Not quite cricket

7 April 2012
Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies Ben MacIntyre

Bloomsbury, pp.417, 16.99

To the French, Albion’s expertise in perfidy will come as no surprise. But centuries of warfare have given them time to learn. With their experience only dating back to 1914,… Read more

The attraction of repulsion

31 March 2012
That’s Disgusting Rachel Herz

W.W. Norton, pp.274, 16.99

Take some boiled maize, chew it, spit it out, put the mixture into an urn, bury it, dig it up several days later, and Bob’s your uncle: the Ecuadoran delicacy… Read more


A fine and private painter

31 March 2012
Prunella Clough: Regions Unmapped Frances Spalding

Lund Humphries, pp.240, 35

Prunella Clough was a modest and self-effacing artist who nevertheless produced some of the most consistently original and innovative British art of the second half of the 20th century. She… Read more

Going ethnic

31 March 2012
An Economist Gets Lunch Tyler Cowen

Dutton, pp.304, $26.95

Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University, has been keenly interested in food for years. Besides being a blogger, scholar and the youngest chess champion in the… Read more


Prophetic times

31 March 2012
In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World Tom Holland

Little, Brown, pp.523, 25

The subject here is colossal, covering a substantial stretch of the later Roman empire, the last years of the Persian empire, the conversion of the Arabs, the spread of Christianity… Read more


A gruesome sort

31 March 2012
Circulation Thomas Wright

Chatto, pp.248, 16.99

Everybody knows that the heart pumps blood around the body, and that a man called William Harvey somehow discovered this fact. Before Harvey, people thought that blood moved around the… Read more

Pawns in the game

31 March 2012
The Meadow Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark

Harper Press, pp.510, 16.99

The authors of this book have attempted a difficult thing: to ‘write about something that could never be known’. Here is a terrific and scary story about a group of… Read more

Special providence …

31 March 2012
Luck Ed Smith

Bloomsbury, pp.244, 16.99

When Ed Smith became a full-time professional cricketer for Kent in 1999 the county side was preparing for the new millennium by shedding anything that smacked of old-fashioned amateurism. Professionalism… Read more


Searching for a saviour

31 March 2012
Russian History: A Very Short Introduction Geoffrey Hosking

OUP, pp.176, 7.99

A Concise History of Russia Paul Bushkovitch

CUP, pp.480, 19.99

The central themes of Russian history have remained constant for over a millennium.  Russia’s vast spaces and lack of any natural borders have always made her inhabitants terrified of invasion.… Read more

Ways of making men talk

24 March 2012
Find, Fix, Finish: Inside the Counter-terrorism Campaign that Killed bin Laden and Devastated al-Qa’eda Aki Peritz and Eric Rosenbach

Public Affairs, pp.356, 18.99

Eric Rosenbach is a former academic who is now deputy assistant secretary of defence in Washington. Aki Peritz used to work for the CIA and now advises the Third Way… Read more


Architectural bonsai

24 March 2012
Family Dolls’ Houses of the 18th and 19th Centuries Liza Antrim

Cider House Books, pp.256, 60

In the summer of 1961 I was in my second year at Magdalen College, Oxford with rooms in the 18th-century New Buildings. One of my neighbours there was a quiet… Read more


Who are the losers now?

24 March 2012
Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II Keith Lowe

Viking, pp.460, 25

Keith Lowe’s horrifying book is a survey of the physical and moral breakdown of Europe in the closing months of the second world war and its immediate aftermath. It is… Read more


Siege mentality

24 March 2012
The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin Masha Gessen

Granta, pp.320, 20

The Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia Angus Roxburgh

I.B. Tauris, pp.352, 20

The mirrored sunglasses worn by Putin on the cover of Angus Roxburgh’s The Strongman give the Russian president the look of a crude mafia boss, while the half-face photo on… Read more


Bookends: A matter of opinion

24 March 2012

In an age when the merely mildly curious believe they can get all they really need to know from Wikipedia for free, A. N. Wilson’s fellow literary professionals must take… Read more

Lest we forget

17 March 2012
The Patagonian Hare: A Memoir Claude Lanzmann

Atlantic, pp.528, 25

It was not possible, as Primo Levi memorably wrote, to convey the full horror of the Nazi extermination camps because no one had survived to describe death in the gas… Read more


Hero of his own drama

17 March 2012
Strindberg: A Life Sue Prideaux

Yale, pp.371, 25

Sam Leith is enthralled by the larger-than-life genius, August Strindberg — playwright, horticulturalist, painter, alchemist and father of modern literature When I’m reading a book for review, it’s my habit… Read more

Here be monsters

17 March 2012
The Missing Shade of Blue: A Philosophical Adventure Jennie Erdal

Abacus, pp.320, 12.99

The lovely title of this book comes from the philosopher David Hume. The question he posed was this: if a man grew up familiar with every shade of blue but… Read more


Last of the swagmen

17 March 2012
Spitalfields Life the Gentle Author

Saltyard Books, pp.448, 20

I have hitherto resisted my wife’s frequent recommendations that I should read a daily blog about the life of the denizens of Spitalfields, but, now that they have been published… Read more


Agreeing to differ

17 March 2012
Reagan and Thatcher: The Difficult Relationship Richard Aldous

Hutchinson, pp.336, 25

‘Frankie and Johnny were sweethearts; Lordie, how they could love.’ The ballad has many variant versions but the denouement is always the same; he was her man and he did… Read more


Inflated dreams

17 March 2012
The Ice Balloon: One Man’s Dramatic Attempt to Discover the North Pole by Balloon Alec Wilkinson

Fourth Estate, pp.245, 14.99

When almost every tale about the Arctic has been told, when the major explorers have been assessed and re-assessed, when even the most obscure bit-players have been drawn into the… Read more


Bookends: A life of gay abandon

17 March 2012

Sometimes, only the purest smut will do. Scotty Bowers’s memoir, Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars (Grove Press, £16.99) is 24 carat,… Read more

Africa’s excesses

17 March 2012
Crazy River Richard Grant

Little Brown, pp.272, 13.99

There are an awful lot of prostitutes in Africa and most of them seem to pass through the pages of Richard Grant’s book at one time or another. All this… Read more

Abiding inspiration

17 March 2012
Why Trilling Matters Adam Kirsch

Yale, pp.188, 20

In 1971 looking back over his life, Lionel Trilling (1905-1975) declared himself surprised at being referred to as a critic. Certainly his plan when young had been the pursuit of… Read more


A paralysed landscape

10 March 2012
Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of the World’s Most Mysterious Continent Gabrielle Walker

Bloomsbury, pp.388, 20

‘Very, very, very sexy’, a field-researcher scratches in his Antarctic notebook. He is describing a meteorite the size of a £1 coin that he has just picked up off the… Read more


The triumph of failure

10 March 2012
Underdogs: The Unlikely Story of Football’s First FA Cup Heroes Keith Dewhurst

Yellow Press, pp.308, 16.99

In l958, my hero in life, the person I most wanted to be, was Keith Dewhurst. I had arrived on the Manchester Evening Chronicle straight from Durham as a graduate… Read more