Lead book review

From Scylax to the Beatles: the West’s lust for India

From the Greek seafarer Scylax in 500 BC to the Beatles in 1968, there is a long history of foreign visitors being drawn to India. Many have come in search of the ‘exotic’ or the ‘other’, an idea of India that persists despite the best efforts of Edward Said’s post-colonial disciples. Not unnaturally, the Indian

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How to survive the rain-sodden Welsh Marches

The Welsh Marches, gloriously unvisited amid their wooded hills and swift-flowing streams, have remained mysteriously off-limits to the sort of novelist eager for territorial rights to a particular landscape or locality. Apart from Bruce Chatwin’s On the Black Hill and Mary Webb’s torrid 1920s sagas of heartache and claustrophobia in field and farmhouse, fiction has

Read this book and you’ll see why our meadows are so precious

This book is a portrait of one man’s meadow. Our now almost vanished meadowland, with its tapestry of wildflowers, abundant wildlife and rich human history, has long attracted English writers. Modern meadow books are usually copiously illustrated in colour to reach the coffee-table market, but John Lewis-Stempel bravely relies on lively elegant prose. His thoughtful,

When the Rains Came

When the rains continued the rivers rebelled, the swans moved inland and even the bank was sandbagged and we saw images of villages cut off and deserted schools and people being carried out of old folks homes and the cathedrals that somehow began to look like galleons; and as each day drenched we began to

When the English cricket team toured Nazi Germany – and got smashed

Why have the Germans never been any good at cricket? This entertaining account of the MCC’s 1937 tour to the Fatherland gives some clues. Any country po-faced enough to have a ‘Society for the Encouragement of Playing Ball’ will struggle from the start. Certainly the Germans back then seemed to understand neither cricket’s equipment (‘why

Research Centre

Beyond the measured stretch of lawns and hedges are cultivated rows where snug plastic tunnels creep. Indoors, the fantastic spores fluff up on jelly: fungus rages under glass and germination bristles. In a sealed hot-room, in tanks lined with foil predators quietly chew and scrat; aphids suck their fill of sap. A forest of corn

Reliving the most famous last stand of the French Resistance

Published to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Vercors, perhaps the most famous stand of the French Resistance in the second world war, there is an awful inevitability to this book. Tragedy looms like the great plateau itself, overshadowing the individual stories of the people who lived, fought and died in these mountains.

The best new children’s books

A children’s author and illustrator, Jonathan Emmet, created a stir recently by saying that women are effectively gatekeepers of children’s books — chiefly picture books. They constitute the majority of the buyers, reviewers and prizegivers – and the result is that boys are shortchanged. Too few pirates and dragons — or the wrong sort —

What made Romans LOL?

At the beginning of The Art of Poetry, Horace tells a story that, he promises, will make anyone laugh: ‘If a painter wanted to put a horse’s head on a human neck, would you be able to keep your laughter in?’ Would you? I certainly would. That’s the thing about Roman jokes: they’re not really

Narcotically-induced mischief in an urban wasteland

Fifteen minutes by rail from Paddington, Southall is a ‘Little India’ in the borough of Ealing. An ornate Hindu temple there, the Shree Ram, is set back from the beep and brake of traffic on King Street. When I visited, a pooja (prayer meeting) was underway. Incense fumes — a sweet suffocating presence — wafted