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He didn’t linger

The Australian Robert Dessaix, a Russian scholar, chooses to regard himself, in relation to Western civilisation, as an ancient Greek might have considered a Phrygian or a Scythian — a barbarian outsider. This, he believes, brings him even closer to his beloved and Russian Turgenev, who spent most of his adult life outside Russia, but

From heroes to hicks

The flavour of Stephen Graubard’s account of the American presidency in the 20th century may be quickly grasped from his comparison of the only two presidents to follow their fathers into the White House, John Quincy Adams (1825-29) and George W. Bush (2001-?): Adams, fluent in seven languages, accomplished in both science and mathematics, took

A celebration with a warning

Geoffrey Hill publishes books in verse rather than collections of poems. This is admirable but presents a reviewer with problems. You want to recommend him more or less unconditionally as England’s best hope for the Nobel Prize. At the same time, there is the risk that new readers, acquainted with the easy-going chattiness of Betjeman,

A tongue that still wags

Among the unexpected pieces of information in this enjoyable ramble among the picturesque ruins of the Latin language is the name of a good restaurant if you should find yourself at Larroque in Tarn. The advice comes under B, for Bonum vinum laetificat cor hominis, ‘good wine cheers the heart of man’, an adage written

The case of the missing parrot

At the centre of Michael Chabon’s earlier novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, was a comic book hero known as the Escapist. That book weighed in at a portly 656 pages. The Final Solution revolves around Sherlock Holmes and is a mere stripling by comparison, scarcely more than a novella illustrated with stiff