Lead book review

A terrible beauty

Good pottery appears to be cool and silent — something vulnerable that, with luck, can outlast many human generations. A white porcelain dish seems calm and decorous; one knows that skill went into its evenness, into the exact whiteness, into its lightness. But when I began to think about pots I had no idea of

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A new track record

Simon Bradley dates the demise of the on-board meal service to 1962, when Pullman services no longer offered croutons with the soup course. That may be a touch fanciful— there were other reasons for the decline, such as faster trains, cost cutting and the growth of fast food. Nevertheless, it is the type of anecdote

On the way to Plumpton

We pull up at Wivelsfield, under a blue sky, and glance out at the one figure on the platform: a mature, buxom woman in pink. Her arms are open wide, and a burly, moustachioed man climbs out of our carriage and gallops towards her embrace, burying his face in her yellow hair. When will they

Ticks and crosses

Houses, as any plumber will testify, do sometimes blow up in gas explosions, destroying their contents and inhabitants, but would that really happen on the night before a wedding in a swanky house in Connecticut, killing daughter, daughter’s fiancé and owner’s lover? It seems too good to be true —the perfect big bang to set

A captivating prospect

What could happen in literature to a young couple — or a pair of young couples — who fall off the beaten track and enter a magical place not quite of this world? They might end up, like Adam and Eve, in paradise. Or, like The Tempest’s Miranda and Ferdinand, under the control of powers

Following the fickle fish

Fish stories come in two varieties: the micro-version of a hundred riverside bars, blokeish boastings of rod-and-line tussles with individual fish in which man and beast are fairly evenly matched. Then there is the macro-version, the one that tells of the fate of entire stocks — the cod of the Grand Banks, the European hake,

The continent in crisis

Sir Ian Kershaw won his knight’s spurs as a historian with his much acclaimed two-volume biography of Hitler, Hubris and Nemesis. He is now attempting to repeat the feat with a two-volume history of modern Europe, of which this is the opening shot.Inevitably, the figure of the Führer once again marches across Kershaw’s pages as


(reading Daphne Rooke) Thank you for the book. It reminded me in the way she writes, dry as the Karoo, of the long hot drive from Matjiesfontein the day Paul stopped to give a girl a lift even though she wasn’t expecting one. She sat uneasily in the front seat beside him, saying thank you

A myth is as good as a mile

We live in disenchanted times. We barely do God, most of us don’t do magic and frenzied consumerism occupies our minds more than any local spirit of place. At first glance it looks as though the supernatural folktales of old — those witches and giants who lend their names to pools or hilltop crags in

Marvellous, murderous city

When Stefan Zweig first arrived in Rio de Janeiro in 1936, he was overwhelmed not only by the city’s magnificent landscape but also by its ordered architecture and city planning. This encounter he would later describe as being ‘one of the most powerful impressions of my whole life’. In his Brazil: Land of the Future,


The below is an unpublished poem, written for Moortown, the verse-diary of Ted Hughes’s experiences of farming in Devon in the 1970s, but not included in the sequence as published. A few months after Ted purchased the bull, Sexton, he wrote to his brother Gerald: ‘I really love him. It isn’t just his incredible size

When the boys come home

Matthew Green, former Financial Times and Reuters correspondent, remains unimpressed by officialdom’s response to casualties who aren’t actually bleeding: Ever since October 1914, when ‘Case One’ arrived in Myers’s care, the system for tending to the mental wellbeing of soldiers has grown up in a piecemeal and ad-hoc fashion, overshadowed by the Army’s stubborn ambivalence

A hero of our time

I have met Dr Kissinger, properly, only three times. First, in Cairo, in 1980, when, as a junior diplomat escorting Edward Heath, I had to secure for an almost desperate former British prime minister a meeting with the former US secretary of state, also in town. Once with Kissinger, Heath promptly subsided into a deep

For better, for worse | 17 September 2015

Before I read this book, I wasn’t aware that I was a creationist. But Matt Ridley tells me I am, in his broad sense of someone who foolishly believes that any good can come of ‘human intentionality, design and planning’. With no little intellectual chutzpah, he offers to treat us to a ‘general theory of

The house that Alfred built

This is a book about boundaries — and relationships. At its heart is the eponymous house by the lake, which in 1927 was the first of many small wooden summer houses to be built in the village of Gross Glienicke. Both its situation, just outside Berlin in the lakeside area that would later abut Gatow

Remembering P.J. Kavanagh

‘Elms at the end of twilight are very interesting,’ wrote Gerard Manley Hopkins in his journal: ‘Against the sky they make crisp scattered pinches of soot.’ P.J. Kavanagh, who has died aged 84, plucked out this observation for one of the columns that he wrote for The Spectator between 1983 and 1996. He was right