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High-class fraud

You can always find a thief in financial markets. That is where the money is. Most frauds are quite dull affairs, and some are never uncovered. A few, however, are spectacular. The scale of loss, or the glamour of the perpetrator, or the failure of the ‘system’ to spot and prevent the crookery, may contribute

Winning words

If you want to see what an ambivalent attitude we have towards rhetoric, you have only to look at the speeches of Barack Obama. Before Obama became President, when he was out on the stump, there was no holding him back rhetorically: he soared, he swooped, he lifted his eyes to the hills and found

Pea-soupers and opium dens

So: does Moriarty exist, or not? Well no, not really, and not just in the literal sense of being a fictional character. He’s hardly even that. We have no evidence beyond Sherlock Holmes’s word, and if you look at Holmes’s behaviour in ‘The Final Problem’ you can see an almost classic case of paranoia —

Art Books: A sumptuous tour

In 1930 Evelyn Waugh, already at 27 a famous novelist, spent two days in Barcelona. He came upon one of the art nouveau houses designed by Antonio Gaudí, who had died four years earlier. Waugh was captivated by the swooshing ‘whiplash’ lines of the building. He hired a taxi and asked the driver to take

Chagrin d’amour

The horror of love: Nancy Mitford’s first fiancé was gay; her husband, Peter Rodd, was feckless, spendthrift and unsympathetic, and her great amour, Gaston Palewski, was endlessly unfaithful. She met him during the war in London and was in love with him for the rest of her life. Palewski was Charles de Gaulle’s right-hand man.

The meanest flowers that blow

Sarah Raven comes of a botanising family. Her father John, a Cambridge classics don, travelled all over the British Isles studying wildflowers. Like his own father, Charles Raven, he was a gifted watercolourist, and between them they drew almost every plant in the British flora. Sarah still possesses 18 volumes of their watercolours. Nevertheless, to

A man who quite liked women

It is noticeable that the kind of young woman that a clever public man most likes talking to is intelligent but totally unchallenging. This is pleasant for both. She gets to pick up useful knowledge, while he can hold forth, happy that she doesn’t have the inclination or firepower to disagree, argue or interrupt.   

A cult of virility and violence

Mussolini’s brutal sex-addiction makes for dispiriting reading, but provides material for a fine psychological study, says David Gilmour Bunga bunga may be a recent fashion, but adultery for Italian prime ministers has a long history. The first of such statesmen, Count Cavour, had affairs with married women because he was too nervous of being cuckolded