Andro Linklater rss

‘Uncle Bill’ as the troops remembered him

Uncle Bill, by Russell Miller - review

14 September 2013
Uncle Bill: The Authorised Biography of Field Marshal Viscount Slim Russell Miller

Weidenfeld, pp.466, £25, ISBN: 9780297865841

Given the outcome of recent military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is pertinent to look for one particular quality in our senior commander: honesty. In other words, after blaming… Read more

Russian Roulette, by Giles Milton - review

31 August 2013
Russian Roulette: A Deadly Game Giles Milton

Sceptre, pp.375, £20, ISBN: 9781444737028

Had Onan not spilled his seed upon the ground, he might have invented invisible ink. The possibility had not occurred to me until I read this account of the start… Read more

Beware of the sheep: an Aubrac landscape

Notes on…Walking in the Auvergne

24 August 2013

The homicidal sheepdog that launched itself at me from behind a grassy hillock, had the look of a demented hearth rug but the fangs of a leopard. No self-respecting Border… Read more

Saving Italy, by Robert M. Edsel - a review

20 July 2013
Saving Italy: the race to rescue a nation’s treasures from the Nazis Robert M. Edsel

W.W. Norton, pp.454, £20, ISBN: 9780393082418

During the civil war, the Puritan iconoclast William Dowsing recorded with satisfaction his destructive visit in 1644 to the parish church of Sudbury in Suffolk: ‘We brake down a picture… Read more

The end of the road for the British: Cornwallis surrenders to George Washington at Yorktown, October 1781

The Men Who Lost America, by Andrew O’Shaughnessy - review

29 June 2013
The Men Who Lost America: British Command During the Revolutionary War and the Preservation of Empire Andrew O’Shaughnessy

Oneworld, pp.466, £30, ISBN: 9781780742465

On Christmas Day 1776, the ambitious, well-connected war hero, General John Burgoyne, soon to be appointed commander of British forces in Canada, agreed a wager of 50 guineas with Charles… Read more

The Tank war, by Mark Urban - review

25 May 2013
The Tank War Mark Urban

Little, Brown, pp.409, £17.99, ISBN: 9781408703632

In November 1941, Sergeant Jake Wardrop narrowly escaped being killed when his tank was crippled in the midst of a catastrophic battle in the north African desert where the armour… Read more

Life and Letters, by Allan Massie - review

4 May 2013
Life & Letters: The Spectator Columns Allan Massie

Quartet, pp.199, £12, ISBN: 9780704372658

It is a safe bet that Alex Salmond has no immediate plans to embrace Allan Massie as one of Scotland’s National Treasures. A Unionist in an increasingly nationalist country, a… Read more

A chilling reconstruction of the executions of Flying Officer Gordon Kidder and Squadron Leader Thomas Kirby-Green

The Real Great Escape, by Simon Read — review

30 March 2013
The Real Great Escape Guy Walters

Bantam, pp.411, £20, ISBN: 9780593071908

Human Game: Hunting the Great Escape Murderers Simon Read

Constable, pp.330, £18.99, ISBN: 9781780330204

The scene is chilling. Four men stand in the snow, all in uniform. The men are in pairs, one in each pair holds a pistol to the head of the… Read more

Fighter pilots under instruction, June 1943.

Winning the war with wheezers

9 February 2013
The Engineers of Victory: The Problem Solvers who Turned the Tide in the Second World War Paul Kennedy

Allen Lane, pp.436, £25, ISBN: 9781846141126

The Anfa Hotel in Casablanca has seen better days. Seventy years ago it was the grandest hotel in Morocco, good enough to house Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt when… Read more

D’Annunzio as the soldier poet by Tancredi Scarpelli

Italy’s first Duce

19 January 2013
The Pike: Gabriele d’Annunzio, Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Fourth Estate, pp.694, £25, ISBN: 9780007213955

There is something to be said for a bald-headed gnome with the power, according to his biographer, to seduce any woman he wanted, including the most celebrated and desirable actress… Read more

Eavesdropping on the enemy

13 October 2012
Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing and Dying: The Secret Second World War Tapes of German POWs Sohnke Neitzel and Harald Welzer, translated by Jefferson Chase

Simon and Schuster, pp.437, £25, ISBN: 9781849839488

Say ‘Colditz’, and the name immediately triggers an image of prisoners of war digging tunnels, building gliders and in general plotting outrageously to cross the barbed wire into freedom. You… Read more

