Lead book review

Sam Leith

Soldier, poet, lover, spy: just the man to translate Proust

Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff’s Englishing of Proust — widely and immediately agreed to be one of the greatest literary translations of all time — very nearly didn’t happen. Scott Moncrieff only suggested the project to his publisher after they rejected a collection of satirical squibs in verse (sample: ‘Sir Philip Sassoon is the Member for

More from Books

Siberia beyond the Gulag Archipelago

Larger than Europe and the United States combined, Siberia is an enormous swathe of Russia, spanning seven time zones and occuping 77 per cent of the country’s land mass. Ryszard Kapuscinski describes the gulags which were placed there as being amongst the greatest nightmares of the 20th century — and that image of suffering has

One Afternoon

In Aljezur we took a walk And paused above the river where, Among the rushes, swifts and fish, We saw a water-snake drink the air Before the reptile rippled back And watched until an azure flash Flew from the bridge to walnut tree, A kingfisher in sudden flight, A memorised epiphany Almost before it came

The hooligan and the psychopath

A Season with Verona (2002), Tim Parks’s account of a year on tour with the Italian football club Hellas Verona’s notorious travelling fans (motto ‘we have a dream in our heads, to burn the south’), contains a memorable scene in which Parks spots a teenage boy screaming abuse at some rival supporters before returning to

The case of the amnesiac autobiographer

In October 2002, 28-year-old David Stuart MacLean woke up at Hyderabad railway station. He was standing at the time, and had no idea where or who he was. A kindly tourist police officer reassured him that his case wasn’t unusual: plenty of young people came to India, took too many drugs and ended up similarly

Chris Barber should let someone meaner tell his story

Chris Barber, still going strong with his big band, was born in 1930. He heard jazz as a schoolboy on the radio programme Music While You Work and tried to find out more about this wonderful music. He soon discovered that, in his words, ‘black music was the real thing, although some white people managed

A toast to beer, from Plato to Frank Zappa

‘He was a wise man who invented beer,’ said Plato, although I imagine he had changed his mind by the following morning. Beer: A Global History (Reaktion, £9.99, Spectator Bookshop, £9.49) is the latest addition to ‘The Edible Series’, following Cake, Caviar, Offal, Wine, Soup and, rather shockingly, Hot Dog into the catalogue. As reading

What’s eating London’s songbirds?

This book, with its absurdly uninformative photographs, dismal charts and smattering of charmless drawings, looks like a report. A pity, because it is a thorough and entertaining history; the first to cover the entire London area within a 20-mile radius of St Paul’s, from the earliest record, in Roman times, to the present. A chronology

The lost Victorian who sculpted Churchill

Ivor Roberts-Jones was in many ways the right artist at the wrong time. Had the sculptor been born a few decades earlier and worked in the Victorian age, when statues of the builders and defenders of empire were erected proudly and prolifically across the land, he’d surely have received no end of garlands. As it