Lead book review

A singular horror

Seventy years after the Nazi Holocaust, against the background of a rich and varied literature, Laurence Rees has achieved the unexpected: a magisterial book that consolidates what has come before and manages to offer fresh perspectives. With Brexit, Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen now centre stage, it also offers a timely reminder of the

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Reading between the lines | 26 January 2017

Writing to her sister Cassandra about Pride and Prejudice in January 1813, Jane Austen declared, in a parody of Walter Scott: ‘I do not write for such dull Elves/As have not a great deal of Ingenuity themselves.’ That identification of the good Austen reader as one continually on the qui vive, ready to piece out

A scandalous scramble

Empires in the Sun might conjure up romantic visions for some, but this book’s essence is distilled in its subtitle, ‘The Struggle for the Mastery of Africa’. Lawrence James’s panoramic survey of imperial and then neo-colonial subjugation of the African continent between 1830 and 1990 is a timely reminder, if any were needed, of the

Dangerous liaisons | 26 January 2017

In a Kashmiri apple orchard, a young fugitive from the Indian army’s cruel oppressions spots a snake that has ‘mistaken its tail for a separate creature’ and started to devour itself. Imran, a.k.a. ‘Moscow’, will later break away from the equally barbaric Islamist insurgents who prey on his rage and grief, flee to Pakistan, and

Boy wonder

Back in 1978, a young and already successful Steven Spielberg told a bunch of would-be moviemakers at the American Film Institute not to ‘worry if critics like… Molly Haskell don’t like your movies’. Four decades on, and just in time to mark his 70th birthday, Haskell has written a biography of Spielberg for Yale’s series

Telling on mother

Like many debut novels, The Nix, by the American author Nathan Hill, is about somebody writing their first book. Samuel Andresen-Anderson, an erstwhile literary wünderkind, working as an English professor at an undistinguished college outside Chicago, was paid a huge advance a decade ago, on the strength of a single short story. It is now

Do you know who I am?

Anyone looking for a groundbreaking ethnography of the global political elite —the elusive social grouping that western electorates are currently lining up to slap in the face — is likely to be disappointed by this book. In the course of these ‘Misadventures’ it is often stated that, for example, ‘At the UN, the bullshit meter

Before the bling

If you read the first volume of John Romer’s A History of Egypt, which traces events along the Nile from prehistory to the pyramid age, you will understand why he thinks Egyptology is not a science. It is hard, perhaps impossible, to be exact about anything when most of your knowledge is based on deduction

A losing streak

In backgammon, a blot is a single checker, sitting alone and unprotected. This is a sly title for this sly novel (which was published in the US as the more literal A Gambler’s Anatomy). The hero, Alexander Bruno, is a single, exposed man, and a professional backgammon player. He also suffers from an eye condition:

The empathy trap

Being against empathy sounds like being against flowers or sparrows. Surely empathy is a good thing? Isn’t one of the main problems with the world that there isn’t enough of the stuff going around? Paul Bloom of Yale University is here to argue otherwise. As he explains, while empathy can be a good thing in

Lord of the Arctic

According to the author of this beautifully illustrated, hugely engaging book, if we were ever to choose a fellow mammal to serve as symbol for our time, then the polar bear would probably make any shortlist. Standing ten feet tall on their hind legs and weighing as much as a ton, the males are the

An infinite spirit

Can American publishers be dissuaded from foisting absurd, bombastic subtitles on their books as if readers are all Trumpers avid for tawdry, over-simplified stunts? Howard Bloch is a professor at Yale whose previous books have had medieval French literature, the Bayeux tapestry and medieval misogyny as their subject matter. He has taken an entertaining diversion