Lead book review

Britain über alles

  David Cannadine was a schoolboy in 1950s Birmingham, which was still recognisable as the city that Joseph Chamberlain had known. In the 1960s the town planners demolished much of Victorian Birmingham. The bulldozing of 19th-century cities coincided with — and helped to cause — a boom in Victorian history, led by Asa Briggs. As

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Learning to talk

One of the great achievements of science is that so many of its branches, from astronomy to zoology, have been blessed by such great popularisers — your Attenboroughs, your Sagans, your Dawkinses. Alas, there is one inglorious exception to this marvellous rule — linguistics. A discipline that has produced enormous and enormously important advances over

Demonised by history

Some oleaginous interviewer once suggested to Winston Churchill that he was the greatest Briton who ever lived. The grand old man considered the matter gravely. ‘No,’ he replied at length. ‘That was Alfred the Great.’ In his hefty, hard-to-pick-up History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Churchill expatiated on King Alfred’s foremost quality: it was his ‘sublime

Muddled in minutiae

‘Publitical’ is a neologism worth avoiding. Bill Goldstein uses it to describe T.S. Eliot’s activities when launching and promoting his quarterly review of literature, the Criterion, which had its first issue in October 1922. Eliot wanted an eminent French author as a contributor: ‘the only name worth getting is Proust’, he told Ezra Pound. As

Deep learning

Given the brilliance of his career as a fiction-writer, it is easy to forget that J.M. Coetzee has a commensurate career in non-fiction. He trained as an academic (English literature, mathematics, linguistics and computer analysis of stylistics), taught for several years in the US and in South Africa, and continues to translate, write essays and

The cult of Holy Bob

The Harder They Come, Jamaica’s first (and still finest) home-grown film, was released in 1972 with the local singer Jimmy Cliff as the country boy Ivan Martin, who becomes a Robin Hood-like criminal outlaw amid the ganja-yards and urban alleys of the Jamaican capital of Kingston. The film’s director Perry Henzell, a ganja-smoking white Jamaican

The hunger

In 1933 my aunt Lenina Bibikova was eight years old. She lived in Kharkov, Ukraine. Every morning a polished black Packard automobile would draw up to the door of the handsome pre-revolutionary mansion her family shared with other senior Party cadres to take her father to his job as Party boss at the Kharkov Tractor

Harsh, but entertaining

When millionaires become billionaires they become even greedier and more ruthless. At the highest level, Trumpian economics can be lethal. Edward St Aubyn, in his powerful new novel Dunbar, applies the oxyacetylene brilliance and cauterisation of his prose to bear on the tragic endgame of a family’s internecine struggle for control of a global fortune.