Lucky miss

9 July 2011
The Other Barack: The Bold and Reckless Life of President Obama’s Father Sally H. Jacobs

Public Affairs, pp.297, 20

In Dreams From My Father, his exploration of race and roots, Barack Obama recalled the tales heard in childhood about the man who gave him his name. His father, they… Read more

The call of the wild

19 February 2011
Bird Cloud Annie Proulx

Fourth Estate, pp.234, 16.99

Annie Proulx (pronounced ‘Pru’) began her writing career — quite late, in her fifties — as E.A. Proulx, to baffle misogynist editors; then she was E. Annie Proulx, until she… Read more


Am I offending the wrong Americans?

8 January 2011

Q. Why did God give liberals annoying, whiny voices? A. So that even the blind could hate them. Q. Why did God give liberals annoying, whiny voices? A. So that… Read more


At war with the Greeks

8 January 2011

America’s love of the ancient republics has had military consequences in the present If you’re 40 or older and I ask you to think back to the worst moments of… Read more

Bad enemy, worse lover

11 December 2010
Saul Bellow: Letters Benjamin Taylor (ed)

Penguin Classics, pp.608, 30

Five years after his death, Saul Bellow’s literary reputation has yet to suffer the usual post-mortem slump, and publication of these lively letters should help sustain his standing. Five years… Read more

So far from God . . .

20 November 2010
Amexica: War Along the Borderline Ed Vulliamy

Bodley Head, pp.336, 20

Ciudad Juárez, Mexico’s second largest border city, is clogged with rubbish, fouled with car exhaust and, increasingly, flooded with narcotics. Ciudad Juárez, Mexico’s second largest border city, is clogged with… Read more


Way out west

21 August 2010
Lighting Out For the Territory Roy Morris Jr

v, pp.282, 17.99

This year America celebrates the cent-enary of Mark Twain’s death. This year America celebrates the cent-enary of Mark Twain’s death. He is the nearest that country gets to a national… Read more


Girls from the golden West

14 August 2010
Sisters of Fortune: Marianne, Bess, Louisa and Emily Caton Jehanne Wake

Chatto, pp.394, 25

Who was the first American to marry an English duke? Most students of the peerage would say it was Consuelo Yzagna who married the eldest son of the Duke of… Read more


A smooth passage

7 August 2010
Driving Home Jonathan Raban

Picador, pp.604, 20

Jonathan Raban left Britain and moved to Seattle in 1990, when he was 47. He sold his Volkswagen on his way to Heathrow airport. He bought a Dodge with Washington… 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


Schlock teaser

30 June 2010
Gypsy: The Art of the Tease Rachel Shteir

Yale, pp.240, 12.99

The somewhat straightlaced theatre-going audiences of 1880s America, eager for performances by European artistes like Jenny Lind and solid, home-grown, classical actors such as Otis Skinner, were hardly prepared for… Read more


High priest of bop

23 June 2010
Thelonius Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original Robin D. G. Kelly

J.R. Books, pp.588, 20

In the Rainbow Grill in New York one evening in 1971, according to Robin D. G. Kelley, Professor of History and American Studies at the University of Southern California, Duke… Read more


Whither America?

16 June 2010
The Ask Sam Lipsyte

Old Street Publishing, pp.296, 12.99

At the beginning of The Ask, Horace sits with Burke and proclaims that America is a ‘run down and demented pimp’. At the beginning of The Ask, Horace sits with… Read more


Insufficiently honoured here

2 June 2010
Hitch-22 Christopher Hitchens

Atlantic, pp.448, 20

‘Next time it’s full buggery!’ said Christopher Hitchens as I helped him onto a train at Taunton station after a full luncheon of Black Label, Romanée-Conti, eel risotto and suckling… 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


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


Serving God and Mammon

7 April 2010
The Cracked Bell Tristram Riley-Smith

Constable, pp.288, 8.99

People have written books about America long before the United States declared itself, and we may be forgiven for asking if we really need another. Doesn’t America already loom large… Read more


Refusing to play the game

31 March 2010
J. D. Salinger: A Life Raised High Kenneth Slawenski

Pomona Books, pp.423, 20

What sort of person would you expect to be bringing out a life of J. D. Salinger two months after his death, bearing in mind that Salinger was more obsessive… Read more


Annals of war

24 March 2010
The Iraq Papers John Ehrenberg, J. Patrice McSherry, José Ram

OUP, pp.528, 15.99

‘I was not an enthusiast about getting US forces and going into Iraq,’ Dick Cheney said in 1997, looking back on the First Gulf War. ‘I was not an enthusiast… Read more


The whirlwind and the saint

24 March 2010
Zeitoun David Eggers

Hamish Hamilton, pp.352, 18.99

Dave Eggers is the very model of the engaged writer. Since publishing his first book, the memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, he has branched out into all kinds… 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 narrow escape

24 February 2010
The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs Starr Kenneth Gormley

Crown, pp.790, 35

For once, I felt sorry for Bill Clinton. It was January 1998, and the press reported that the President had had an intimate relationship with one Monica Lewinsky. In Independent… Read more


The great bailout

17 February 2010
On the Brink Hank Paulson

Headline, pp.453, 18.99

Hank Paulson’s new book is called On the Brink, but it could well have been entitled Over the Edge. Hank Paulson’s new book is called On the Brink, but it… Read more


Not ‘a boy-crazed trollop’

17 February 2010
Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and her Family’s Feuds Lyndall Gordon

Virago, pp.491, 20

For someone who barely left the house, Emily Dickinson didn’t half cause a lot of trouble. For someone who barely left the house, Emily Dickinson didn’t half cause a lot… Read more


Adventure with a difference

27 January 2010
Parrot and Olivier in America Peter Carey

Faber, pp.452, 17.99

Probably my opinion of this bold book is worthless. Peter Carey, having decided to write a novel about Alexis de Tocqueville’s visit to the United States in 1831-2, read, among… Read more