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Sam Leith

Not a barrel of laughs

What a peculiar life it was: born in Poland, exiled to Russia, orphan- ed at 11, and sent to sea at 16. A decade and a half of salt water and solitude in the merchant marine. Then the rest of it spent as an English gent, writing literary novels in his third language (English) under

Tramps and Bowlers

In the park in front of my place, every nightA bunch of tramps sleep on the wooden porchOf the bowling green club-house. They shed no light.No policeman ever wakes them with a torch, Because no one reports their nightly stay.People like me who take an early walkJust after dawn will see them start the dayBy

How Stephen the Small came to save Montenegro and afterwards

In 1766, a diminutive adventurer appeared in Cetinje, the capital of the mountainous principality of Monte- negro, and managed to supplant the rightful claimant to the position of Vladika, the ruling Prince-Bishop. The adventurer was remarkable in many respects. Firstly, he was known as ‘Scepan Mali’, ‘Stephen the Small’, in a country where physical stature

What Henry knew

In October 1875 Henry James moved to Paris to advance his nascent career as a man of letters, specifically as a novelist. This was not his first visit: his enlightened family encouraged travel, but the desire to take up residence was intimately connected with his ambitions: Paris, after all, was the epi- centre of forward

No longer a friend of the famous

Piers Morgan is big in the US. After his dismissal from the Mirror in 2004 he spent a thankless year as a freelance hack in Britain before popping up as the token ‘nasty Brit’ on Simon Cowell’s blockbusting show America’s Got Talent. This book traces his journey from sacked hack to superstar but unlike The

The survival of literature

Shelley (and later Paul Valéry) suggested that all literature might be the work of a single Author and that, throughout the ages, writers have merely acted as His (or Her) amanuenses. A visit to any large bookshop today seems to confirm this thesis: an infinitude of almost identical accounts of Da Vinci conspiracy theories, immigrant

Winning the Cold War

John O’Sullivan has done much more with this book than provide three potted biographies; he has laid out a compelling account of how the Cold War was won, furnished us with a manual of political leadership and told us the inner secrets of a love story. At the heart of this story of the Eighties,

All at sea

On 2 July 1816 the French frigate Medusa, en route for Senegal, ran aground on the dreaded Arguin sandbank off the west coast of Africa. Incompetent seamanship had landed the vessel there and attempts to refloat the Medusa over the next couple of days proved to be in vain. The decision was therefore taken to

Nothing to declare but his genius

Poor Colin Wilson. Has there ever been such a spectacular decline in an author’s fortunes? His first book, The Outsider (1956), was an overnight sensation. Hailed as a literary breakthrough by Philip Toynbee and Cyril Connolly, it earned him £20,000 in its first year of publication — the equivalent of £1 million in today’s money.

Business as usual | 21 April 2007

Protests against international business are nothing new. Probably the wittiest, and certainly the most brutal, took place long before the first trashing of a Starbucks, way back in the early 1st century BC. This was a period when the Roman Republic, lacking a bureaucracy of its own, had opted to privatise the provincial tax-system —