Lead book review

The enlightened king of Iraq

‘King of Iraq’ has an odd ring even to those who know that Iraq was called Mesopotamia and was part of the Ottoman empire before falling into and out of the clutches of the British. Many people, including Iraqis, seem unaware that it was a monarchy until 1958. Some 45 years after its overthrow, members

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Isabel Allende’s Ripper doesn’t grab you by the throat

Isabel Allende is not an author one usually associates with the thrillers about serial killers. Ripper, however, lives up to its title. It’s the name of an online game, set in Jack the Ripper’s London. Six players — five teenagers and an elderly man — inhabit their personas with fanatical fervour. They switch their forensic

The Scot who became more Canadian than the Canadians

When John Buchan was appointed Governor General of Canada in 1935, the country was deep in depression, the western provinces a dustbowl and a quarter of a million people on public relief, while the prospect of war in Europe threatened great stresses in a newly independent country and its relations with Britain. Many or even

How to get around South Africa’s many boundaries

There are writers whose prose style is so fluid, so easy, the reader feels as though he has been taken by the hand and is being gently led down a path by a guide who can be trusted to point out interesting landmarks, allow the odd meander, but always keep firmly on course. Mark Gevisser,

Where did the Right and the Left come from? 

What is the origin of left and right in politics? The traditional answer is that these ideas derive from the French National Assembly after 1789, in which supporters of the King sat on one side and those of the revolution on the other. Yuval Levin in The Great Debate, however, argues not for seating but

Did Hurricane Katrina have an angel of mercy — or an angel of death? 

On 28 August 2005 — Sheri Fink’s Day One — Hurricane Katrina reached New Orleans. The National Weather Service warned that ‘human suffering will be incrdible by modern standards’. Fink’s enormous book chronicles that suffering as experienced inside the Memorial Medical Centre, one of the city’s biggest hospitals. Traditionally, staff had sheltered from hurricanes in

The man who gave the world (but not London) the glass skyscraper

Modern Architecture, capitalised thus, is now securely and uncontroversially compartmentalised into art history, its bombast muted, its hard-edge revolutions blurred by debased familiarity. You have been to Catford? You have seen a heroic vision compromised. Modern Architecture is no more threatening than abstract art, although the Swiss-French Le Corbusier retains a heady whiff of the


If this waiting is hellish, then the sick are limbo dancing; only those who are bent double, or on the floor, puddles of their former selves, have a hope of getting under the bar, progressively lowered as more contorted squeeze through. If the woman in a white coat is god, then the boy with bleeding