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‘Viva la muerte!’

The Spanish Holocaust is a book that will give readers nightmares: it gave me two in a single night. Even people who think they have read enough about the Spanish Civil War to feel inured to its horrors will still be appalled by the intensity of the cruelty and repression here revealed. ‘Of the folly

Thirty years on

One of the pleasures of Alan Judd’s books is their sheer variety. His work includes biographies of Ford Madox Ford and Sir Mansfield Cummings, the first head of what became MI6, as well as nine novels, many of which have little in common with each other apart from unflashy but elegant prose. The Devil’s Own

Patriot or traitor?

The mighty convulsion that was the French Revolution has stirred the blood of historians from Thomas Carlyle to Simon Schama and consideration of it still inflames opinions. At its centre stood Maximilien Robespierre — 5’ 3”, stern, unaffacted in manner or dress, Spartan in his domestic habits — deified by his followers as the ‘Incorruptible’

The triumph of failure

In l958, my hero in life, the person I most wanted to be, was Keith Dewhurst. I had arrived on the Manchester Evening Chronicle straight from Durham as a graduate trainee reporter, which was a laugh, as they did no training. Keith was the paper’s Manchester United reporter, knew all the players, went to all

A paralysed landscape

‘Very, very, very sexy’, a field-researcher scratches in his Antarctic notebook. He is describing a meteorite the size of a £1 coin that he has just picked up off the ice. The episode, recounted in Gabrielle Walker’s hugely informative book, reveals the passion of intrepid polar scientists. From the enthusiasm and diligence on display in

A matter of life and death

Hmm. Of the 30-plus characters in this novel, not one is both black and British. Odd, since it’s set in 2007-8, in south London. An early passage shows us a Polish builder listening to a ‘crowd of black kids’ on the Northern Line: ‘You never—’ ‘He never—’ ‘Batty man—’ And that’s it: six words in

Apocalypse now

The blurb on the front of Grace McCleen’s debut novel (from Room author Emma Donoghue) proclaims it to be ‘extraordinary’, and goes on to praise it as ‘brutally real’, commending its mixture of ‘social observation and crazy mysticism, held together by a tale of parent-child love’. Unusually for a blurb, this is all accurate. McCleen’s

The end of the affair?

Of those caught up in the 1963 Profumo affair, the only winner seems to have been that blithe spirit Mandy Rice-Davies. Everyone else lost. Profumo’s family bore the brunt, of course, especially his son David, archetype of the boy sent crying home from school, who wrote a brilliant book about it, Bringing the House Down

Charming, cold-eyed cosmopolitan

At last a diary as penetrating on Berlin as the Goncourt brothers’ on Paris has been translated into English. The author, Count Harry Kessler, resembled a character from Sybille Bedford’s masterpiece, A Legacy. Born in Paris in 1868, he was educated in England, France and Germany. His father was a Hamburg banker; his mother was

Bookends: Down on the farm

Can we please have an inquiry into why already talented people are allowed to go off and be brilliant at something else too? As a quarter of Blur, Alex James (above), spent a decade creating critically acclaimed yet commercially successful pop anthems, thereby earning himself access to more drink, drugs and Doris than you could