserable years, not the handsome young author of the great short stories where every word does its work and there are never too many of them. That Hemingway created an American type — lean, rangy, debonair — last example, Gregory Peck as the journalist in Roman Holiday.

Coolness under fire

25 June 2011 12:00 am

The early 19th century was the age of the dandy, and the essence of dandyism was cool self-control.

When the puppets escape

21 May 2011 12:00 am


Life & Letters

26 March 2011 6:00 am

The deceptive quality of light verse

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

19 February 2011 6:00 am

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 can’t sing or play a musical instrument or dance, and I can’t draw. So what else is left to me but writing?’ This is true enough.

Life & Letters: Memoirs as literature

15 January 2011 6:00 am

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 about the choice of a set book for Terminale L du bac — the exam taken by 17-year-olds. Their concern is perhaps more political than literary. Nevertheless they denounced the choice of book as ‘a negation of our discipline’. ‘We are teachers of literature,’ they said; ‘is it our business to discuss a work of history?’