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Book review

‘Exquisitely dressed and groomed, Stefan Zweig looks simply terrified’

Stefan Zweig: the tragedy of a great bad writer

22 November 2014
The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World George Prochnik

Grants, pp.300, £19.99, ISBN: 9781590516126

Stefan Zweig wasn’t, to be honest, a very good writer. This delicious fact was hugged to themselves by most of the intellectuals of the German speaking world during the decades… Read more

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To be astonished by nature, look no further than Claxton

11 October 2014
Claxton: Field Notes from a Small Planet Mark Cocker

Cape, pp.238, £14.99, ISBN: 9780224099653

Mark Cocker is the naturalist writer of the moment, with birds his special subject. His previous book, Birds and People, was a tour de force, taking the birds of the… Read more

Oliver Cromwell opening the coffin of Charles I, by Paul Delaroche

Rebellion without a cause: Peter Ackroyd's curious Civil War

20 September 2014
Civil War Peter Ackroyd

Macmillan, pp.482, £20, ISBN: 9780230706415

How our perceptions of 17th-century England are dominated by the convulsions of the two decades at its centre! Peter Ackroyd’s book, the third of what have been announced as six… Read more

Peter Levi Photo: Getty

Peter Levi – poet, priest and life-enhancer

30 August 2014
Peter Levi: Oxford Romantic Brigid Allen

Signal Books,, pp.452, £19.99, ISBN: 9781903493989

Hilaire Belloc was once being discussed on some television programme. One of the panellists was Peter Levi. The other critics expressed their doubts about the old boy. Levi leaned forward… Read more

A Siberian exile prepares to shoot a black fox (c.1819)

Siberia beyond the Gulag Archipelago

16 August 2014
Siberia: A History of the People Janet M. Hartley

Yale, pp.289, £25, ISBN: 9780300167948

Larger than Europe and the United States combined, Siberia is an enormous swathe of Russia, spanning seven time zones and occuping 77 per cent of the country’s land mass. Ryszard… Read more

An anti-Soviet rally in Moscow, February 1991: Gorbachev’s reforms resulted in the rise of his nemesis, Yeltsin

Public joy and private panic: How the world's powers responded when the Soviet empire fell

12 July 2014
The Last Empire: The final days of the Soviet Union Serhii Plokhy

One World, pp.484, £25, ISBN: 9781780745299

Vladimir Putin calls it ‘the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century’, a viewpoint which explains much of his recent behaviour. Few others anywhere in the world, particularly people who… Read more

What! Has John Sutherland really not read Don Quixote from cover to cover?

Judge a critic by the quality of his mistakes

10 May 2014
How to be Well Read John Sutherland

Random House, pp.576, £20, ISBN: 9781847946409

What the title promises is not found inside. It is a tease. John Sutherland says he has ‘been paid one way or another, to read books all my life’, yet… Read more

The great Ascension Day pageant of the Doge performing the marriage of the sea — already a tourist attraction in 17th-century Venice.

What Englishmen learnt from Europe

1 February 2014
The Jacobean Grand Tour: Early Stuart Travellers in Europe Edward Chaney and Timothy Wilks

I.B. Tauris, pp.304, £25, ISBN: 9781780767833

The pattern of foreign travel by wealthy young Englishmen that became known as the Grand Tour began in the Renaissance and matured in the 17th century. In its origins it… Read more

A wounded soldier is carried through the mud near Boesinghe during the battle of Passchendaele in Flanders Photo: Getty

When No Man's Land is home

25 January 2014
The Lie Helen Dunmore

Hutchinson, pp.294, £14.99, ISBN: 9780091953982

Countless writers and film-makers this year will be trying their hand at forcing us to wake up and smell the first world war.  How do they plant a fresh, haunting,… Read more

Scarlett O’Hara runs through the streets of burning Atlanta

'Where are the happy fictional spinsters?'

18 January 2014
How to be a Heroine, or What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much Samantha Ellis

Chatto, pp.250, £16.99, ISBN: 9780701187514

This book arose from an argument. Lifelong bookworm Samantha Ellis and her best friend had gone to Brontë country and were tramping about on the Yorkshire moors when they began… Read more

‘Grace Higgens in the Kitchen’ by Vanessa Bell

The Angel of Charleston, by Stewart MacKay - review

18 January 2014
The Angel of Charleston Stewart MacKay

The British Library, pp.160, £16.99, ISBN: 9780712358675

Above the range in the kitchen at Charleston House is a painted inscription: ‘Grace Higgens worked here for 50 years & more, she was a good friend to all Charlestonians.’… Read more

The young Clarice Lispector was strikingly beautiful, with catlike green eyes and ‘very, very sexy’, remembered a friend

'She's the most important Jewish writer since Kafka!'

11 January 2014
Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector Benjamin Moser

Penguin Books, pp.479, £12.99, ISBN: 9781846147814

The Brazilian novelist Clarice Lispector was a riddlesome and strange personality. Strikingly beautiful, with catlike green eyes, she died in Rio de Janeiro in 1977 at the age of only… Read more

Coloured photograph of Princess Louise dating from the early 1880s by the society photographer Alexander Bassano

What was the secret of Queen Victoria's rebel daughter?

