Lead book review

Baghdad’s rise, fall – and rise again

The history of Baghdad more than any other city mirrors the ebb and flow that has marked Islamic history and civilisation. The rise and fall of empires and dynasties, the splendours of Islam’s high culture and its decline, the periodic tensions and ease that affected relations between nations and peoples, sects and faiths have all

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Original Sin

When first they ushered me into that hall To take my place on a cheap fold-out seat, My eyes clamped shut, and so missed all The conjured stillness of the school: young feet Unshuffled, heads dropped down in donned respect, And teachers, too — attendant, cramped in rows Of less observant hush. A time to

For Roger Bannister, the four-minute mile was just the start

The title of this reflective and readable memoir refers to the author’s lifetime interests in sport and medicine — tracks which advanced not in parallel but with intersections. Few will be unaware that Roger Bannister was the first man to run a mile in under four minutes. The image of him breasting the tape scarcely

A truth too tender for memoir

It has been 14 years since Akhil Sharma published his first, widely acclaimed novel, An Obedient Father. Though its subject matter is very different, Family Life more than fulfils the expectations raised by that grim but compelling story of financial, political and moral corruption in India. Growing up in Delhi in the 1970s, the eight-year-old

Talking to the ghosts of Tiananmen Square

Twenty-five years ago, Rowena Xiaoqing He, then a schoolgirl, was participating in the Tiananmen-supporting demonstrations in Canton. Far from the capital, this was one of several hundred cities that rose up during that Chinese spring. Following the Tiananmen killings on 3–4 June 1989, she was warned by her teacher to remove the black mourning band

Rod Liddle reminds me of old women moaning on the bus

Books by bellicose columnists with the initials R.L. are like buses — none comes along for ages, then two come at once. Having been given the heave ho from my last column some years back, I was looking forward to putting this regularly employed, high-profile Pushmi-pullyu through its paces before filleting it thinly and serving

A Colder War, by Charles Cumming – review

The title of Charles Cumming’s seventh novel is both a nod to the comfortable polarities of Cold War and also a reminder that our modern world is in some ways even chillier and less stable than the one it replaced. Once again, the central character is Thomas Kell, the MI6 agent who was trying to

Why is ‘loo’ slang? Because Simon Heffer says so!

Did Simon Heffer’s new book come out on St George’s Day? If not, it probably should have done. If we ever needed someone to defend what’s left of our national culture from the massed armies of lefties, foreigners, proles, riff-raff, illiterates, young people, thin people and David Cameron, he would be our man. For three

The yes-no-maybe world of Harrison Birtwistle

For better or worse, we live in the age of the talking composer. Some talk well, some badly, a few — the strong, silent types — keep their mouths shut, or have to have them prised open. Harrison Birtwistle belongs, by nature, to this last category. I once, a very long time ago, interviewed him

My desert island poet

If I had to be marooned on a desert island with a stranger, that stranger would be John Burnside. Not that he’s a literary Ray Mears: I rather doubt that catching fish with his bare hands or lighting a fire without matches are among his skills. Nor would he be an easy companion, since by