David Caute

The Millers’ tale

Arthur Miller, 1915-1962, by Christopher Bigsby Arthur Miller was born in 1915 in Jewish Harlem, the son of immigrants from the shtetl, enjoying comfortable family wealth until his father’s business collapsed. The key events in forming his political outlook were the Depression, the Spanish Civil War, the Cold War — and the slow-to-dawn truth about

Joan of Arc with connections

This is a book long anticipated, as much in dread of dire news from Zimbabwe as in expectation of brilliant reporting spiced by mordant wit. It does not disappoint. Judith Todd’s chronicle of Mugabe’s crimes against his people appals, yet the ‘life’ of the subtitle has been a high-spirited crusade for justice, democracy and freedom

Movies and talkies

Mornings in the Dark: The Graham Greene Reader edited by David Parkinson Arriving at Oxford in 1923, the young Graham Greene made one move he was to regret 30 years later, when applying for a US entry visa — he joined the Communist party for a few weeks. Much less regrettable, he appointed himself the

The day of the leopard

One point in Robert Mugabe’s favour, despite the Zimbabwean patriarch’s brutally protracted autumn, is that he was never planted in power by a CIA-supported coup d’état. As Larry Devlin’s self-congratulatory yet revealing memoir makes clear, the same cannot be said of Zaire’s esteemed dictator, Joseph Désiré Mobutu, otherwise known as Mobutu Sese Seko. Army chief

God in the brain

Contemporary atheist writers are increasingly inclined to forsake purely rationalist or psychological arguments against the existence of God. The current bunch are gnawing at the edges of neurological and genetic explanations, with the implication that religion may emerge as a ‘natural’, built-in navigational error. The subtitles of the two books under review say more about

The most charitable interpretation

Late November 1950: United Nations forces commanded by the legendary General Douglas MacArthur are approaching the North Korean frontier when Chinese forces suddenly strike, an overwhelming onslaught precipitating a devastating retreat. At a presidential press conference held on 30 November, Harry Truman is pressed by journalists whether the atomic bomb might now be used to

What the President saw

A staff writer for the Boston Globe, Mark Feeley is also a lecturer in American Studies at Brandeis University. I mention this because evidence has been accumulating these past 20-odd years that American Studies departments, like Cultural Studies, Film Studies and, of course, Media Studies are busily engaged in subverting that central but antiquated notion

Vanity fair and foul

The plumber came this morning — £75 including VAT. He was still expensively engaged when a bike brought Frederic Raphael’s Rough Copy in a paperback version whose glued spine is in constant contest with the reader. Anyway, surely an opportunity to recoup the plumber’s fee. Strangely, the author himself raises the question of my financial

Captain Yossarian rides again

Closing Time by Joseph Heller Scribner, £7.99, pp. 464 ISBN 0743239806 Fortune granted Joseph Heller’s generation, raised during the Depression, not only service in a war whose good intentions were universally applauded but, once in uniform, a standard of living previously unknown to a boy like Heller himself, brought up on Coney Island in a

These foolish things

Perhaps this strange volume is a bang on the nose for political correctness, but one cannot be sure. It could have been written in the 18th century by a deranged sage determined to scotch the more famous Encyclopaedia of the Enlightenment and its absurd faith in progress and human perfectibility. Published on April Fool’s Day,

Great helmsman or mad wrecker

KOBA THE DREAD: LAUGHTER AND TWENTY MILLIONby Martin AmisCape, £16.99, pp. 306, ISBN 0224063030 Eric Hobsbawm is arguably our greatest living historian – not only Britain’s, but the world’s (as the torrential translation of his oeuvre tends to confirm). The global reach of his knowledge and culture, his formidable linguistic armoury, his love of jazz

Plucking at the sighing harp of time

William Trevor is the voice of a civilised Anglo-Ireland capable of apologising for ancient privileges and extensive estates while discreetly lamenting their departure. Laying out and constantly refolding a finely observed landscape (County Cork) of water, rock and sand, of religious divide and class deference, Trevor conveys the baffled rage of Fenian fire-bombers and the