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A change of weather

One day in July 1945, a public schoolboy with a straw hat on stood with his trunk on Bishop’s Stortford station, and called out ‘My man’ to the porter. ‘No,’ the porter said, ‘that sort of thing is all over now.’ Whether it was or not, the Attlee period, 1945-51, is the most decisive and

Challenging the Kremlin

Death puts a different value on a person, usually a smaller one than in life. Sometimes, how- ever, the opposite happens. For instance, how many medieval Archbishops of Canterbury can most of us name off-hand apart from St Thomas Becket? In some cases, death makes the man. It is likely that Alexander Litvinenko will be

The plot thickens

John Adamson’s The Noble Revolt asserts the crucial role of political ideas in the coming cataclysm of the English civil war. His focus is close: the 18 months before the final breach between Charles I and Parliament, but it is as scholarly in depth as it is cinematic in scope. Here is a dramatic retelling

At the feast

In 2003, two days after his now infamous interview with Phil Spector was published in the Daily Telegraph, Mick Brown heard that a woman had been shot and killed in the legendary pop producer’s mansion. Most journalists in his position would be exhilarated by their good fortune — the interview was the first that Spector

How the catastrophe happened

Ali A. Allawi has spent much of his life in exile from his native Iraq. Born into a family that had served the royal family that came to grief in 1958, he spent his childhood at schools in England and his career abroad as an academic, engineer and banker. Active among the émigré anti-Baathists in

Fantasy with a moral base

A Tranquil Star is a collection of 17 expertly translated short stories by Primo Levi, written between the 1940s and the 1980s. None has appeared in English before. They are presented by the publishers to mark the sad anniversary of Levi’s death 20 years ago; and also as a taster for a full new English

The unkindest cut

From the day in 1513 that Balboa stared at the Pacific from a peak in Darien men dreamed of cutting a path from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the ‘Golden Isthmus’ of Panama. Not until the 19th century did the dream become a realistic engineering possibility. We have become blasé about scientific breakthroughs and

Only obeying orders

Would you ever torture somebody? ‘Of course not’, you say. The author, Professor (of psychology) Philip Zimbardo, disagrees. His view is ‘any deed that any human being has ever committed, however horrible, is possible for any of us — under the right or wrong situational forces’. The evidence he adduces for this shocking proposition is

The end of merriment

‘Political correctness’, which divides and galls our society, is a modern manifestation of an old impulse which periodically demands, in the cause of social improvement, the curtailment of pleasure and the inhibition of language and thought. It happened with the rise of Puritanism midway through the reign of Elizabeth I, when stage-plays and popular enjoyments

Notes from the Underground

Armadillos dig, that’s what they do best, but the three-banded variety from South America — and anyone brought up on the Just So stories will know this already — can also curl up like a hedgehog, and protect its back with layers of leather armour- plating. So the heroes of Malvinas Requiem, a band of