More from Books

Where Vlad once impaled

If the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu, the Romanian dictator, is one of those world events that many people remember very vividly, it may be because of its inherent drama, or it may be because it happened at Christmas, when we were all at home and ready to enjoy the heady voyeurism it offered on television.

After the fall

There is nothing new about the ‘had-it-all, lost-it-all’ plot. It provides common ground for the story of Adam and Eve and the labyrinthine ramifications of any high-gloss American soap opera. It is also the stuff of Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary, a fairytale for adult readers with a sting in its tail, a bite in

Living with the Inspector

In this ingenious ‘double biography’, which covers not only her own life and that of her late husband, the peerless television actor John Thaw, but also their life together, the actress Sheila Hancock has achieved an impressive and affecting work of art. Unfort- unately, though, it is flawed by the author’s self-indulgence in ranting on

What the President saw

A staff writer for the Boston Globe, Mark Feeley is also a lecturer in American Studies at Brandeis University. I mention this because evidence has been accumulating these past 20-odd years that American Studies departments, like Cultural Studies, Film Studies and, of course, Media Studies are busily engaged in subverting that central but antiquated notion

The bad old times recorded

The inconsistency between how they lived their own lives — the sort of people that they seemed to be — and the virtues they championed in their heroes and heroines, so much greater in male than in female authors (from which category I exclude George Eliot) is possibly nowhere more marked than in the case

The doubtful eye of the beholder

In this historic moment of struggle between freedom and tyranny, with the destinies of entire nations hanging in the balance, the question of what ‘beauty’ is might seem a frivolous one, best put off until happier times. Until, that is, one remembers that now is always a historic moment, that the destinies of nations are

Heroes of the world of words

I should like to claim the credit for the Bloomsbury English Dictionary’s inclusion of the word carminative. It did not appear in the dictionary’s previous incarnation as the Encarta World English Dictionary in 1999, and I pointed out the omission at the time. Perhaps finding that the words Encarta and World English did not sell

The sea that retreated

The most startling historical fact I have come upon in recent years is on page 62 of this book. In 1882 an attempt was made to evict three crofters on the Isle of Skye. These were humble men pursuing a way of life little changed in recorded time, in a place which to them would

A typically Tuscan joke

There is something irresistible about forgers, cocking a snook as they do at their target establishments — in this case the formidable intellectual and historical talents of Baroque (hardly Renaissance as the title claims) Rome, a circle which included the towering figure of the polymath Athanasius Kircher. What makes this case even more piquant is

Very down under

One of the things which drew Nicholas Shakespeare to Tas- mania was that it was one of the few remote places that Bruce Chatwin, whom he’d spent seven years writing a biography about, had never been to. But Shakespeare has written a wonderfully Chatwinesque book about a place, in which individual historical narratives are woven

Recent crime novels

Rumpole is back with us. In Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders by John Mortimer (Viking, £16.99) Rumpole is writing his memoirs and looks back on his first murder case when, as a pupil in a lazy barristers’ chambers, he takes over the defence of a young man accused of murdering his father and his

Around the world in 18 cookery books

Long before she became a finger- lickin’ television star Nigella Lawson’s ability to conjure tastes in vivid prose and her celebration of the pleasures of eating were known to readers of The Spectator as she was this magazine’s first restaurant reviewer. And it was the writing in her first book, How to Eat, with its

Books of the Year

A selection of the best and worst books of the year, chosen by some of our regular contributors Jonathan Sumption There is no point in mincing words about the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (60 volumes, £6,500 until 30 November). It is the one of the greatest feats of scholarly publishing ever. Forget the on-line