Lead book review

Books of the Year | 9 November 2017

A.N. Wilson Elmet by Fiona Mozley (John Murray, £10.99). It is difficult to convey the full horror of this spellbinding first novel. The young author, a medievalist, presumably knows the no less violent Njál’s Saga. Elmet, though set in the modern age, concerns timeless protagonists who have contrived to live outside the normal modern settings.

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Angel and demon

Read cover to cover, a book of essays gives you the person behind it: their voice, the trend of their thinking, their tastes and the nature of their engagement with the world. So, here are two, one from each end of the human spectrum. Think of Milton’s Archangel Raphael, intellectually wide-ranging, lucid, informative and fair,

The art of deception | 9 November 2017

Enric Marco has had a remarkable life. A prominent Catalan union activist, a brave resistance fighter in the Spanish Civil War, a charismatic Nazi concentration camp survivor, and more. In January 2005 he addressed the Spanish parliament to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. He is, everyone agrees, an extraordinary man. Heroic,

High wire act

‘Mid-century modern’ is the useful term popularised by Cara Greenberg’s 1984 book of that title. The United States, the civilisation that turned PR and branding into art forms, wanted homegrown creative heroes. In design there were Charles Eames and George Nelson with their homey hopsack suits and wash’n’wear shirts, their sensible Wasp homilies: a counterattack

Italy’s road to ruin

These days it is fashionable to claim Mussolini as a fundamentally decent fellow led astray by an opportunist alliance with Hitler. Whether this revisionism is the song and dance of a minority, or something more widespread and daft, is hard to say. Italians understandably wish to view themselves as brava gente — good people —

The future isn’t rosy

Emotional geography is now a recognised academic subject. Is emotional botany heading the same way? This is a year for thoughtful books about plants and the way they affect lives, what they make people feel and how we can respect nature. Many of the year’s works might appeal to non-gardeners. Readers hoping for rose-tinted pages

A blunt instrument of war

It takes a bold author to open his book about ‘Guernica’ with a quotation from the Spanish artist Antonio Saura lamenting ‘the number of bad books that have been written and will be written’ about it. Fortunately, James Attlee’s study of Picasso’s superstar work of art is not a bad book and he builds on

Blowing hot and cold | 9 November 2017

I spent part of the summer sailing around Ithaca and the Ionian Sea. It was a good reminder of how capricious Homeric weather can be. In the space of a few days the wind shifted dramatically to three different points of the compass — and none of them was the gentle westerly Zephyr that brought

The revolution devours its children

He stood five feet seven in his boots — the same height as Napoleon and an inch shorter than Hitler. He had webbed toes, a grey face pitted by smallpox, a stunted arm, soft voice, yellowish eyes and an awkward rolling walk. He swore like a trooper, smoked a pipe, drank the sweet wines of