Lead book review

The man and the myth | 17 April 2019

I can only remember one page of any of the dozens of Ladybird histories that I read avidly as a child: an illustration of a scene from the Third Crusade, when Richard the Lionheart, at the head of his Christian army,  met Saladin, the leader of the Muslim forces, outside the port city of Acre

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Was there no end to his talents?

John Buchan was a novelist, historian, poet, biographer and journalist (assistant editor of The Spectator indeed); a barrister and publisher; one of Lord Milner’s ‘young men’, charged with the reconstruction of South Africa after the second Boer war; director of propaganda 1917–18, a Member of Parliament; lord high commissioner (i.e. the king’s representative) to the

A struggle not to scream

Norway doesn’t have a world-class philosopher (Kierkegaard was Danish). Karl Ove Knausgaard declared at the end of his previous book that he is no longer a writer, and it looks as though he’s moving in to fill that space. A very modern space: a selfie space. Nietzsche observed that all philosophy is autobiography, and Knausgaard

The nanny’s tale

Jill Dawson has a taste for murder. One of her earlier novels, the Orange shortlisted Fred and Edie, fictionalised the 1922 Bywaters and Thompson murder case. More recently, The Crime Writer cunningly blended an English episode from the life of Patricia Highsmith with elements of one of Highsmith’s own crime novels. Now Dawson has turned

Hollywood’s invisible man

What do the following filmmakers have in common: Victor Fleming, John Ford, Henry Hathaway, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Ernst Lubitsch, Lewis Milestone, Otto Preminger, Josef von Sternberg, George Stevens, Charles Vidor, King Vidor, Orson Welles and William Wyler? I know, it’s a toughie — and it isn’t much less tough if you consult IMDb. But

Muzak, not Mozart

What is creativity? Marcus du Sautoy, a mathematician and Oxford professor for the public understanding of science, offers this pert definition in his introduction: ‘Creativity is the drive to come up with something that is new and surprising and that has value.’ This, he argues, is possible in mathematics (he himself invented a new kind

Witness for the prosecution | 17 April 2019

Vasily Grossman’s novel Life and Fate (completed in 1960) has been hailed as a 20th-century War and Peace. It has been translated into most European languages and also into Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Turkish and Vietnamese. There have been stage productions, TV series and an eight-hour BBC radio dramatisation. And Grossman himself — like Leo Tolstoy,

Stormy sees

There are more than 100 cathedrals in England, Scotland and Wales of many different denominations (although I for one had been previously unaware of the Belarus Autocephalous Orthodox Church). But, wisely, Christopher Somerville focuses on those great galleons with which we are most familiar: the cathedrals that first rose up above the plains of England

Life at the Globe | 17 April 2019

IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE PRINCIPAL PARTNERS OF SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE’S 2019 SUMMER SEASON And so, as we continue through the Summer Season of history plays at Shakespeare’s Globe — supported by principal partner Merian Global Investors — to Henry IV: Part Two, which opens this week. This is, for my money, the most complex and moving