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The greatest American Arctic disaster

In the course of the 19th century, various flotillas of expeditions hastened to the polar regions in little wooden ships which sooner or later expired in the pincers of an ice floe while crewmen ate their shoes. These stories bear retelling for our own age, and Hampton Sides does well to identify the gruesome story

Powers of persuasion: how Churchill brought America on side

In time for the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s death comes this pacy novel about his attempts to persuade the Americans to join the war. It is January 1941; President Roosevelt’s special envoy Harry Hopkins arrives in Blitz-torn London and is subjected to Churchill’s charm offensive. Hopkins, a chain-smoking, hard-drinking man of principle with a dislike

From classical to post-modern: a beginner’s guide

My career at school and after was greatly enhanced by a series of books called The Bluffer’s Guide to….These gave mischievous advice, often on the reliable when-in-doubt-confuse-the-issue lines. A favourite of mine, still in use in emergencies, was: ‘I think Jack Kerouac was more a Franciscan Christian than Buddhist, don’t you?’ Martin Kemp’s Art in

Approaching America

Our pilot on the Delaware offers to show you his laptop. These are the buoys, he says; I know exactly where I am to within a metre. This is the same way we track our missiles and drones. You stare for a moment and say oh. Then remembering your manners add thank you for showing

The fallen idol: seeing Putin in a new light

The way to think about Russia, Bill Browder told me in Moscow in 2004, using a comparison he recycles in Red Notice, is as a giant prison yard. Vladimir Putin, he argued then, had no choice but to destroy Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the yard’s top dog and country’s richest man. One of a tribe of Western

Tony Judt: a man of paradox who made perfect sense

Tony Judt was not only a great historian, he was also a great essayist and commentator on international politics. Few in this country will be familiar with his journalism, however, since it was largely published in America by the the New York Review of Books and the New Republic. Thankfully, this situation can now be

The low sculduggery of high Victorian finance

The whole idea of capitalism, according to Enlightenment philosophers, was that it created a positive spiral of moral behaviour. ‘Concern for our own happiness recommends us to the virtue of prudence,’ wrote Adam Smith. ‘The profits of commerce,’ according to David Hume, carry us towards a state in which ‘the tempers of men, as well