Lead book review

An eye in the storm

Ernst Jünger, who died in 1998, aged 102, is now better known for his persona than his work. A deeply confusing and controversial figure who loathed democracy and glorified German militarism, yet despised the Nazis, he not only bore witness to the industrial flesh-mangles of two world wars, but almost the entirety of the 20th

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Life at the Globe | 17 January 2019

    IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE PRINCIPAL PARTNERS OF SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE’S 2019 SUMMER SEASON One of the things about Shakespeare that always makes you marvel is how insistently he speaks to the present moment — any present moment you choose. Academic literary critics wince when you start bandying around phrases like ‘eternal truths’, so let’s

The journalist as sleuth

Despite being well-travelled as the BBC’s world affairs editor, John Simpson doesn’t roam far from home in his spy thriller, Moscow, Midnight (John Murray, £20). Life and art intermingle, in both subject matter and character. The hero is named Jon Swift, a veteran journalist bristling under new media regimes. When government minister Patrick Macready is

Behind the top 20

This is a story of resurrection. A mere three decades ago, club football in England was a professional game largely and listlessly run by amateurs. Fans shuffled in decreasing numbers to obsolete stadia redolent of pie and pee. Lives were lost in the tragedies of Bradford, Hillsborough and Heysel. The sport was scarcely entertainment; it

The mask of death | 17 January 2019

Here is a novel set in the no man’s land between past and present, a fertile and constantly shifting territory whose precise boundaries are unique for each reader. Its author, Jeff Noon, is probably best known for his intellectually adventurous science fiction (his first novel, Vurt, won the Arthur C. Clarke award) and also, to

Water, sky, wind and cold

Dystopian fiction continues to throng the bookshelves, for all the world as though we weren’t living in a dystopia already, and the latest entrant to the glum-futures category is John Lanchester’s The Wall, about which much can be divined from a glossary of the capitalised nouns that throng it from the title onwards. The Wall

The human chimera – part lion, part goat

Richard Wrangham embraces controversy, and appears to enjoy munching apples from carts he upsets himself. While his new book seems to be the history of an amalgam of moral and political virtues and vices, its thesis is actually the large claim that these have evolved; and he has no compunction about writing that the foundation

A serious tease

Is there anything one can never laugh about? A question inevitably hanging over humour writing, it’s best answered by the masters of the genre who, rather than inventing jokes (a skill many possess), notice life’s winks and chuckles and tease them out of their surrounding matter, even if the latter happens to be of grave

Music and revolt

On 13 August 1977, a demonstration by the National Front was routed in the streets of Lewisham by thousands of anti-fascist activists. The latter’s elation palled, however, when they saw the evening news frame the event as a battle between rival extremists. Among the critical voices were Labour’s deputy leader Michael Foot and the Daily

Their finest hour

On 22 January last year, the entrance whiteboard at London Underground’s Dollis Hill carried a brief factual statement: On this day in history On the 22–23 January 1879 in Natal, South Africa, a small British garrison named Rorke’s Drift was attacked by 4,000 Zulu warriors. The garrison was successfully defended by just over 150 British

Voices from the recent past

Interviews, like watercolours, are very hard to get right, and yet look how steadily their art has become degraded and under-appreciated. Each and every Shumble, Whelper and Pigge in our media fancies that an interview can be tossed off: you need only switch on the microphone and let the person speak. Radio is the worst