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Sam Leith

The family plot

Sam Leith explores the effect that certain writers’ relatives have had on their published works This book’s sort-of preface is a lecture on aunts and absent mothers in Jane Austen — an odd diversion, given that nowhere else in its pages are aunts, or female writers for that matter, given much of an outing. Colm

Seeing red

With each passing year it becomes clearer that the cure for global warming is worse than the disease. While wind power and biofuels devastate ecosystems and economies, temperatures and sea levels rise ever more slowly, just as the greenhouse theory— minus feedbacks — predicts. As James Delingpole acutely observes, the true believers are left with

More sinned against than sinning

When I saw the title of this book, then read that it only covered the period 1600-1800 I hoped this would be a riot of comedy, something along the lines of the most wonderful sentence in the English language. This is in Havelock Ellis’s Psychology of Sex and concerns a discovery made by the doctor

Anglo-Saxon divide

Philip Oltermann has set himself an almost impossibly ambitious task. In 1996, when he was 15 years old, he moved from Hamburg to London, so he has close experience of both England and Germany. In due course it occurred to him, as a man of wide cultural sympathies, that he ought to be in a

How do birds fly south?

Did you know the external ‘shell’ of the ear is the pinna? That a woman’s oestrogen level alters the way she hears the male voice, making it richer, and thus may affect her choice of mate? That Pride and Prejudice was published the year (1813) that Europeans discovered the kiwil? That Leonardo da Vinci ‘was

Spiritual superhero

When totting up the positives from the British Raj, people often put the railways first, followed by the Indian Civil Service or the Indian Army. The Empire was won by the sword and held by the sword. It was racially exclusive, its taxes were often predatory, and its punishments savage. But at least it left

What makes Romney run?

It can be odd to read a biography of a major political figure for whom, every day while one reads it, the story continues. Everything we hear in the news now about Mitt Romney seems to have been the case in 2008, when he first ran for president; or 2002, when after leading the Olympic

Our man in Vienna

Just in case Private Eye smells a rat, let me put my cards on the table. Not once, but twice, I have sent the galley proofs of my novels to William Boyd and, not once, but twice, he has responded with generous ‘blurbs’, which my publishers have gratefully emblazoned on the covers. Believe me, in

Bookends: Dickensian byways

Is there room for yet another book on Dickens? Probably not, but we’ll have it anyway. The Dickens Dictionary (Icon, £9.99) is John Sutherland’s contribution to the great birthday festival — and possibly not his last, for since his retirement from academe, Sutherland has been nearly as industrious as the great man himself. This brief