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A rather ferocious person

Christina became queen of Sweden because her heroic father Gustavus Adolphus had been killed in battle, winning glory in Germany but having sired no legitimate sons. She was not quite six at the time, and they were not sure whether to call her king or queen; an ambiguity of roles, not of sex, which lasted

Led by donkeys

The National Army Museum of the Crimean Warby Alastair MassieSidgwick & Jackson, £25, pp. 379, ISBN 070113904 The most extraordinary single detail about the Crimean war occurs in Alastair Massie’s book. It is this: the dim lordlings who commanded on the British side had forgotten to impose censorship on private mail, just as they had

The foundering ship of state

Henry Fairlie may have coined the phrase ‘The Establishment’ but it was Anthony Sampson who gave it flesh and blood. His Anatomy of Britain, first published in 1962 and revised at intervals over the years, sought to explain how Britain worked, where the power really lay, what covert networks underlay the at first impenetrable surface

His cup runneth over

Nick, the central character in Alan Hollinghurst’s wonderful new novel, is a young, alert middle-class boy with precociously refined aesthetic sensibilities and a gift for endearing himself to others. ‘He liked to be charming, and hardly noticed when he drifted excitedly into insincerity.’ He has come out as gay shortly before the novel’s opening, but

What makes us unique?

What does it mean to be human? The many possible answers to this question and their rejection form the cornucopian content of this book. Is language, for example, a defining characteristic of being human? It can’t be because other species have forms of communication which qualify as a sort of language; dolphins whistle, bees dance,

Three founding fathers of the media

We had all probably agreed by now that the whole memoir thing was getting out of hand, and a UN-negotiated ceasefire between memoirists and suffering readers was urgently needed. We have had more than enough, surely, of whiny books about alcoholism, rape, criminal pasts, drug addiction, all of which culminate, for some reason, in a