Lead book review

Dominic Green

Taking the rough with the smooth

In The Ambassadors, Henry James sends Lewis Lambert Strether from Boston to Paris to retrieve Chad Newsome, the wayward heir to a factory at Woollett, Massachusetts. Strether never names the ‘small, trivial rather ridiculous object of the commonest domestic use’ that has enriched the Newsomes, though he does say that it is not clothes pins,

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Always the Superbrat

John McEnroe’s father calls. In fact, he calls McEnroe’s manager’s phone, presumably because dad doesn’t have a direct line to the great man himself. John Sr, who is tennis-mad, has a request: can he come with his son to a veterans’ tournament in Belgium? McEnroe is horrified. Having dad around is a major drag. ‘I

Crossing the pond

What led a person in 17th-century England to get on a ship bound for the Americas? James Evans attempts to answer that question by exploring both the push and pull factors involved. His descriptions are vivid, so the reader can imagine the life choices that would lead to one finding oneself heaving up over the

In defiance of Il Duce

The details of Mussolini’s fascism are perhaps not quite as familiar in this country as they might be. Even quite well-meaning people have a tendency to treat him as, in part, a joke. Just how horrible the period was needs to be explained with reference to individual lives. Caroline Moorehead’s book about the Rosselli family,

Mother Medea

Medea’s continuing hold over spinners of tall tales from Euripides to Chaucer to Pasolini needs little explanation; she’s an archetype with everything going for her. As a fratricide and murderer of her own children, among assorted other acts of blood lust, her acts of brutality are so transgressive and symbolic that they offer themselves up

Something nasty in the woodshed

I’ve diagnosed myself with early onset cottage-itis. It’s not supposed to happen for another decade, but at 29 I dream of just the smallest bolthole in the country: a bothy, a gatehouse, a folly below the ha-ha in someone else’s stately home. A shepherd’s hut in tasteful shades of prime ministerial greige. Liberated from the

Hot Spring

Imagine if Kathy Lette — or possibly Julie Burchill — had written a feminist, magic-realist saga that sent four women on a road-trip around the broiling hotspots of the Arab Spring. No, not easy to do — yet the intrepid Turkish journalist and writer Ece Temelkuran has, in this novel, come up with just that

Doctor of humility

Henry Marsh’s book Do No Harm (2014) was that rare thing — a neurosurgeon showing his fallibility in public and admitting to the great harm that good intentions can cause. It was a stunning, even revolutionary work, displacing doctors from their traditional ivory towers and showing them to be not only human and vulnerable to

A woman of some importance | 6 July 2017

It might seem unlikely that a Christian noblewoman could have had influence over a Muslim city in the 13th century, when women were considered by Muslim society as being ‘underlings without complete intelligence’ and by Christian society as ‘a fish hook of the devil… a source of evil… a treasury of filth’. However, Tamta —

Northern exposure | 6 July 2017

Amid the shambles that was the Anglo-French campaign in Norway in April and May 1940, a French officer observed that ‘the British have planned this campaign on the lines of a punitive expedition against the Zulus, but unhappily we and the British are in the position of the Zulus’. A month later, many British officers

Dark night of the soul

As bombs fall everywhere in Syria and IS fighters destroy Palmyra, a musicologist in Vienna lies awake all night thinking of the Baron Hotel in Aleppo, where he stayed in 1996, following in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia, Agatha Christie and King Faisal. He remembers the hotel’s Ottoman ogival windows and its monumental staircase,