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


What a difference a gay makes

20 January 2010
City Boy Edmund White

Bloomsbury, pp.297, 18.99

Edmund White is among the most admired of living authors, his oeuvre consisting of 20-odd books of various forms — novels, stories, essays and biographies — though each one is… Read more

Just the bare bones

11 November 2009
The Humbling Philip Roth

Cape, pp.140, 12.99

It is impossible (as I prove in this sentence) to review Philip Roth without mentioning the surge of creativity that began when the author was around 60 and which now… Read more

Engrossing obsessions

4 November 2009
Blood’s a Rover James Ellroy

Century, pp.627, 18.99

With Blood’s a Rover James Ellroy finally finishes his ‘Underworld USA’ trilogy. With Blood’s a Rover James Ellroy finally finishes his ‘Underworld USA’ trilogy. It’s been eight years since the… Read more

Karl Marx got it right

14 October 2009
The American Civil War John Keegan

Hutchinson, pp.394, 25

Whether the refusal to allow the Confederate states the right to self-determination, flying as it did in the face of the Declaration of Independence, was the first overt act of… Read more

Joking apart

16 September 2009
A Gate at the Stairs Lorrie Moore

Faber, pp.322, 16.99

Free association underpins the comedy of Lorrie Moore’s writing — or perhaps the verb should be ‘unpins’, since her prose spins off in tangential, apparently affectless riffs. Free association underpins… Read more

Gut instincts

9 September 2009
Cleaving Julie Powell

Penguin, pp.294, 12.99

Julie Powell wrote Julie and Julia, a book (and now a film) in which she described her attempts to cook a huge number of recipes by the cookery writer Julia… Read more

Home is where the heart is

6 May 2009
Brooklyn Colm T

Viking, pp.252, 17.99

Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín Colm Tóibín’s Brook- lyn is a simple and utterly exquisite novel. The writing is so transparent, so apparently guileless, that I kept wondering what trickery Tóibín… Read more

The actress and the orphan

22 April 2009
Ask Alice D. J. Taylor

Chatto & Windus, pp.342, 16.99

Ask Alice combines two narratives, one beginning in 1904 in the emptiness of the American Midwest, the other in the muffled stasis of Edwardian rural England. The first follows the… Read more

Fame is still the spur

15 April 2009
God Bless America: Misadventures of a Big Mouth Piers Morgan

Ebury Press, pp.437, 17.99

In The Frenzy of Renown, Leo Braudy’s magisterial study of fame and its history, he identifies the principal allure of being a celebrity: ‘In the heart of the fan and… Read more