Jonathan Keates rss


How to survive the rain-sodden Welsh Marches

7 June 2014
Darkling Laura Beatty

Chatto, pp.381, £16.99, ISBN: 9780701188283

The Welsh Marches, gloriously unvisited amid their wooded hills and swift-flowing streams, have remained mysteriously off-limits to the sort of novelist eager for territorial rights to a particular landscape or… Read more

Queen Elizabeth I  playing the lute by Nicholas Hilliard

Music & Monarchy, by David Starkey - review

6 July 2013
Music & Monarchy: A History of Britain in Four Movements David Starkey and Katie Greening

BBC Books, pp.378, £20, ISBN: 9781849905862

British royalty, considered from a purely mechanistic angle, cannot function adequately without music. Deprived of marching bands, trumpeters and choristers or even of those ever so well-mannered regimental ensembles which… Read more


A holy terror

11 February 2012
Michelangelo: The Achievement of Fame Michael Hirst

Yale, pp.438, 30

In the summer of 1520, Michelangelo Buonarotti wrote a letter of recommendation on behalf of his protégé, the painter Sebastiano del Piombo, to Cardinal Bibbiena, an influential figure at the… Read more


Wizard of the Baroque

10 December 2011
Bernini: His Life and His Rome Franco Mormando

University of Chicago, pp.416, 22.50

Not content with being the greatest sculptor of his age and one of its most gifted architects, Gian Lorenzo Bernini had some talent as a painter and draftsman. Surviving self-portraits… Read more


Follow your star

20 November 2010
Dante's Invention James Burge

History Press, pp.252, 18.99

In these straitened times it looks as if a great many more hours of most people’s days will have to be spent waiting in queues. In these straitened times it… Read more

Bach’s life examined

28 October 2009
Harmony & Discord Julian Shuckburgh

Old Street Publishing, pp.390, 25

Music all too easily disarms our critical faculties. Composers need protection from those grovelling adorers who refuse to distinguish good from bad in their idol’s oeuvre or even to acknowledge… Read more

Not so serene

9 September 2009
Venice, Pure City Peter Ackroyd

Chatto & Windus, pp.387, 25

Is there anything original left to say about Venice? Probably not, but that doesn’t stop the books from coming, tied in, as they mostly now are, with a television series.… Read more

Darwin — from worms to collops

1 April 2009
Darwin’s Island: The Galapagos in the Garden of England Steve Jones

Little, Brown, pp.307, 20

The Young Charles Darwin Keith Thomson

Yale, pp.276, 18.99

Mrs Charles Darwin’s Recipe Book Dusha Bateson and Wesley Janeway

Glitterati Incorporated, pp.175, $35

Remarkable Creatures Sean Carroll

Quercus, pp.331, 16.99

By all accounts a modest and retiring example of his species, Charles Darwin would surely have been more astonished than flattered by the honours done him during this year’s bicentennial… Read more

Living the legend

3 December 2008
My Judy Garland Life Susie Boyt

Virago, pp.309, 15.99

My Judy Garland Life, by Susie Boyt The story of Judy Garland is a magnificent example of the truth that life imitates art. Things would surely have been different had… Read more

Grandmother’s footsteps

19 November 2008
The Island that Dared Dervla Murphy

Eland, pp.416, 16.99

The Island that Dared, by Dervla Murphy Up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen, where the deuce can we go without Dervla Murphy getting there before us? This miracle… Read more

A hostage to fortune

16 July 2008
One Morning in Sarajevo David James Smith

Weidenfeld, pp.326, 18.99

Mugging, according to a popular theory, is a consensual act. Split seconds before the assault takes place victims supposedly establish some sort of complicity with their attackers, thus turning the… Read more

Cities of the coast

14 May 2008
The Liquid Continent: A Mediterranean Trilogy. Volume I: Alexandria Nicholas Woodsworth

Armchair Traveller, pp.199, £12.99

The Liquid Continent: A Mediterranean Trilogy. Volume II: Venice Nicholas Woodsworth

Armchair Traveller, pp.287, 12.99

The Liquid Continent: A Mediterranean Trilogy. Volume III: Istanbul Nicholas Woodsworth

