Lead book review

‘Existentialism? I don’t know what it is’

I’m certainly the wrong person to be reviewing this book, never having succeeded in understanding anything that a philosopher said about anything — but particularly the collected utterances of the existentialist school. Nevertheless, I think it fair to say that between the ages of 15 and 18, I had the wardrobe down to a T.

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Just who was Benjamin Franklin? Apart, that is, from journalist, statesman, diplomat, founding father of the United States, inventor of the lightning rod, the Franklin Stove, the milometer, swimming flippers and the flexible catheter, the man who engineered the America postal system, who established the first lending library, who wrote one of the finest autobiographies

Doomed youth

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Life in a glass house

‘First and last I was, and always would be, an American,’ Jeremy O’Keefe, the professor narrator of Patrick Flanery’s new novel, insists, with just the kind of pedantic over-emphasis that makes the reader suspicious. Equally dubious is the way he talks. Having spent the last decade at Oxford teaching and writing a book about the

The Mann who knew everyone

Thomas Mann, despite strong homosexual emotions, had six children. The two eldest, Erika and Klaus, born in 1905 and 1906 respectively, were delinquent almost from the word go: shoplifting, prank phone calls, trickery on old ladies, special schools. They were also artistically precocious; the frantic pair took German Expressionist cabaret to Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, London,

Two men in a boat | 25 February 2016

Ian McGuire’s second novel is an exercise in extremes: extremes of suffering, violence, environment, language and character. It tells the story of Henry Drax and Patrick Sumner, who we first encounter on the streets of Hull in March 1859. The two men have joined the crew of a whaling vessel, the Volunteer, about to set

War on Mount Olympus

It is a curious fact that the modern Hebrew for ‘atheist’, Tim Whitmarsh notes in passing, is apikoros. The word derives from Epicurus, who set up shop as a philosopher in Athens around 306 BC, but it became so domesticated in Hebrew that the medieval thinker Moses Maimonides, till he found out better, thought it

In the wrong club

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The ocean that Christopher Oldstone-Moore has set out to chart is as broad as it is shallow: what it has meant to be bearded or shaven in the western world, from before Alexander the Great until the present day. Practicalities — shaving technology and the like — are mentioned from time to time, but only

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