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The triumph of outrage

In this book Russell Martin seeks to explain to the common reader how Picasso’s largest canvas, measuring 11′ 6” high and 25′ 8” long, came to be called ‘Guernica’, after a small Basque market town of some 7,000 inhabitants and how it became the painter’s best known work as an icon of the radical Left

The Paraguayan way

John Gimlette and I both won this magazine’s Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize (awarded for unconventional travel writing) and we both got book deals as a result. Winning the prize changed my life and perhaps it changed Gimlette’s, too. We should toast The Spectator regularly for our good luck. I wrote about the inhabitants of Buenos

Classics in the classroom

There comes a time when all professors of literature think of writing a book like this. Elaine Showalter has been professing it for 40 years, and after such a long and varied career what could be more apposite or timely than to share the wisdom of such experience with her younger colleagues? The answer, I

Learning the hard way

Joyce Carol Oates is a prolific, even prolix writer, with more than 50 novels and short-story collections to her name. Yet she writes wonderfully of life’s uncertainties and of American reality in the raw. In her latest novel, I’ll Take You There, Oates returns to her old themes of violence, madness and sexual passion. The

The usual Soho suspects

When John Moynihan was three and living with his painter parents in a flat off Primrose Hill he used to be terrified by nocturnal howls and squeals from the Regent’s Park zoo. Wetting himself, desperate to be ‘rescued from the labyrinths of an unspeakable jungle’, he was soothed by whoever happened to be around, sometimes

In America we trust

Bill Emmott, the editor of the Economist and author of The Sun Also Sets which accurately predicted the decline of Japan, believes there are two fundamental questions to ask at the beginning of the 21st century. Can capitalism continue to be the dominant force? And, in his words, ‘Will America continue to lead the world

The lure of the jungle

This is a curious story. In 1886, a year after the final British conquest of Upper Burma, a piano-tuner, Edgar Drake, is requested by the War Office to travel to the Shan States – still largely untouched by British power – to tune a rare 1840s Erard piano. The piano was originally shipped to one

Tunes of vanishing glory

Just as Gustav Mahler wove a bugle fanfare into his symphonies, so Joseph Roth wove martial music into his novels. In Roth’s case, it was invariably Johann Strauss’s ‘Radetzky March’, a signature tune which tum-te-tums through his earlier fiction and then becomes the title of this, his 1932 masterpiece. For Roth, like Mahler, military tunes

Lost, stolen or strayed

This is a strange, tantalising book of unintentional poetry; it is rather like a book plucked from the shelves of one of Jorge Luis Borges’ impossible libraries. The first book of the celebrated philanthropist, collector and Daimler heir, Gert-Rudolf ‘Muck’ Flick, it is a highly scholarly and lucid biography of a dozen or so great