Philip Hensher rss

Kim Philby at the press conference he called in 1955 to deny being the ‘Third Man’

Kim Philby got away with it because he was posh

8 March 2014
A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal Ben Macintyre

Bloomsbury, pp.368, £20, ISBN: 9781408851722

The story of Kim Philby is, of course, like so many English stories, really one of social class. He was one of the most scandalous traitors in history, and from… Read more

A WWI memorial in New York (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty)

When intellectuals are clueless about the first world war

1 February 2014
First World War: Still No End in Sight Frank Furedi

Bloomsbury, pp.272, £18.99, ISBN: 9781441125101

No one alive now has any adult experience of the first world war, but still it shows no sign of respectable ossification; no armistice of opposing historians seems in prospect.… Read more


If only Craig Raine subjected his own work to the same critical scrutiny he applies to others' 

7 December 2013
More Dynamite: Essays 1990-2012 Craig Raine

Atlantic Books, pp.560, £35, ISBN: 9781848872875

It’s important not to be too immediately dismissive of poor Craig Raine. Book reviewers and editors like him, who invent rigid literary principles and then dismiss anything that fails to… Read more

Portrait of Modest Musorgsky by Ilya Yefimovich Repin

Why do we pounce on Wagner's anti-Semitism, and ignore that of the Russian composers?

9 November 2013
Musorgsky and His Circle Stephen Walsh

Faber, pp.469, £30, ISBN: 9780571245628

Before ‘nationalism’ became a dirty word, it was the inspiration for all sorts of idealistic and reform-minded people. This was never more true than in the history of music. Clearly,… Read more

‘The Goldfinch’ by Carl Fabritius, the theft of which is central to Donna Tartt’s new novel

Donna Tartt can do the thrills but not the trauma

12 October 2013
The Goldfinch Donna Tartt

Little, Brown, pp.771, £20, ISBN: 9781408704943

Donna Tartt is an expert practitioner of what David Hare has called ‘the higher hokum’. She publishes a long novel every decade or so. Her first book, The Secret History… Read more

J.D. Salinger in 1952, reading from The Catcher in the Rye

Salinger, by David Shields - review

7 September 2013
Salinger David Shields and Shane Salerno

Simon & Schuster, pp.698, £25, ISBN: 9781471130373

This biography has somewhat more news value than most literary biographies. Its subject worked hard to ensure that. After 1965, J.D. Salinger, having published one novel, a volume of short… Read more

Philip Hensher reviews the Man Booker prize longlist

24 August 2013

The Man Booker prize has strong years and weak years. There have been ones when the judges have succeeded in identifying what is most interesting in English-language fiction and others… Read more

‘Imperial Federation showing the map of the world, British Empire’, by Captain J.C. Colombo, c.1886 (Royal Geographical Society, London)

Churchill and Empire, by Lawrence James - a review

20 July 2013
Churchill and Empire: Portrait of an Imperialist Lawrence James

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, pp.464, £25, ISBN: 9780297869146

A fraught subject, this, and one which makes it difficult to sustain undiluted admiration for Churchill. Lawrence James is the doyen of empire historians, and has traced the great man’s… Read more

Liverpool, Merseyside, 1951

How do you define a 'northerner'?

8 June 2013
The North (And Almost Everything In It) Paul Morley

Bloomsbury, pp.582, £20, ISBN: 9780747578161

Obviously, now that every high street in England looks identical, and everyone under 30 uses exactly the same Australian rising inflection in speech, books of this sort are based on… Read more


Complete Poems, by C.P. Cavafy - review

18 May 2013
C.P. Cavafy: Complete Poems Daniel Mendelsohn (translation, commentary)

Harper Press, pp.547, £35, ebook, £17.99, ISBN: 9780375400964

Constantine Cavafy was a poet who fascinated English novelists, and remained a presence in English fiction long after his death in 1933. When E.M. Forster lived in Alexandria during the… Read more

'Best of Young British Novelists 4', by John Freeman (ed)

20 April 2013
Best of Young British Novelists 4 John Freeman (ed)

Granta, pp.256, £12.99, ISBN: 9781905881673

The literary magazine Granta had the bright idea, in 1983, of promoting 20 British novelists under 40 by announcing that they were the ‘best’ around. The first list was a… Read more

Rebecca West

West’s World: The Extraordinary Life of Dame Rececca West, by Lorna Gibb — review

30 March 2013
West’s World: The Extraordinary Life of Dame Rececca West Lorna Gibb

Macmillan, pp.320, £25, ISBN: 9781220714625

Lorna Gibb ends her book on Rebecca West by saying: ‘That she would be remembered because her work would go on being read was her greatest legacy.’ A more measured… Read more

