Lead book review

Armageddon averted

From 1945 to 1992 the Cold War was the climate. Individual weather events stood out — the Korean War, the Cuban missile crisis, the Hungarian and Prague uprisings, the fall of the Berlin wall — but the possibility of nuclear annihilation, the great divide between the broadly capitalist West and the broadly socialist East and

More from Books

Punks vs. Putin

What makes for meaningful political protest? In regimes where ideology was taken seriously (such as the Soviet Union or America during the Cold War), dissidents and dissenters could target rulers’ political ideas, whether communist or capitalist. But in regimes where ideology is used more to distract than indoctrinate (such as Putin’s Russia or Trump’s America),

The magic of maths

It’s odd, when you think about it, that mathematics ever got going. We have no innate genius for numbers. Drop five stones on the ground, and most of us will see five stones without counting. Six stones are a challenge. Presented with seven stones, we will have to start grouping, tallying and making patterns. This

Pleasure palaces and hidden gems

Theatre buildings are seriously interesting – as I ought to have appreciated sooner in the course of 25 years writing about theatre and opera. This coffee-table whopper, weighing in at just under a kilo, dazzles: Michael Coveney’s text is even better than Peter Dazeley’s remarkable photographs. And in a luminous foreword, Mark Rylance sets out

Descent into hell | 7 September 2017

It’s awful, but the surname Rausing (once synonymous only with the Tetrapak fortune) now summons up a terrible stench in the imagination. It’s that of Eva Rausing’s decomposed body, wrapped in a tarpaulin on the marital double bed in Belgravia, buried under a mattress, several flat-screen televisions and a heap of blankets and duvets. When

Homer Simpson meets Homer

Milan Kundera has said that Homer’s Odyssey was the first novel. I’m not so sure — the verse kind of gets in the way — but it’s certainly the earliest surviving great travel book. Ever since the 5th century BC, Odyssey obsessives have been trawling the Mediterranean in their hero’s footsteps to track down the

Beyond Timbuktu

Every so often a monster comes along. Here’s one — but a monster of fact not fiction, over 700 pages recounting the French expedition from Dakar to Djibouti 1931–33. It doesn’t matter that this travel diary — part field study, part confessional, first published in 1934 — has arrived so late for an English readership.

Ill-met by gaslight

What is it about Victorian murders that so grips us? The enduring fascination of Jack the Ripper caught the imagination of the American thriller writer Patricia Cornwell to such an extent that she allegedly spent more than $6 million of her own money examining the case and producing two books on the subject. (She thinks

Creature comforts

As naturalist, educator and writer, John Lister-Kaye was for many years a voice in the wilderness. In 1976, when nature conservation was still considered a benign eccentricity, he moved into a crumbling estate in the Scottish highlands. Taking as its credo a text from Gavin Maxwell —‘I am convinced that man has suffered in his

A blast from the past

If you had to choose one book that both typified spy fiction and celebrated what the genre was capable of doing, then John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is probably the one to go for. Published in 1963, and set within the comfortably binary framework of the Cold War, it

Crusading passions

In W.B. Yeats’s ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’, a testing allusion emerges amid a scene of nightmare: Monstrous familiar images swim to the mind’s eye ‘Vengeance upon the murderers,’ the cry goes up ‘Vengeance for Jacques Molay.’ More about de Molay, last master of the Knights Templar, can be found in Dan Jones’s new