Lead book review

Darius III: Alexander’s stooge

In 1891, George Nathaniel Curzon, ‘the very superior person’ of the mocking Balliol rhyme, and future viceroy of India, arrived at Persepolis. Torched in 330 BC by Alexander the Great, it had once been the nerve-centre of an empire that stretched from the Aegean to the Hindu Kush. For Curzon, whose tour of Iran had

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The school holidays in the final furlong and the next new phase and term in clear sight. This is when the thousands receive their plain envelopes informing them whether they have made the grade, precisely. And we look on, remembering or not remembering a future built on hopes and inadequacy, not knowing what is right

How Putin turned Russian politics into reality TV

‘We all know there will be no real politics.’ A prominent Russian TV presenter is speaking off the record at a production meeting in 2001. ‘But we still have to give our viewers the sense that something is happening. They need to be kept entertained. Politics has got to feel … like a movie!’ When

The madness of Nazism laid bare

‘If the war is lost, then it is of no concern to me if the people perish in it.’ Bruno Ganz, who not so much portrays Hitler as becomes him in Bernd Eichinger’s 2004 film Der Untergang (Downfall), spits the Führer’s nihilist venom so convincingly that the fundamental insanity of Nazism is at once laid

Anne Tyler’s everyday passions

There was nothing remarkable about the Whitshanks. None of them was famous. None of them could claim exceptional intelligence, and in looks they were no more than average….Their family firm was well thought of. But then, so were many others. But like most families, they imagined they were special. So, you know what you will

Even the people who make political adverts aren’t sure they work

It is a common prejudice about modern politics that it is all focus groups and spin, all public relations and advertising. The rather heartening conclusion from Sam Delaney’s history of advertising in politics is that this is a calumny on the political trade. Delaney has spoken to everyone involved in political advertising since the phenomenon

Cybersex is a dangerous world (especially for novelists)

Few first novels are as successful as S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, which married a startling and unusual premise to a tightly controlled and claustrophobic thriller. Its only drawback was that it was a hard act to follow. Novelists tend to dump all their brilliant ideas into their first book, and the white