Lead book review

Action this day

‘July 1st 1916 was the most interesting day of my life,’ Philip Howe recalled, with characteristic English dryness, half a century after taking part in the most catastrophic 24 hours in the history of the British army. Howe had been a lieutenant in the 10th West Yorkshires, which had the grim distinction of losing more

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Battle ready

For most of history, religion and war have been the most powerful social instincts of mankind and its chief collective activities. In the crusades, they combined to create a movement of great emotional power, which convulsed Europe in the 12th century and retained its appeal to the military classes until the end of the Middle

The bitterness of Bacon

When Michael Peppiatt met Francis Bacon in 1963 to interview him for a student magazine, the artist was already well-established, and perhaps even establishment. He had been the subject of retrospectives at the Tate and the Guggenheim, and the Marlborough Gallery had paid off several decades’ worth of gambling debts. No longer an authentically marginal

Quiet desperation

Andrew Miller’s seventh novel, and the first since Pure, which won the Costa Book of the Year award, is an intensely curious affair; thick with material detail from the outset, it announces itself as a novel of closely observed and relished realism. But before too long, one begins to suspect that its specificity — much

On the way to the Forum

It’s strange that tourists rarely visit the most famous site in Roman history. The spot in Pompey’s assembly hall where Julius Caesar was murdered on the Ides of March, 44 bc, is right in the middle of Rome, in Largo di Torre Argentina. When I was there, the tourists were only interested in the feral

Universal appeal

As a novelist, Iain Pears doesn’t repeat himself, and he gives with a generous hand. In Arcadia, he provides a dystopian vision of the 23rd century, scholarly espionage set in Cold War Oxford, and an Arts-and-Crafts pastoral called Anterwold, which involves swords and scholars and may or may not be the product of the imagination

The history man

History for Gore Vidal was a vehicle to be ridden in triumph, perhaps as in an out-take from Ben-Hur, which he worked on during one of his stints as a Hollywood hack, camping up the script to annoy Charlton Heston. Not only did he ride the Vehicle of History, but as its amanuensis and avatar,