20th Century


Age of ideas

21 January 2012
Thinking the Twentieth Century Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder

Heinemann, pp.413, 25

Sam Leith on Tony Judt’s rigorous, posthumously published examination of the great intellectual debates of the last century When the historian and essayist Tony Judt died in 2010 of motor… Read more


A time to moan and weep

2 October 2010
State of Emergency: Britain 1970-74 Dominic Sandbrook

Allen Lane, pp.768, 30

Ferdinand Mount recalls the crisis years of the early 1970s, when Britain was pronounced ‘ungovernable’ The residents of Flitwick, Bedfordshire, were enjoying a wine-and-cheese party in the village hall when… Read more


A foot in both camps

7 August 2010
Crossing Mandelbaum Gate Kai Bird

Simon & Schuster, pp.424, 17.99

As a five-year-old in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem in the 1950s, Kai Bird overheard an elderly American heiress offering $1 million to anyone who could solve the Arab-Israeli conflict.… Read more


Proscribed reading

17 July 2010
Politics and the Novel During the Cold War David Caute

Transaction, pp.403, 42.50

In 1948, Poland’s new communist government was badly in need of legitimacy and desperate for international recognition. So they did what any self-respecting left-wing government would do, back in those… Read more


Reverting to type

17 July 2010
Butterfly’s Shadow Lee Langley

Chatto & Windus, pp.340, 12.99

While I was living in Tokyo, a Japanese girl friend of mine fell in love with a British investment banker. After promising marriage, he abandoned her for an English wife… Read more


The body in the snow

17 July 2010
Murder in the High Himalaya: Loyalty, Tragedy and Escape from Tibet Jonathan Green

Public Affairs, pp.304, 15.99

A word is missing from the subtitle of Jonathan Green’s shocking exposé: cowardice. A word is missing from the subtitle of Jonathan Green’s shocking exposé: cowardice. It shines out of… Read more

A cousin across the water

7 July 2010
Shane Leslie: Sublime Failure Otto Rauchbauer

Lilliput Press, pp.356, 35

Though he was to live at Castle Leslie in Co. Monaghan, Sir John Randalph (later Shane) Leslie, cousin of Winston Churchill, was born at Stratford House, London, in 1885 though… Read more

King and his killer

7 July 2010
Hellhound on his Trail Hampton Sides

Allen Lane, pp.459, 25

In the late days of the Bush administration, it was fashionable among liberals to call George W. Bush the ‘worst’ president since the founding of the republic and to suggest… Read more

Learning to live with the bomb

7 July 2010
The Secret State: Preparing for the Worst 1945-2010 Peter Hennessy

Penguin, pp.470, 10.99

The call consisted of three short blows of breath. A minute later, the phone rang again. Once more: three short blows of breath. Mr Cowell, under diplomatic cover, was the… Read more


Secrets and silences

30 June 2010
Hancox: A House and A Family Charlotte Moore

Viking, pp.484, 20

Charlotte Moore’s family have lived at Hancox on the Sussex Weald for well over a century. Charlotte Moore’s family have lived at Hancox on the Sussex Weald for well over… Read more


An ideal banker

High Financier: The Lives and Time of Siegmund Warburg Niall Ferguson

Allen Lane, pp.584, 30

At last, thirty years after his death, we have a proper biography of the enigmatic but inspirational banker Siegmund Warburg, extensively researched and beautifully written. Previous efforts fell short. A… Read more


A tireless campaigner

23 June 2010
The Constant Liberal: The Life and Work of Phyllis Bottome Pam Hirsch

Quartet, pp.458, 25

Why haven’t we heard of Phillis Bottome? In her 60-year career she published 33 novels, several of them bestsellers, short stories, essays, biographies and memoirs. Why haven’t we heard of… Read more


Not as sweet as he seemed

16 June 2010
E. M. Forster: A New Life Wendy Moffat

Bloomsbury, pp.404, 25

There are already three biographies of E. M. Forster: P. N. Furbank’s two- volume, authorised heavyweight; Nicola Beauman’s less compendious, more engaging middleweight; and my own bantamweight, little more than… Read more


Odd men out

16 June 2010
Peter Pan’s First XIWG’s Birthday Party Kevin Tefler

Sceptre, pp.344, 16.99

The first game played by the Allahakbarries Cricket Club at Albury in Surrey in September 1887 did not bode well for the club’s future. The first game played by the… Read more


Almost a great man

16 June 2010
Edward Heath Philip Ziegler

Harper Press, pp.326, 25

Of those prime ministers whom the old grammar schools escalator propelled from the bottom to the top of British society since the second world war, Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher… Read more


Golden youth or electric eel?

2 June 2010
Patrick Shaw-Stewart: An Edwardian Meteor Miles Jebb

Dovecote Press, pp.248, 17.99

Patrick Shaw-Stewart was the cleverest and the most ambitious of the gilded gang of young men who swam in the wake of the not-so-young but perennially youthful Raymond Asquith. Julian… Read more


Paranoia and empty promises

12 May 2010
The Betrayal Helen Dunmore

Fig Tree, pp.330, 18.99

It has taken more than half a century, but at last the Anglophone world has woken up to the fact that 20th-century communist history makes a superb backdrop for fiction.… Read more


A girl’s best friend

12 May 2010
The Life and Adventures of Maf the Dog and of his Friend Marilyn Monroe Andrew O’Hagan

Faber, pp.279, 18.99

If you wanted to write about Marilyn Monroe, how would you go about it? The pile of biographies, memoirs and novels about poor, sad Marilyn is already teetering. How could… Read more


Ghosts from the Soviet past

21 April 2010
Molotov’s Magic Lantern: A Journey in Russian History Rachel Polonsky

Faber, pp.416, 20

Above all, it is the inhuman scale of things which impresses the visitor to Moscow: the vastness of Red Square, the width of the uncrossable streets, the implacability of the… Read more


The map turns red

21 April 2010
The Atlantic and its Enemies Norman Stone

Allen Lane, pp.599, 30

Norman Stone forsook the chair of modern history at Oxford university for Ankara after realising that the ‘conversation at high tables would generally have made the exchanges in the bus-… Read more


Pearl of the Orient

31 March 2010
Burying the Bones Hilary Spurling

Profile, pp.264, 15

When she was a little girl, playing in the countryside around her missionary parents’ home in China, Pearl Buck used to come across the scattered body parts of babies abandoned… Read more


The stuff of legend

10 March 2010
Did You Really Shoot the Television? Max Hastings

HarperPress, pp.278, 20

This book could have been a classic. It starts as an account of the author’s family, no better, no worse than many such; but then, amongst the grandparents and the… Read more


Fleeing fog and filth

24 February 2010
Kipling Abroad Andrew Lycett

I.B. Tauris, pp.254, 19.50

In a sense, as this interesting collection of his writings makes clear, Rudyard Kipling was always abroad. His first vivid memories were of an early childhood in Bombay, ‘light and… Read more


Method in his madness

24 February 2010
Fordlandia Greg Grandin

Icon Books, pp.416, 14.99

The car manufacturer Henry Ford dominates this remarkable book, managing, like Falstaff, to be its tragic hero, villain, and comic relief all at the same time. A gaunt, pacing figure,… Read more


A dangerous fellow

10 February 2010
Koestler: The Indispensable Intellectual Michael Scammell

Faber, pp.689, 20

Do we need another huge life of Arthur Koestler? He wrote a great deal about himself, including three autobiographical works: Spanish Testament (1937), describing his experience as a death-row prisoner… Read more