Lead book review

Love under wraps

It’s an important subject: the existence of a permanent and significant minority within London’s life. Gay men and lesbians have always been there, leaving — or taking care not to leave — traces of their existence. But for the historian, a difficulty arises: often the only evidence lies in their occasional brushes with the law.

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A great awakening

One afternoon in August 1978, Geoffrey Howe and Leon Brittan were flying from Beijing to Shanghai. They were on the last leg of what was for both of them the first of many official visits to China. Soon they would be ministers in Margaret Thatcher’s first government, but at the time they were still in

The books the Nazis didn’t burn

For one who has, since boyhood, regarded the secondhand bookshop as a paradise of total immersion, it is quite shocking to discover Albatross, an unknown imprint from the English literary past. Before Albatross there was Tauchnitz, the Leipzig firm which for 100 years cornered the market in English language books outside the territories of the

Pets in the Blitz

War Horse, by way of book and play and film, has brought the role of horses in war into the public consciousness. Even before it, there was the erection of an Animals in War Memorial on Park Lane, paid for by an impressive list of aristocrats under the leadership of commoner Jilly Cooper. But what

Flee or die

Every nation has the right to control its borders, but we in the West are getting a bit too comfortable dehumanising other humans for failing to fill out forms in triplicate before fleeing the carpet-bombing of their cities. In recent months, Theresa May has rejected Calais’s child refugees; Donald Trump has seemingly tried (unsuccessfully, twice)

Deeply mysterious

The human urge for personal hygiene has had many improbable side-effects, and I can confidently assert that through the ages, sponge-divers have punched consistently above their weight. Bronze-age tools, 10th-century Islamic glassware, a Byzantine ship whose plunge to the bottom was cushioned by the fourth-century Roman wreck it alighted upon, anchors, amphorae, sculpture: if it’s

Ripping yarns

In the 1860s, when British visitors first began to explore the high altitude pleasures of Kashmir, it was not just the beauties of the valley and the cool, pellucid waters of the Dal Lake which took their breath away. Living there was a legendary relic of an earlier age, who quickly became an object of

Signs and spellsnich

On 25 February 1980, Roland Barthes, the great French intellectual, was run over by a laundry van in Paris. He died from his injuries a month later. This book — Laurent Binet’s second novel — proposes that it was not an accident; that Barthes had just come from lunch with the Socialist candidate for the