Lead book review

Books of the year | 17 November 2016

Michela Wrong Back in 2006, David Cornwell, aka John le Carré, hired me as guide for his first trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to research The Mission Song. Evenings were spent on the terrace of the Orchids Hotel in Bukavu, watching pirogues languidly traverse Lake Kivu, ice cubes clinking in respective glasses

More from Books

A choice of first novels | 17 November 2016

Constellation by Adrien Bosc (Serpent’s Tail, £12.99) picks nimbly along the divide between fiction and non-fiction. It’s really a speculative group biography, telling the story of a Air France plane crash in the Azores in 1949, and the lives of the plane’s passengers, mostly (except for a quintet of migrating Basque shepherds) of an appropriately

Full steam ahead

To write, and indeed to read, a history of considerable range, both in terms of chronology and of subject matter, is a profound challenge. The fourth volume in Peter Ackroyd’s History of England starts with the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and ends with Waterloo in 1815. It was a period that laid the foundations of

Things fall apart | 17 November 2016

Ali Smith is that rare thing in Britain: a much-beloved experimental writer. Part of her attraction for readers is that she continually connects formal innovation and the freedom to reinvent a story with the freedom to reinvent the self. It’s a beguiling proposition that can make liberation seem like a matter of style. Following the

Christmas stocking fillers

The gift books come in all shapes and sizes this year: big, little, tiny, huge, long, short, fat and thin, rather like their writers, I would guess. Biggest and fattest of them all is The Art of Aardman (Simon & Schuster, £16.99). This is a coffee-table book, pure and simple, that celebrates 40 years of

Secrets of the universe

A few years ago, in Berne, I visited the apartment where Einstein wrote his theory of special relativity, which changed our understanding of the world forever. It’s a small apartment, plain and nondescript. The best thing about it is the view. From the window you can see Berne’s huge medieval clock, the Zytglogge. It was

A fateful squiggle on the map

When turbaned warriors from Daesh (or Isis) advanced on Raqqa in Syria two years ago, they whooped wildly about having ‘broken the Sykes-Picot Agreement’. They were celebrating athe destruction of national frontiers which had stood for nearly a century, since the fall of the Ottoman empire in 1918. They were also venting their spleen against

Up where the air is clear

Robert Twigger’s father was born in a Himalayan hill resort and carried to school in a sedan chair. His son, born in 1965 and long fascinated by the region, has produced a social and cultural history of the mountains. It is a hybrid volume — and why not? Twigger leaves no mountain path untouched in

In life divided

The ten pallbearers at Thomas Hardy’s funeral in Westminster Abbey on 16 January 1928 included Kipling, Barrie, Housman, Gosse, Galsworthy, Shaw and both the prime minister and leader of the oppposition. This distinguished gathering was not strictly necessary for the job at hand, because Hardy’s coffin merely contained his ashes — all that there was

Obituary: Eric Christiansen

Over the past year, we have lost two names cherished by Spectator readers. Rodney Milnes, our opera critic for 20 years before he moved to the Times, as well as editing the monthly magazine Opera, died last December, and Eric Christiansen, the Oxford medieval historian, who was a regular book reviewer here for many years,