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‘A world dying of ugliness’

Some writers’ lives are estimable, some enviable, some exemplary. And some send a shudder of gratitude down the spine that this life happened to somebody else. It isn’t necessarily about success or acclaim — most rational people would very much prefer to have had Rimbaud’s life rather than Somerset Maugham’s. But sometimes it is. In

All to play for | 4 February 2012

There was a time when sportsmen fretted about the morality of being paid to play. Now the question is whether you are taking money to win, or taking money to lose. Mervyn Westfield, the Essex fast bowler, was only 20 when he accepted £6,000 to bowl deliberately badly in a county match. Three Pakistani cricketers,

Talking tough

This thoughtful, challenging and deeply depressing book takes as its launch pad the Nuremberg Trials, in which the author’s father played so prominent a part. Churchill would have executed the Nazi leaders out of hand. Eisenhower wanted to exterminate all the German General Staff as well as all of the Gestapo and all Nazi Party

Making sense of a cruel world

The actor-biographer Simon Callow has played Dickens, and has created Dickensian characters, in monologues and in a solo bravura rendition of A Christmas Carol. Now he suggests that the theatricality of Dickens’s own life is a subject worthy of exploration in book form. So it is, and if Callow had done so, it might have

Triumph of the redcoats

Given the choice between philosophising in the company of Socrates or fighting in the army of the soldier-monarch Charles XII of Sweden, most men, Dr Johnson observed, would prefer arms to argument. That physical danger should offer a more appealing prospect than logical thought remains one of the Great Cham’s more provocative insights. At one

A choice of first novels | 4 February 2012

Mountains of the Moon is narrated by a woman just released after spending ten years in jail. The reason for her sentence and the details of her previous life are pieced together through disjointed fragments, forming a complex jigsaw. Lulu had a shocking childhood, with a violent stepfather and negligent mother. Her only loving relatives

Bookends: Trouble and strife

It isn’t true that Joanna Trollope (pictured above) only produces novels about the kind of people who have an Aga in their kitchen: what she writes about are families. Her books have a knack of chiming with current social concerns, of examining how the family is adapting to changing social mores. She is deservedly a