Book reviews

Coolness under fire

25 June 2011
Tides of War Stella Tillyard

Chatto, pp.375, 12.99

On His Majesty’s Service Allan Mallinson

Bantam, pp.317, 18.99

The early 19th century was the age of the dandy, and the essence of dandyism was cool self-control. The dandy shunned displays of feeling. There is feeling a-plenty in both… Read more


City of miracles

25 June 2011
Rome Robert Hughes

Weidenfeld, pp.534, 25

When in Rome: 2000 Years of Roman Sightseeing Matthew Sturgis

Frances Lincoln, pp.280, 20

Whispering City: Rome and its Histories R.J.B. Bosworth

Yale, pp.358, 25

In the autumn of 1984, after an unexplained fall, I found myself in a hospital in Rome acutely head-injured and disorientated. I had been found sprawled on the floor of… Read more

Patience v. panache

18 June 2011
Monty and Rommel: Parallel Lives Peter Caddick-Adams

Preface, pp.618, 20

Forgotten Voices: Desert Victory Julian Thompson

Ebury Press, pp.384, 16.99

The square jaw and steely gaze are deceptive. In reality, next to a prima donna on the slide, no one is more vain and temperamental than a general on the… Read more


The great game

11 June 2011
Jack Hobbs Leo McKinstry

Yellow Jersey Press, pp.416, 20

Ian Botham Simon Wilde

Simon & Schuster, pp.408, 20

Wisden 2011 edited by Scyld Berry

John Wisden, pp.1650, 45

Some of the best writing about sport in recent years has been done by journalists who tend their soil, so to speak, in another parish. Peter Oborne’s biography of the… Read more


Deep, dark mysteries

4 June 2011
London Under Peter Ackroyd

Chatto, pp.192, 12.99

The Stones of London: A History of Twelve Buildings Leo Hollis

Weidenfeld, pp.456, 25

For Peter Ackroyd, the subterranean world holds a potent allure. London Under, his brief account of the capital’s catacombs and other murky zones, manages to radiate a dark mystery and… Read more

Recent crime fiction

4 June 2011

Mo Hayder has a considerable and well-deserved reputation as a writer of horrific crime novels that often revolve around the physical violence men do to women. Her latest, Hanging Hill… Read more


Vastly entertaining

28 May 2011

It may not be quite true that the next best thing to eating good food is reading about it, but undeniably food writing has its considerable pleasures. You’ve got it… Read more

A conflict of loyalty

21 May 2011
Wolfram: The Boy Who Went to War Giles Milton

Sceptre, pp.352, 20

Reluctant Accomplice edited by Konrad H. Jarausch

Princeton, pp.412, 24.95

What was life like in Hitler’s Germany? This question has long fascinated authors and readers alike, as books like Alone in Berlin, The Boy with the Striped Pyjamas and The… Read more


Wheels of fortune

14 May 2011
Pedalare! Pedalare!: A History of Italian Cycling John Foot

Bloomsbury, pp.316, 14.99

The Bicycle Book Bella Bathurst

Harper Press, pp.306, 16.99

There are among us a churlish few who consider the term ‘sports personality’ to be an oxymoron. There are among us a churlish few who consider the term ‘sports personality’… Read more


Captain courageous

7 May 2011
Captain Cook: Master of the Seas Frank McLynn

Yale, pp.490, 25

The sum of hard biographical facts about Captain Cook never increases, nor is it expected to. It is the same with Shakespeare. J. C. Beaglehole’s Life of Captain James Cook… Read more

Doomed to disillusion

7 May 2011
The Forgotten Waltz Anne Enright

Cape, pp.240, 16.99

The Forgotten Waltz is one of those densely recapitulative novels that seek to interpret emotional crack-up from the angle of its ground-down aftermath. At the same time, it is not… Read more

Jennie, Clemmie and Goosie too

23 April 2011
The Churchills Mary S. Lovell

Little Brown, pp.640, 25

‘There never was a Churchill, from John of Marlborough down,’ wrote Gladstone, ‘that had either principles or morals.’ With the shining exception of Winston and his brother Jack, Churchill men… Read more


