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A dove with a touch of hawk

Sir Samuel Brittan has long been a national institution. As economics editor of the Observer in the early 1960s and the principal economic commentator on the Financial Times from 1966 to his retirement in 1998, he wrote an influential weekly newspaper column for almost 40 years. He still contributes to the Financial Times, often to

A quartet of debutantes

The Great Stinkby Clare ClarkPenguin, £12.99, pp. 358, ISBN 0670915300 The Second Life of Samuel Tyneby Esi EdugyanVirago, £10.99, pp. 278, ISBN 1844081060 The Icarus Girlby Helen OyeyemiBloomsbury, £16.99, pp. 320, ISBN 0747575487 With an aversion to ghost stories I was surprised to find myself greatly moved by Strangers. Like the author, Taichi Yamada, Haidi

Watch this space

I read this nice well-intentioned book with devotion, despite its being thoroughly reader-resistant to anyone of a sceptical turn. For a start, these days, alien is corn. Everyone but a bonehead regards the universe as altogether a subtler mystery than is explicable either by science or via little men with misshapen heads descending on saucers

The sensuous recluse

What in the world has happened to the culture of France? If you enter a room almost anywhere in the West when two or three of the arterati are gathered together and ask them to name interesting young artists, no one will mention anyone French. The same goes for literature and drama. In music there

The lights that failed

While the Victorian age was certainly one of unprecedented industrial and technical advances — an age, if there ever was one, of science and reason — it was also an age of unconventional religious enthusiams and spiritualist vogues. From seances held in the drawing-rooms of upper-class London families to Christian revivalist gatherings in the slums

Edinburgh still rocks

Will Alexander McCall Smith’s readers remain loyal now that he’s not writing about Bots- wana, which he sees as an earthly paradise, but about Edinburgh, which even her most devoted citizens couldn’t claim for her, beautiful though she is. He’s as amazed by that skyline as they are, but no one is more aware than

The battle of Babel

Apparently, this book is a work of ‘diachronic sociolinguistics’. Sensibly, the author doesn’t mention this disconcerting fact until the last chapter, by which time it is clear that diachronic sociolinguistics is not as terrifyingly obscure as it sounds. Empires of the Word bills itself as ‘A Language History of the World’, and charts the careers

Lady into urban fox

This is a thoroughly rotten book, a squelchingly well-researched period piece with sex, lust, over-ripeness and what one character calls the ‘odour’ of the scholar permeating every paragraph. It is also, let me quickly add, a remarkable tour de force, jam-packed with poetry, verbal fireworks, vitality and charm. Set during the overheated summer of 1784

Profit without honour

Early on in Piers Morgan’s memoir of his career as a tabloid editor, there is a very funny incident. It is a Saturday in 1994 and Morgan, then editor of the News of the World, knows that the Sunday Times, his broadsheet stablemate, has bought the serialisation rights to Jonathan Dimbleby’s book about Prince Charles.