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Beware the lie of the lips

Everyone, I suppose, now knows that Gordon Brown was the first student rector of Edinburgh University. Though based on Continental models, the rectorship is a peculiarly Scottish institution. The rector is elected by the students, and elections have often been lively affairs. (The plot of John Buchan’s Castle Gay turns on the kidnapping of a

A dark tale of insider dealing

For the most part political diarists are located on the fringes rather than at the centre of power. The two finest British journals from the 20th century were written by failures — Alan Clark and Chips Channon. Only rarely did they gain the sustained access they craved to the great figures of their day. They

Linked by an oblique sadness

Connoisseurs of the short story will welcome this new collection by William Trevor, his first since 2004. Trevor has been compared with Chekhov, not without justification. He works by indirection, avoiding judgment, his sense of tragedy well concealed by a partiality for unfulfilled lives left free to exist on the page without the author’s intervention.

Faith in the future

John Gray’s latest work brings together many themes that will be familiar to fans of this scintillatingly gloomy intellect. It denounces neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism as forms of utopianism, destined like all previous forms to shipwreck upon the hard facts of human existence. It emphasises al-Qa’eda’s roots in Western political extremism rather than Islamic tradition. It

The Painters’ Painter

‘Give me the cheque, you look like a decaying oyster’ — thus Roger Hilton accepting the John Moores First Prize in 1963, at the height of his career. At the dinner afterwards, very drunk, he was so rude to an alderman sitting next to him that the poor man had a heart attack and died

Shakespeare got it wrong

The Fears of Henry IV: The Life of England’s Self-Made Kingby Ian Mortimer Henry IV, in Ian Mortimer’s graceless (and sense-defying) words, is ‘the least biograph-ied English king to have been crowned since the Conquest’. No longer. Here is a full and richly detailed life. Not a deal more would need to be said were

The ebb and flow of war

Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions that Changed the World 1940–41by Ian Kershaw Britain’s decision to fight on in 1940; Hitler’s to attack the Soviet Union in 1941; in the same year, Roosevelt’s to wage undeclared war in the Battle of the Atlantic; Japan’s to attack Pearl Harbor and expand southwards; Hitler’s declaration of war against America

Cosseting a bestselling author

There was once a Greek called Herostratus, who, in search of enduring fame, set fire to the Temple of Diana at Ephesus. (A successful strategy, clearly.) It’s odd to think that the second John Murray’s permanent fame rests on such an act of destruction, since in undertaking it he was not, like Herostratus, trying to

Who done it in Boston?

Listing page content here I’m so glad I came to this book fresh, my mind open and unsullied by all that had gone before. As it was, I could sit back and enjoy the labyrinthine plot with all its platitudinous twists and unexpected turns as a real beginner without one preconceived idea in my head.