Map of the World by Abu Muhammad Al-Idrisi (c.1100-1164), geographer and cartographer to the court of King Roger II (c.1095-1154) at Palermo

Selective vision

8 September 2012
A History of the World in Twelve Maps Jerry Brotton

Allen Lane, pp.486, £30, ISBN: 9781846140990

In 1904, the great Halford Mackinder, founder of the modern academic discipline of geography, published one of the most subversive maps of the century. It might seem unlikely that a… Read more

Fading ambition

4 August 2012
Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Bloomsbury, pp.368, 16.99, ISBN: 9781498831809

‘Despite 30 years of war,’ remarked General Stanley McChrystal, the commander in 2009 of NATO forces in Afghanistan, ‘civilisation grows here like weeds.’ Unfortunately for the Afghans, their tribal, rural,… Read more

The courage of countless generations

2 June 2012
The Highland Furies: The Black Watch, 1739-1899 Victoria Schofield

Quercus, pp.734, 35

The most stirring sermon I ever heard was delivered by a company sergeant-major in the Black Watch to a cadre of young lance-corporals, barely 19 years old, who were about… Read more

Some legends flourish …

26 May 2012
Dam Busters James Holland

Bantam Press, pp.437, 20

Confronted by the dead Athenian heroes of the Peloponnesian War, Pericles gave voice in his funeral oration to an idea that explains better than any other why we are so… Read more


Target man

5 May 2012

John Bellingham dressed fastidiously. On the day that he committed murder, he wore exactly what the fashion magazine Le Beau Monde advised for a gentleman’s morning wear in 1812 —… Read more


Not quite cricket

7 April 2012
Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies Ben MacIntyre

Bloomsbury, pp.417, 16.99

To the French, Albion’s expertise in perfidy will come as no surprise. But centuries of warfare have given them time to learn. With their experience only dating back to 1914,… Read more

Triumph of the redcoats

4 February 2012
All the King’s Men Saul David

Viking, pp.573, 25

Given the choice between philosophising in the company of Socrates or fighting in the army of the soldier-monarch Charles XII of Sweden, most men, Dr Johnson observed, would prefer arms… Read more


To the Ends of the Earth by T.M. Devine

22 October 2011
To the Ends of the Earth T.M. Devine

Allen Lane, pp.416, 25

When Scotland’s rugby team landed in Invercargill for the World Cup, they were greeted by a piper in full Highland fig and a cheering crowd of more than 500 New… Read more

Losing the rat race

30 July 2011
Rat Island: Predators in Paradise and the World’s Greatest Wildlife Rescue William Stolzenburg

Bloomsbury, pp.279, 12.99

This is a book for anyone whose blood ever ran chill on reading the most sinister recipe in fiction, Samuel Whiskers’ instructions on how to cook Tom Kitten: ‘Anna Maria,… Read more

Patience v. panache

18 June 2011
Monty and Rommel: Parallel Lives Peter Caddick-Adams

Preface, pp.618, 20

Forgotten Voices: Desert Victory Julian Thompson

Ebury Press, pp.384, 16.99

The square jaw and steely gaze are deceptive. In reality, next to a prima donna on the slide, no one is more vain and temperamental than a general on the… Read more


‘I told them’

4 June 2011
Story of a Secret State: My Report to the World Jan Karski

Penguin Classics, pp.398, 20

No messenger bearing bad news can expect to be popular. But to be dis- believed as well adds a particularly bitter twist, since the messenger’s character can only be vindicated… Read more


Alone on a wide, wide sea

15 January 2011
Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will Judith Schalansky

Particular Books, pp.129, 25

It must be heaven to wake up inside the imagination of a mapmaker. No magic carpet could take you to such exotic places. Open an eye amidst the neural connections… Read more


. . . and they did to us

9 October 2010
The Blitz: The British Under Attack Juliet Gardiner

Harper Press, pp.431, 25

The craters are all filled in, the ruins replaced, and the last memories retold only in the whispery voices of the old. Apart from celebrating the resilience of our parents… Read more


Tried and tested

24 July 2010
Young Mandela David James Smith

Weidenfeld, pp.368, 18.99

In June 1964, when Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment for acts of sabotage against the apartheid government of South Africa, he was, as photographs reveal, a burly, blackhaired… Read more