The American way of justice

21 April 2012
A Price to Pay: The Inside Story of the NatWest Three David Bermingham

Gibson Square, pp.384, 8.99

Conrad Black sympathises with the NatWest Three — victims of British cowardice and a corrupt US legal system It was the misfortune of David Bermingham and his co-defendants to be… Read more

Road to ruins

21 April 2012
The A303: Highway to the Sun Tom Fort

Simon & Schuster, pp.332, 14.99

This is a delightful book, nostalgic, slyly witty, perceptive and at times flirting — deliberately — with old fogeyism. Tom Fort, a BBC radio journalist, starts from the assumption that… Read more

The calls of the wild

21 April 2012
The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places Bernie Krause

Profile, pp.288, 12.99

This is a weird and wonderful book. Bernie Krause, who started out as a popular musician and then in the mid-Sixties began to experiment with synthesisers and electronic mixing, has… Read more


One that got away

21 April 2012
Escape from Camp 14 Blaine Harden

Mantle, pp.256, 16.99

There are six drawings in the back of this book. They’re not very good drawings. In fact they look as if they come from an unusually hamfisted comic strip. However,… Read more

In Blair’s shadow

21 April 2012
Things Can Only Get Bitter Alwyn W. Turner

Aurum, pp.72, ebook, £2.99

An ebook arrives! The future of publishing on my hard-drive. All the big profits are in cyber-publishing these days, as I discovered last month when I downloaded an ebook for… Read more


Ultimate issues

21 April 2012
The Company They Kept: Writers on Unforgettable Friendships, Volume II edited by Robert Silvers

NYRB, pp.224, 12.99

In his preface to this anthology of brief memoirs, Robert Silvers suggests that its ‘invisible, tragic core’ is to be found in an account by Isaiah Berlin of one of… Read more

A law unto itself

21 April 2012
The Cardinal’s College: Christ Church, Chapter and Verse Judith Curthoys

Profile, pp.416, 40

One could meet any day in Society Harold Acton, Tom Driberg or Rowse: May there always, to add their variety, Be some rather Odd Fish at The House. Thus W.… Read more

An elusive father

14 April 2012
Luck and Circumstance: A Coming of Age in Hollywood, New York and Points Beyond Michael Lindsay-Hogg

Knopf, pp.288, 17.99

In a large upstairs room of the YWCA building behind Tottenham Court Road, a group of actors were nervously waiting for the arrival of the director. There was the powerful… Read more

Dangerous territory

14 April 2012
Pakistan on the Brink Ahmed Rashid

Penguin, pp.256, 20

Fifteen years ago Ahmed Rashid wrote an original, groundbreaking and wonderful book about the Taleban, a subject about which few people at the time knew or cared. Then along came… Read more


Man with a trade mission

14 April 2012
The Last Crusade: The Epic Voyages of Vasco da Gama Nigel Cliff

Atlantic Books, pp.547, 22

About the second part of the title of Nigel Cliff’s excellent book there can be no argument. Vasco da Gama’s voyages do indeed remind one of those of Odysseus and… Read more

Turing’s Cathedral

14 April 2012
Turing’s Cathedral George Dyson

Allen Lane, pp.432, 25

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Rotten, vicious times

14 April 2012
Seasons in the Sun: The Battle for Britain, 1974-1979 Dominic Sandbrook

Allen Lane, pp.911, 30

A.N. Wilson recalls the worst decade of  recent history and the death throes of Old England There was a distressing news story the other day about a man who did… Read more


The picture of health

14 April 2012
The Healing Presence of Art: A History of Western Art in Hospitals Richard Cork

Yale, pp.460, 50

It must have been hard to settle on a title for this book; but then this is not the book that Richard Cork originally had in mind.  In his introduction… Read more

Far from close

14 April 2012
Cheek by Jowl: A History of Neighbours Emily Cockayne

Bodley Head, pp.272, 20

In 1598, a certain Margaret Browne of Houndsditch gave a graphic description to the court of her neighbour Clement Underhill engaged in an adulterous act with her lover, as observed… Read more

Spirit of Roedean

14 April 2012
The Naga Queen: Ursula Graham Bower and her Jungle Warriors, 1939-45 Vicky Thomas

The History Press, pp.235, 18.99

Ursula Graham Bower belonged to the last generation of those well-bred missy-sahibs who came out to India at the start of the cold-weather season in search of genteel adventure and… Read more


Ditching Brother Leader

14 April 2012
Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution Lindsey Hilsum

Faber, pp.288, 17.99

The date that rebel leaders chose for the final assault on Tripoli was auspicious: 20 August 2011 coincided with the 20th day of Ramadan by the Muslim lunar calendar, the… Read more


Bookends: Disarming but disingenuous

14 April 2012

At first glance, Be the Worst You Can Be (Booth-Clibborn Editions, £9.99) by Charles Saatchi (pictured above with his wife, Nigella Lawson) seems a rather distinguished book, with its gilt… Read more

Heroics and mock-heroics

14 April 2012
Jubilee Lines: 60 Poets for 60 Years edited by Carol Ann Duffy

Faber, pp.134, 12.99

‘Poets don’t count well,’ says Ian Duhig in his contribution to Jubilee Lines — an assertion unexpectedly confirmed by Carol Ann Duffy’s preface. Admittedly, if the book did contain one… Read more

A safe pair of hands

7 April 2012
The Spicer Diaries Michael Spicer

Biteback, pp.611, 30

Michael Spicer is too honourable to be a brilliant diarist. As he himself says, ‘I eschew tittle-tattle or small talk.’ These diaries cannot be read, as Chips Channon’s or Alan… Read more

On the way to the forum

7 April 2012
A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome Alberto Angela, translated by Gregor Conti

Europa Editions UK, pp.384, 11.99

In 150 BC, Cato the Elder arrived in the Senate House in Rome with an eye-catching basket of figs. This redoubtable statesman — often referred to as ‘censorius’, an epithet… Read more


Figures in a landscape

7 April 2012
As They Really Were Keith Middlemas

Frances Lincoln, pp.176, 25

As you cross the Trent, you are very much aware that you have moved from the south to the north country. The next great divide is the Tyne, with the… Read more

Living the music

7 April 2012
The History of the NME Pat Long

Portico, pp.240, 14.99

I used to read NME when I was young. Of course I did. I was obsessed by pop music in its every colour and my youth happened to coincide with… Read more


Scotland’s phoenix

7 April 2012
Buildings of Scotland: Dundee and Angus John Gifford

Yale, pp.738, 35

The late squarson, Henry Thorold, was fond of pointing out that his Shell Guide to Lincolnshire was the bestselling of the series, not because of any intrinsic merit but because… Read more


Death comes for the archbishop

7 April 2012
Thomas Becket John Guy

Viking, pp.420, 25

Posterity has always embellished Thomas Becket. After his death in Canterbury Cathedral in December 1170 the Church idealised and canonised him; his tomb inspired miracles and became the most famous… Read more


Where dreams take shape

7 April 2012
Sanctuary: Britain’s Artists and Their Studios edited by Hossein Amirsadeghi

Thames & Hudson, pp.600, 48

The question of what artists actually get up to in their studios has always intrigued the rest of us — that mysterious alchemical process of transforming base materials into gold,… Read more