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BOOKENDS: Hang the participle

An awful lot of books are being published these days about the English language. David Crystal has a new one out every few weeks, and John Sutherland probably has half a dozen on the go. The Language Wars: (John Murray, £17.99) is Henry Hitchings’s third and unlikely to be his last. An awful lot of

Names to conjure with

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 reflections on a couple of dozen great novels. And he declares in his introduction, with some pride, that he intends to take ‘an unfashionable approach’

Perchance to dream

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 to much. Its ostensible subjects are two instances of scientific intelligence being brought to bear on the possibility of defying, or surviving, death. In the

Consummate con artist

‘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 Taylor, that had reduced even its author to the edge of catalepsy: ‘How could I live so long in the world and not know something

Care or cure?

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 it has a life, then, it is entitled to a biography. Here, Siddhartha Mukherjee, an obviously compassionate oncologist, provides that biography. The basis of any

Morphine memories

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 long and distinguished career, complete with two appearances on the Booker shortlist, apparently counted for nothing last year when he was reduced to what he

And then there was one . . .

The English fascination with spies is gloriously reflected in our literature, from Kim to A Question of Attribution, and while their Egyptian and Israeli counterparts remain untranslated, and the Americans unreadable, English spy novelists rule. Compromised, divided and alienated, the spy is a model modern hero, and the spy’s world, with its furtive and fetishistic

Nowhere becomes somewhere

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 a man who had managed to convince her he was the Emperor of China; a miser so mean he would sit on fish until he

A war of nutrition

The long summer that led up to the last days of peace in Europe in 1939 — the vigil of the Nazi assault on Poland on 1 September and the ensuing Phoney War — gave little hint of the storm to come. The long summer that led up to the last days of peace in