Be careful what you wish for

23 February 2013
The Silence of the Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths John Gray

Allen Lane, pp.224, £18.99, ISBN: 9781846144509

Are things getting better? In some ways, undeniably. Progress is not altogether a fiction, or ‘modern myth’ in John Gray’s terminology, if we focus on such ultimately important ideas as… Read more

The British Army enters the Bolan Pass from Dadur during the First Anglo-Afghan War. From J.Atkinson’s Sketches in Afghanistan

An almost perfect catastrophe

12 January 2013
The Return of a King William Dalrymple

Bloomsbury, pp.608, £25, ISBN: 9781408818305

Lots of people have subsequently discovered this important imperial maxim: ‘Don’t invade Afghanistan.’ But the first western power to demonstrate the point of it was the British, in the late… Read more

At the Opera’ by Thomas-Francis Dicksee;

Boxed and stalled

8 December 2012
Great Operas: A Guide to 25 of the World’s Finest Musical Experiences Michael Steen

Icon, pp.488, £25, ISBN: 9781848314573

What does fashion look like? When intellectual or artistic vogues change, how do we know when they have happened? The most popular men’s trousers in the UK at the moment… Read more

Belvoir Castle in 1816, by Turner

A family at war

3 November 2012
The Secret Rooms Catherine Bailey

Viking, pp.466, £20, ISBN: 9780670917556

The Quest for Corvo started something rather peculiar in biography. A.J.A. Symons’s 1934 classic — described as ‘an experiment’ — set out the biographer’s search for his subject, and not… Read more

JK Rowling

Smackhead cows in the backyard

29 September 2012
The Casual Vacancy J.K. Rowling

Little, Brown, pp.480, £20, ISBN: 9781408704202

Krystal had never shot up before … but she knew how to heat the spoon, and about the tiny little ball of cotton wool you used to soak up the… Read more

Theatre of the absurd

1 September 2012
Telegraph Avenue Michael Chabon

4th Estate, pp.480, £18.99, ISBN: 9780007288755

Some novels gaze and report and argue: others just sing. There are some writers who love and respect the visual arts, and want to bring them into prose — Henry… Read more

Japanische Soldaten während der Seeschlacht bei Tsushima, 1905 | Japanese soldiers during the sea battle of Tsushima, 1905

At the rising of the sun

28 July 2012
From the Ruins of Empire Pankaj Mishra

Allen Lane, pp.356, 20, ISBN: 9781846144783

Niall Ferguson, in his impressive and exuberant book Civilization, published last year, sought to explain why Western civilisation triumphed in the centuries after the Renaissance with reference to six factors.… Read more


End of a dry season

30 June 2012
The Letters of T.S. Eliot, Volume 3, 1926-7 edited by Valerie Eliot and John Haffenden

Faber, pp.953, 40, ISBN: 9780571140855

The Letters of T.S.Eliot is a project which already seems to belong to another world, of leisure and detailed scholarship. It was conceived of decades ago, and the first volume,… Read more


A gallery of grotesques

16 June 2012
Lionel Asbo: State of England Martin Amis

Cape, pp.288, 18.99, ISBN: 9780224096201

After the turn-of the-century memoir Experience, Martin Amis’s career has been widely perceived as somewhat rocky, shading into moments of disaster. If Experience, with its triple narrative of father, teeth… Read more


Here’s to you, Mrs Robinson

12 May 2012
Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace Kate Summerscale

Bloomsbury, pp.298, 16.99

From time to time, society rethinks what its institutions mean. Despite what fundamentalists will tell you, this may include — indeed, almost invariably does include — the institution of marriage.… Read more


Prophetic times

31 March 2012
In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World Tom Holland

Little, Brown, pp.523, 25

The subject here is colossal, covering a substantial stretch of the later Roman empire, the last years of the Persian empire, the conversion of the Arabs, the spread of Christianity… Read more


‘A world dying of ugliness’

4 February 2012
Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters translated and edited by Michael Hofmann

Granta, pp.551, 25

Some writers’ lives are estimable, some enviable, some exemplary. And some send a shudder of gratitude down the spine that this life happened to somebody else. It isn’t necessarily about… Read more


Mavericks need not apply

31 December 2011
Body of Work: 40 Years of Creative Writing at UAE edited by Giles Foden

Full Circle Editions, pp.352, 28

Philip Hensher gives a critical insider’s view of the Creative Writing industry It has always been a challenge to get a novel or poem published. Twenty years ago, I went… Read more