More from Books

Pets’ corner in the studio

This pleasant book, easy on the eye and (as importantly with art books) the thigh, has a pretty picture containing a dog or cat on virtually every page, so the fact that its extended essay of a text is disappointing hardly matters. To give Professor Rubin his due he tries to descend from his academic

Action man and teller of tales

The other day I came on an old exercise book dating from the early 1940s in which my brother, then aged nine, had embarked on one of his many unfinished novels. The missionary looked out of the window of his little hut deep in the African jungle. ‘The savidges are attacking, Mary,’ he cried. ‘Quick,

Only one factor among many

This is a fascinating book on a fascinating subject, written by a master of his craft as a military historian. Sir John Keegan’s declared purpose is to answer a simple question: ‘How useful is intelligence in war?’ The answer he gives is that, however useful intelligence is in disclosing the enemy’s intentions, strengths and weaknesses,

The precious core of civilisation

In 1989, two years before the Gulf war, I travelled to Baghdad to write an article on the Hanging Gardens of Babylon which the Iraqi Ministry of Culture then planned to have rebuilt. The project never materialised, but instead I was able to explore Baghdad and its intricate labyrinth. One experience was memorable above all:

Animal funny farm

Working in the Washington DC of 1982, I noticed that friends and colleagues cut Gary Larson’s drawings from the Washington Post and stuck them on their fridges or office walls. On 28 October of that year, they were perplexed. Larson’s drawing featured a cow (standing human-style on its hind legs) behind odd-looking objects, bones of

How to shut up and listen

Stuck for the bumper Christmas gift? Try Robin Holloway’s collected essays of music criticism. It is impressively big and will take about five years to read if you listen to the music discussed at the same time. Since that includes most of Wagner and Strauss and plenty of Brahms, Bruckner and Mahler, you will have

Bloody-minded and unbowed

The head of history at a well-known English girls’ school was wont to say that she had learned nothing at Cambridge and all her history had been set in place at the age of ten by The Children’s Encyclopaedia. Rebecca Fraser will know exactly what she meant. Massively informed, she is as unstuffy as the

Doing the state some service

At university I had a tutor who would announce once a year, when the subject duly came round, ‘I’m too emotionally involved with Simone Martini. I can’t lecture on him. I’m now going to the Buttery. Any or all of you are welcome to join me there.’ And he would depart, trailing clouds of glory

The elusive face of God

The biographical note on the jacket of this magisterial book tells us that Professor Geza Vermes was born in Hungary in 1924 and that from 1957 to 1991 he taught at the universities of Newcastle and Oxford. It also tells us that ‘his pioneering work on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the historical figure of

A ruthless ally

One of the paradoxes of our age is that the hereditary principle is in eclipse everywhere except the first great republican democracy. With all our faults, we love our house of peers no more, and there are no longer any political dynasties in England (unless you count Benn) or elsewhere in Europe. But the last