Lancelot of the lake

23 April 2011
The Omnipotent Magician Jane Brown

Chatto, pp.384, 20

Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia offers two contrasting views on a ‘Capability’ Brown landscape at the imagined Sidley Park. Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia offers two contrasting views on a ‘Capability’ Brown landscape at… Read more

A certain tragic allure

23 April 2011
The Shah Abbas Milani

Palgrave Macmillan, pp.496, 14.99

Towards Mohammed Reza Pahlavi (1919–1980), the last or most recent Shah of Iran, there are two principal attitudes. Towards Mohammed Reza Pahlavi (1919–1980), the last or most recent Shah of… Read more

Random questions

23 April 2011
The Coincidence Engine Sam Leith

Bloomsbury, pp.271, 12.99

British writers who set their first novels in America are apt to come horribly unstuck. One of the pleasures of Sam Leith’s debut novel is its sureness of tone. All… Read more


One hap after another

23 April 2011
Graven with Diamonds: The Many Lives of Thomas Wyatt, Courtier, Poet, Assassin, Spy Nicola Shulman

Short Books, pp.378, 20

Nicola Shulman begins her rehabilitation of Thomas Wyatt by remarking that there is ‘an almost universal consensus that he can’t write’ — a consensus established within a generation of his… Read more

A fate worse than death

16 April 2011
Behind Closed Doors: The Tragic, Untold Story of the Duchess of Windsor Hugo Vickers

Hutchinson, pp.462, 25

Hugo Vickers has already produced a well-documented and balanced biography of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. To follow this with the Duchess of Windsor is as bold a left-and-right as… Read more


Slippery Jack

16 April 2011
Bercow— Mr Speaker: Rowdy Living in the Tory Party Bobby Friedman

Gibson Square, pp.256, 17.99

A mad, muscular Sally Bercow cavorts on the Commons chair, diminutive husband on her knee, his features impish. With a few scratches of the nib, the Independent’s merciless Dan Brown,… Read more


King of spin

16 April 2011
Henry VIII David Loades

Amberley Publishing, pp.480, 25

Draw two two-inch triangles, tip to tip, one on top of the other. A little way down the left flank of the upper triangle, take a perpendicular line out to… Read more

In Di’s guise

16 April 2011
Untold Story Monica Ali

Doubleday, pp.345, 16.99

What if Princess Diana hadn’t died, but, aided by her besotted press secretary, had faked her death and fled to America to live under an assumed identity? Is this an… Read more


Pet obsession

16 April 2011
My Dog Tulip J. R. Ackerley, with an introduction by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

New York Review of Books, pp.190, 8.99

I declare two interests. I own a dog, Lily, and I admire the New York Review of Books. What could go wrong? Especially because, according to the enthusiastic introduction, back… Read more


An existential hero

16 April 2011
The Pale King David Foster Wallace

Hamish Hamilton, pp.547, 20

Sam Leith is enthralled by a masterpiece on monotony, but is devastated by its author’s death When David Foster Wallace took his own life two and a half years ago,… Read more


Bookends: The last laugh

9 April 2011

In July, the world’s most famous restaurant, elBulli, closes, to reopen in 2014 as a ‘creative centre’. Rough luck on the million-odd people who try for one of 8,000 reservations… Read more

A choice of first novels

9 April 2011
The End Salvatore Scibona

Cape, pp.304, 16.99

My Name is Mary Sutter Robin Oliviera

Penguin, pp.384, 12.99

Scissors, Paper, Stone Elizabeth Day

Bloomsbury, pp.256, 11.99

Rocco LaGrassa was ‘stout around the middle . . . wee at the ankles, and girlish at his tiny feet, a man in the shape of a lightbulb’. In Salvatore… Read more

Recent crime fiction

9 April 2011

Henning Mankell bestrides the landscape of Scandavian crime fiction like a despondent colossus. Last year’s The Man from Beijing, was a disappointing stand-alone thriller with too much polemical baggage. His… Read more