Armchair Traveller, pp.242, 12.99

In the days when English counties were untouched by the dead hand of central government rationalisation, odd little chunks of them used to fetch up in neighbouring shires, appearing as… Read more

Spartans did it wearing cloaks

30 January 2008
The Greeks and Greek Love James Davidson

Weidenfeld, pp.634, 30

However loaded or coded, ‘Greek love’ is one of our more misleading cultural terms of convenience. It refers to an aspect of classical civilisation whose existence many people continue to… Read more

The bad boy comes of age

31 October 2007
Polanski Christopher Sandworth

Century, pp.480, 18.99

As the biopic comes back into fashion — think Kinsey, think A Beautiful Mind — somebody might consider the life of Roman Polanski as perfect big-screen material. Its component elements… Read more


The undiscovered county

26 September 2007
The Buildings of England: Worcestershire Alan Brookes and Niklaus Pevsner

Yale, pp.846, 29.95

Worcestershire is England’s most undervalued county. Sauce, Elgar and cricket, not necessarily in that order, are what most people associate with the name. Otherwise it is that place we cross… Read more

Into the Norwegian wood

25 July 2007
Out Stealing Horses Per Petterson

Vintage, pp.pp. 264, £7.99

Here is a remarkable novel, one which appears to be about nothing in particular, featuring barely half a dozen characters, several of whom have no names. Hardly anything happens. A… Read more

A golden age for ghouls

22 March 2007
Mother Leakey and the Bishop: A Ghost Story Peter Marshall

OUP, pp.323, 12.99

The 17th century was the heyday of the English ghost. Up and down the kingdom during those ‘distracted times’ of the Gunpowder Plot, Civil War and Commonwealth, spectres, revenants and… Read more

How at last we got it together

10 January 2007
The Nation’s Mantelpiece: A History of the National Gallery Jonathan Conlin

Pallas Athene, pp.555, 24.99

Stand in the Corinthian portico of the National Gallery’s main building and look due south beyond Nelson’s Column into Whitehall. Your gaze lights upon Hubert Le Sueur’s Baroque equestrian statue… Read more

One of those who simply are

8 November 2006
Kate: The Woman who was Katharine Hepburn William J. Mann

Faber, pp.621, 18.99

‘I don’t want to act with you ever again,’ Katharine Hepburn told John Barrymore after appearing with him in A Bill of Divorcement. ‘I didn’t know you had,’ came the… Read more

A visionary rooted in this world

28 June 2006
Dante: The Poet, The Political Thinker, The Man Barbara Reynolds

I. B. Tauris, pp.466, 20

Dante has suffered rather too much from his admirers. Barely was he cold in his grave at Ravenna than the process of reinventing him began. The Florentines, who had earlier… Read more

Those rich little Greeks

25 May 2006
Some Talk of Alexander Frederic Raphael

Thames & Hudson, pp.336, 24.95

Listing page content here Plutarch, in his Life of Alcibiades, captures the fascination of the Greek warrior, politician and glamour boy by quoting a line from a contemporary comedy: ‘They… Read more

Zero tolerance in Florence

15 April 2006
Scourge and Fire Lauro Martines

Cape, pp.336, 20

The Burning of the Vanities Desmond Seward

Sutton Publishing, pp.309, 20

It is easy to get misty-eyed about Renaissance Florence. How gorgeous it was, we tell ourselves, this City of the Lily, with its lissom youths and comely maidens, each one… Read more

Marcel the Magnificent

18 February 2006
A Night at the Majestic Richard Davenport-Hines

Faber, pp.358, 14.99

Proust is rapidly becoming the Mozart of the novel, one of those artistic figures before whom, from time to time, we delight to abase ourselves in various not always dignified… Read more

Paddling in murky waters

15 October 2005
The City of Falling Angels John Berendt

Sceptre, pp.342, 20

Published in 1995, John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was one of those books whose success could be measured by the fact that dozens of people… Read more

The style is the man

1 October 2005
My Lives Edmund White

Bloomsbury, pp.368, 17.99

‘Is your autobiography really necessary?’ Something along the lines of that war poster which asked a similar question about railway journeys should be tacked up above the desk of every… Read more