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Ruthless but ineffective

Gideon may or may not have overcome the Midianites by superior intelligence. The Book of Judges is a little obscure about that. But there is still something in the old adage that espionage is the second oldest profession. The rules of the game were set out more than six centuries ago in the advice given

A genius but not a hero

If anyone ever wondered why Marlborough has so seldom enjoyed the reputation his abilities warrant he could do a lot worse than start with Richard Holmes’s new biography. England’s Fragile Genius is probably as comprehensive an account of Marlborough as a single volume can hope to be, and yet at the end of 500-odd closely

Flying bison and half a cup of coffee

The author’s uncle was a concert pianist who harboured a passion for Chopin. He extracted a deathbed promise from his nephew to ‘visit those places Chopin frequented as a young man . . . to better understand the patriotic roots of Chopin’s music’ and implored him ‘to scatter his ashes over the Mazovia plain near

Obsessed by Ukraine

This is the story of a very unusual man. ‘Wilhelm von Habsburg,’ Timothy Snyder tells us, ‘wore the uniform of an Austrian officer, the court regalia of a Habsburg archduke, the simple suit of a Parisian exile, the collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece, and, every so often, a dress. He could handle

A choice of first novels | 18 June 2008

The ghost of Harry Lime seems to be haunting the publishing houses of London. Graham Greene’s infamous anti-hero may have come to a sticky end in the Viennese sewers but his spirit lives on in several debut novels immersed in the noir world of post-war Europe. Hedi Kaddour’s Waltenburg (Harvill/ Secker, £20) is the most

The irritation of Jean

The title of Isabel Fonseca’s first novel is promisingly witty: an ‘attachment’ is both a supplement to an e-mail, and a bond of human intimacy; and the main plot of the novel revolves around how the first may destroy the second. Jean Hubbard is a freelance health correspondent, living on a tropical island, from which

The sweetness pictures can add to life

This is the tribute of a child to a parent, especially commendable when the very concept of fatherhood is threatened; rarer still, the co-authors are themselves artists in their separate fields. Peter Mann is responsible for the pleasing design and photographs, and Sargy Mann has answered his son’s questions to provide an autobiographical text which

Work and sex

Ordinary mortals marrying into the upper reaches of the Royal Family are usually in for a rough ride. Their best chance seems to be to come from one of those families which privately consider that they are every bit as good as the House of Windsor: Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, Lady Alice Montagu-Douglas-Scott (though the formula