Lead book review

Books of the year

A.N.Wilson Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie (Bloomsbury, £14.99). At last, an Anglican Father Brown. Runcie has sensibly set his detective stories in the 1950s, before the boring era when DNA and science spoilt the poetry of crime investigation. Canon Chambers, a self-effacing, clever clergyman with a taste for pubs and shove-halfpenny,

More from Books

Narrative drive

Michael Holroyd describes this tiny, charmingly pointless publication (On Wheels, Chatto, £9.99) not as a book but as an example of ‘nostalgic intertextuality’, which is a grand way of saying that it is a bit of this and a bit of that. The this is the part cars have played in his family’s history and

He knows it teases

Simon Hoggart has spent 20 years going to Westminster to annoy people. He entertains no high-minded delusions about politics and he writes his Guardian sketches in a state of amused bewilderment by the sheer barminess and abnormality of most parliamentarians. This collection reads like the diary of an intelligent, mild-mannered child whose parents happen to

Apologia pro vita sua

Any fair-minded person who has looked into the matter knows that Conrad Black was wrongly convicted. Indeed under English law he would not have been prosecuted at all, I believe, and had he been so, the judge would have thrown the case out on the first day on the grounds that the pre-trial publicity had

Give me stress

Christmas is one of the few remaining occasions when the English feel obliged to cook a proper meal at home. To help them, in the autumn, kind publishers bring out lots of huge, glossy books. The idea, or collusive polite fiction, is that the cooks read the books carefully, plan their meals, buy ingredients and

A cavalier attitude to monarchy

Historians have long been more interested in the Roundheads than in the Cavaliers. It was the parliamentarians who achieved England’s revolution, or the nearest thing the country has come to one. It was they who overthrew the monarchy, the House of Lords and the bishops, they whose insistence on parliamentary rights, and whose attainment of

Fun and games — except with mother

The Duke of Edinburgh, a New Zealand typist claimed in 1954, was ‘the best investment that the royal family has made in all its history’. But would she have thought so had she seen him a few days earlier at a ‘crazy’ party where, according to his first cousin Pamela Hicks, he ‘excelled himself, managing

Living on the brink

To write this book Aman Sethi, a journalist for the Hindu, spent five years hanging out with the casual labourers of Bara Tooti Chowk in Delhi’s Sadar Bazaar, who live and die on the streets. ‘Why,’ asks one of them, ‘are you spending all this time and money getting drunk with lafunters like us? What

All in the telling

I like Jewish jokes. I begin every conversation with the literary editor of The Spectator with one or two, do the same with the judge across the road, and tell my newest joke to the lifeguards at the local swimming pool. The key to a good one is gentle self-mockery. But I dislike reading jokes

Clay pride

What a superb potter Michael Cardew was. What a fascinating, complex man. And what a lovely book this is. Next to Bernard Leach, who as the seventh Kenzan (that is, seventh in line of pupillage to the 17th-century Japanese artist Kenzan I) had something of the status of an English pope in the world of

Wear and Tear

Buttons like liquorice Catherine wheels on the cape coat I always loved you in. No longer flush, the top one dangles by two last threads, face down. A couple of minutes, why not sort it? For God’s sake, you say, turning back the lapel. You’re obsessed. Flip through the pages of your Grazia. Mum’ll fix

The French connection | 15 November 2012

When novelists write essays, they often boom through megaphones, aggrandise the importance of their views and inflate their stature.  Julian Barnes, however, seems to be a novelist who enjoyed feeling special when young, but now finds increasing rueful comfort in reminders of his own insignificance.  Certainly there is no swagger in his 17 essays about

A global hegemony of clean lines

Phaidon Press invented the art book. It was in 1930s Vienna that Bela Horovitz and Ludwig Goldscheider established the format of the illustrated monograph: a short essay by an expert, usually an Austrian art historian hired for a modest fee, followed by a sumptuous range of high-quality repro. They left before the Anschluss and arrived

Scotland’s top ten

It is no mean feat to produce a publication of the type that used to be described as ‘a coffee-table book’, devoted to the subject of great Scottish houses, and manage to find a fresh slant on a genre that has illustrated and described country houses for decades.  James Knox and his photographer, James Fennell,

Making the bomb

Of the making of many books about J. Robert Oppenheimer there is apparently no end. There have been 23 previous lives, seven of them published since 2004. This situation, which would have delighted its subject, is now complicated by the appearance of Inside the Centre: The Life of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Ray Monk, previously