The Spectator

23 March 2019

Will it never end?

The Tories’ current humiliation could be as cataclysmic as Labour’s in 1976


‘St Sebastian’, c.1500, by Cima da Conegliano
The outcome of Diderot’s discussions with Catherine was that she largely ignored his advice. Engraving from François Guizot’s Histoire de la France

Lead book review

How Diderot’s pleas to end despotism fell on deaf ears in Russia

Though fascinated by the Enlightenment, Catherine the Great ignored the philosophe’s ‘grand principles’, preferring to discuss literature instead

A plague of locusts in North Africa. Colin Everard himself describes driving on desert roads in a race against a 35-square-mile swarm


Days of the locust: our continuing battle with an ancient plague

One swarm can number billions of insects, cover an area of 1,000 square miles and consume 40,000 tonnes of food per day


Writing as revenge: Memories of the Future, by Siri Hustvedt, reviewed

It’s not the past that shapes you, but your understanding of it, is the theme of this memoir disguised as a novel

Laila Lalami


A Mojave desert mystery: The Other Americans, by Laila Lalami, reviewed

After an elderly restaurant-owner is struck by a car in remote California, nine narrators take up the story

A fallen woman in a vicious world: Jack the Ripper’s last victim, depicted in Le Petit Parisien


Why are we so obsessed with Jack the Ripper, but care so little for his victims?

Almost a century after the Whitechapel murders, Peter Sutcliffe achieved similar notoriety — and his victims were also dismissed as prostitutes


The short, happy life of the long playing record

From its inception in 1948, the LP played an intrinsic part in the lives of millions, until superseded by compilation tapes


Brexit can be surprisingly thrilling, as Alan Judd’s latest spy novel demonstrates

Whatever happens with Brexit, Accidental Agent will still work and have relevance. Also reviewed: Chris Mullin, Delphine de Vignan and Un-Su Kim


The Englishman who saved Japan’s cherry blossoms

At the time, growing more than one kind of flowering cherry became a treasonable offence in Japan


How Polynesia came to be inhabited is still one of the world’s great mysteries

From Captain Cook onwards, the western world has been puzzled by how the vast Pacific could have been navigated relying only on the stars

Nina Stibbe. Credit: Alecsandra Raluca Dragoi


Further adventures of a dysfunctional family: Reasons to be Cheerful, by Nina Stibbe, reviewed

Now 18, Lizzie Vogel is caught between her racist boss, her shoplifting mother and her boyfriend who’d rather be birdwatching

The empress who was just too imperious: portrait of Matilda from the Golden Book of St Albans, 1380


The queen of England who never was: the life of the Empress Matilda

The daughter of Henry I and mother of the Plantagenet dynasty, Matilda should have been England's first ruling queen

Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Credit: Rex Features


Missive from a living fossil: Little Boy, by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, reviewed

Published to coincide with the author’s 100th birthday, the novel is full of excruciating puns, name-dropping and a dated reliance on Freud


In the pavilion of fun: Bowlaway, by Elizabeth McCracken, reviewed

The ebullient Bertha Truitt and her small-town bowling alley are central to McCracken’s rambunctious saga