Book reviews

Poetic licentiousness

19 February 2011
Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War John Stubbs

Viking, pp.549, 25

Reprobates were, in the Calvinist lexicon, those unfortunates not included among God’s elect and therefore sentenced to eternal damnation. Reprobates were, in the Calvinist lexicon, those unfortunates not included among… Read more

Hothouse hell

19 February 2011
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother Amy Chua

Bloomsbury, pp.235, 16.99

Amy Chua, Tiger Mother and John M. Duff Professor of Law at Yale, was born in the Chinese year of the tiger, and a tiger, she says, ‘the living symbol… Read more

A world of talking trees

19 February 2011
Henry's Demons Patrick and Henry Cockburn

Simon & Schuster, pp.222, 16.99

Patrick Cockburn is a foreign correspondent who has reported from war zones in Beirut, Iraq and Afghanistan. While he is covering the fall of the Taliban from Kabul in 2002,… 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

Bipolar exploration

12 February 2011

‘I’m not writing songs anymore; they’re writing me.’ Plagued by music in her head that arrived unbidden, drowning out conversation, Kristin Hersh was diagnosed with bipolar disorder just as psychologists… Read more

Cross-cultural exchanges

12 February 2011
Voice of America E.C. Osondu

Granta, pp.256, 14.99

The 18 stories, each around a dozen pages long, in E.C. Osondu’s Voice of America seem to have poured out of him like water. They have a fluency, an evenness… Read more

Bruising times

12 February 2011
The Champion Tim Binding

Picador, pp.434, 12.99

In a market town in Kent at the time of Thatcher’s Britain, Charles Pemberton attends the town’s minor public school where his businessman father is a governor. In a market… Read more


Beatrix Potter meets the Marquis de Sade

12 February 2011
Animal Magic: A Brother's Story Andrew Barrow

Cape, pp.324, 18.99

Anthropomorphism and a weird, astringent sense of humour combined to make The Queue, the late Jonathan Barrow’s only novel, a work of genius in the opinion of his brother Andrew.… Read more


Tibet should not despair

12 February 2011
Tragedy In Crimson Tim Johnson

Perseus, pp.320, 18.99

Surely no political process in the modern world is more shrouded in mystery than the way the Chinese select a new supreme leader — except perhaps the occult divination practised… Read more


Why the heck not?

12 February 2011
The War That Never Was Duff Hart Davis

Century, pp.400, 14.99

Philip Hensher recounts how a handful of British mercenaries in the 1960s, headed by the Buchanesque Jim Johnson (pictured above), trained a rag-tag force of Yemeni tribesmen to defeat the… Read more


Nowhere becomes somewhere

5 February 2011
Bright Particular Stars David McKie

Atlantic, pp.368, 25

There have been quite a few anthologies of British eccentricity. Usually they are roll-calls of the lunatic: a sought-after heiress so snobbish she finally gave her hand in marriage to… Read more

Morphine memories

5 February 2011
Chapman's Odyssey Paul Bailey

Bloomsbury, pp.224, 16.99

Chapman’s Odyssey became quite famous before it was published, largely because it nearly wasn’t. Chapman’s Odyssey became quite famous before it was published, largely because it nearly wasn’t. Paul Bailey’s… Read more

Care or cure?

5 February 2011
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer Siddhartha Mukherjee

Fourth Estate, pp.571, 25

Cancer is usually associated with death. For the cancer specialist, however, cancer is more about life: not just patients’ lives; the cancer itself often lives the life of Riley. If… Read more

Consummate con artist

5 February 2011
The True Story of Titanic Thompson Kevin Cook

Picador, pp.247, 12.99

‘Taylor, I dreamt of your lecture last night,’ the polar explorer Captain Scott was once heard to exclaim, after sitting through a paper on icebergs by the expedition physiographer, Griffith… Read more

Perchance to dream

5 February 2011
The Immortalization COmmission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death John Gray

Allen Lane, pp.273, 18.99

This book reads like an interesting after- dinner conversation between intelligent friends. That said, it is a rambling conversation, and although it is extremely entertaining, it does not add up… Read more


Names to conjure with

5 February 2011

Golly gee. Academic literary critics are going to hate Faulks on Fiction like sin. Here is Sebastian three-for-two Faulks, if you please, clumping onto their turf with a book of… Read more


The real deal

29 January 2011
We Had It So Good Linda Grant

Virago, pp.352, 17.99

‘“We weren’t phoney,” Stephen said. “Our whole point was to live an authentic life, to challenge the bourgeois conventions of our parents’ generation. We wanted to make it real.”’ Such… Read more

Palace intrigue

29 January 2011
The Alastair Campbell Diaries, Vol 2: Power and the People Alastair Campbell

Hutchinson, pp.320, 25

Plunging into the second volume of Alastair Campbell’s diaries is like opening a Samuel Richardson novel. Plunging into the second volume of Alastair Campbell’s diaries is like opening a Samuel… Read more


Beasts in battle

29 January 2011
Tommy's Ark: Soldiers and their Animals in the Great War Richard Van Emden

Bloomsbury, pp.336, 16.99

‘Never such innocence again’ wrote Philip Larkin of an unquestioning British people on the eve of the first world war, and much has been made, not unreasonably, of the trusting… Read more

Odd characters

29 January 2011
Cedilla Adam Mars-Jones

Faber, pp.733, 20

Cedilla picks up where Adam Mars-Jones’s previous novel Pilcrow (2008) left off. Cedilla picks up where Adam Mars-Jones’s previous novel Pilcrow (2008) left off. That book described the early life… Read more


The Romanovs afloat

29 January 2011
The Russian Court At Sea Frances Welch

Short Books, pp.224, 14.99

‘I have to do everything myself, I who have all my life been so spoilt.’ So lamented the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna, mother of Tsar Nicholas II, in the diary… Read more


To the holiest in the height

29 January 2011
To a Mountain in Tibet Colin Thubron

Chatto & Windus, pp.218, 16.99

Colin Thubron’s new book will disappoint those of his readers who admire him for his reserve. He is the last and perhaps the best of the gentleman travellers of the… Read more


BOOKENDS: 75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Myth-Making

29 January 2011

Did you know they once burned comic books? And in America, no less. In schoolyards. It was shortly after the end of the second world war, and legislators and parents… Read more


Hell or high water

22 January 2011
Unbroken: An Extraordinary True Story of Courage and Survival by Air, Sea and Land Laura Hillenbrand

4th Estate, pp.475, 20

As his battered bomber hurtled towards the Pacific in May 1943, Louis Zamperini thought to himself that no one was going to survive the crash. If he had had the… Read more


Pig in the middle

22 January 2011
The Stranger in the Mirror: A Memoir of Middle Age Jane Shilling

Chatto, pp.241, 16.99

Writing an autobiographical account of middle age is a brave undertaking, necessitating a great deal of self-scrutiny at a time of life when most of us would sooner look the… Read more