11 January 2014
The Mystery of Princess Louise Lucinda Hawksley

Chatto, pp.374, £25, ISBN: 9780701183493

Princess Louise (1848–1939), Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter, was the prettiest and liveliest of the five princesses, and the only one who broke out of the royal bubble. Artistically talented, she… Read more

Irwin Piper takes his sheep to slaughter

How we lost the seasons

4 January 2014
The Seasons: An Elegy for the Passing of the Year Nick Groom

Atlantic Books, pp.400, £22, ISBN: 9781848871618

So, what are you doing with your Christmas decorations? Still up? Did the tree get put out on 2 January? Maybe you’re holding out until the Twelfth Day, on the… Read more

Claire Bloom in Brideshead Revisited (Photo: ITV/REX)

The Roth of tenderness and of rage

4 January 2014
Roth Unbound Claudia Roth Pierpont

Cape, pp.368, £25, ISBN: 9780374280512

In the autumn of 2012, Philip Roth told a French magazine that his latest book, Nemesis, would be his last. The storm of interest this created was surprising, given that… Read more

To gaze at Manet’s asparagus and to see a reflection of your struggling long-term relationship might not be the best way to approach a painting

Do Manet's asparagus remind you of your struggling long-term relationship?

4 January 2014
Art as Therapy Alain de Botton and John Armstrong

Phaidon, pp.200, £24.95, ISBN: 9780714865911

In calling their book Art as Therapy Alain de Botton and John Armstrong have taken the direct route. They’re not waiting for us to interpret their motive: their title tells… Read more

The 18-year-old Anjelica Huston, directed by her father, 
makes her screen début in A Walk with Love and Death as the 
14th-century French aristocrat Claudia, fleeing the savagery of the Jacquerie

Finally, a celebrity memoir worth reading

4 January 2014
A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London and New York Anjelica Huston

Simon & Schuster, pp.254, £16.99, ISBN: 9780857207425

Unlike many celebrity memoirs, Anjelica Huston’s is worth reading. In her Prologue she writes that as a child she modeled herself on Morticia Addams, and where a lesser celebrity memoirist… Read more

trot

The many attempts to assassinate Trotsky

4 January 2014
The Man Who Loved Dogs Leonardo Padura, translated by Anna Kushner

Bitter Lemon Press, pp.576, £20, ISBN: 9781908524102

Leon Trotsky’s grandson, Esteban Volkov, is a retired chemist in his early eighties. I met him not long ago in the house in Mexico City where his grandfather was murdered… Read more

Two faces of Bernard Berenson

How honest was Bernard Berenson?

14 December 2013
Bernard Berenson Rachel Cohen

Yale University Press, pp.288, £18.99, ISBN: 9780300149425

When the great Jewish-American art expert Bernard Berenson died in 1959, he had acquired the status of a sort of sage. He was the relic of a prewar culture that… Read more

Craig-Raine

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

Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Marianne Moore Photo: Getty

The mad, mum-fixated maiden aunt of modernism

7 December 2013
Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore Linda Leavell

Faber, pp.455, £30, ISBN: 9780571301829

Marianne Moore’s poems are notoriously ‘difficult’ but her personality and the circumstances of her life are as fascinating today as they were to the avant-garde writers and artists of 1920s… Read more

new_Yorker_Cats

Curtains for kitty! How to care for cats — and how to kill them

7 December 2013
The Big New Yorker Book of Cats The New Yorker (with a foreword by Anthony Lane)

Heinemann, pp.329, £30, ISBN: 97803943587950

The New Yorker has always had a peculiar affinity with cats, perhaps because they have a lot in common — an elegance, an abhorrence of sentimentality and an innate sense… Read more

Peter Brookes depicts the two Eds

Hugo Rifkind's My Week reminds me why it's worth getting up on Saturdays

7 December 2013
My Week Hugo Rifkind

Robson Press, pp.368, £14.99, ISBN: 9781849545518

‘Nothing’s funny any more’ has become the daily mantra of this magazine’s cartoon editor, Michael Heath. Thanks to Leveson, political correctness, taste and common decency, lampooning public figures in particular… Read more

Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy, writer and aesthetic philosopher Photo: Getty

The book that Boris should give to all seniors, along with their Freedom Passes

7 December 2013
The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Confession Leo Tolstoy, translated by Peter Carson

W.W. Norton, pp.224, £16.99, ISBN: 9780871404268

The Death of Ivan Ilyich is a story for the older reader. One might go so far as to suggest that local authorities should give ‘seniors’ a copy free with… Read more

Margaret Drabble at the offices of publisher McLelland Stewart Photo: Toronto Star via Getty

Margaret Drabble tries to lose the plot

30 November 2013
The Pure Gold Baby Margaret Drabble

Canongate, pp.304, £16.99, ISBN: 9780956868389

Halfway through her new novel, Margaret Drabble tells us of Anna, the pure gold baby of the title, ‘There was no story to her life, no plot.’ That statement is… Read more