Patrick Skene-Catling

Stirling Moss’s charmed life in the fast lane

‘Who do you think you are — Stirling Moss?’ a genially menacing traffic cop would ask a hapless motorway transgressor. At the peak of his popularity as the most successful English motor-racing driver, Moss personified the glamorous daredevilry of racing at top speed. Richard Williams, the author of this sympathetic, exhaustive anatomy of an international

How St Ives became Barbara Hepworth’s spiritual home

‘To see a world in a grain of sand’, to attain the mystical perception that Blake advocated, requires a concentrated, fertile imagination. Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975), one of the leading and most popular British sculptors of the 20th century, fervently imagined that her works expressed cosmic grandeur and her own spiritual aspirations. In the foreword to

Why Niki Lauda was considered the bravest man in sport

Formula One motor racing is the perennial, worldwide contest that most reliably gratifies hero-worshipping, power-worshipping, money-worshipping, technology-worshipping ghouls, and some others. The ghoulishness may be subconscious but it certainly seems to excite many spectators at every Grand Prix track, especially in foul weather, as drivers approach sharp turns flat out. If you heard of a

The Mutiny and the bounty

Sullying the glorious sunshine, sand and sea, Miami in the 1940s, when I first ventured there, was already overcrowded, vulgar and exorbitant. It got a lot worse. By the early 1980s, the period to which this sensational criminal history is devoted, it had become the capital of Cubans in exile and America’s most prosperous cocaine

Mastering rocket science

Now that we are stupidly rendering Earth almost entirely uninhabitable by many species including our own (through overcrowding, failing political systems, chemical pollution and climate disorder), a few humans of means are looking forward to migrating soon to other planets, even though, as yet, there are no good hotels and restaurants there. Scientists, stimulated by

Death at the top

Agatha Christie’s spirit must be loving this poisonous new historical entertainment. Eleanor Herman has already enjoyed the success of Sex with Kings and Sex with the Queen, thoroughly researched, gossipy revelations of promiscuity among monarchs and their noble retainers during the Renaissance. She is an American author and broadcaster, born in Baltimore, now living in

Homo Erect Us

Ever since enlivenment of the primordial blob, before thoughts were first verbalised, all nature has always been motivated by a dynamic ambition to improve, to grow stronger, more agile, inventive and fertile. The successful continuously grow more successful; the failures disappear. This selective, upward process has been defined as evolution. Dr Adam Rutherford, a British

Family fallout | 2 August 2018

Savi Naipaul Akal’s publishing house is named after the peepal tree, in whose shade Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment. The author’s industriously detailed memoir reveals nothing quite so brilliantly life-enhancing but presents persuasive statements in favour of family loyalty, domestic order and higher education, while allowing herself opportunities to express resentment of a

From New York to the New Hebrides

Publication of a debut novel is an experience comparable with the birth of a first child. Literary gestation is normally a longer process, and delivery of a book is more deeply fraught. Here is some evidence that the labour can be worthwhile. Asymmetry (Granta, £14.99) by Lisa Halliday, a young American now living in Milan,

School of Soho

This is an important, authoritative work of art criticism that recognises schools of painters, yet displays the superior distinctions of individual geniuses. Martin Gayford, The Spectator’s art critic, concedes that the identification by R.B. Kitaj, an American painter, of a ‘substational School of London’ was ‘essentially correct’, though in London there was no ‘coherent movement

An unprincipled Principal

‘Dreaming spires’? Yes, but sometimes there are nightmares. Brian Martin, awarded the MBE for services to English literature, is at home in Oxford, where he spent most of his career teaching, and seems to know all about the professional and psychological complexities of the university. Holt College, his fourth novel, written with dedicated probity and

Harsh, but entertaining

When millionaires become billionaires they become even greedier and more ruthless. At the highest level, Trumpian economics can be lethal. Edward St Aubyn, in his powerful new novel Dunbar, applies the oxyacetylene brilliance and cauterisation of his prose to bear on the tragic endgame of a family’s internecine struggle for control of a global fortune.

Verse and worse

Molly Brodak, a fair, young Polish-American born in Michigan, is a winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize. Iowa: that hotbed of academic creative writing! Her poems, published in A Little Middle of the Night, are intensely private, pointillist compositions of unconnected images. Now, teaching at Emory University in Atlanta, she has written her first book

Lessons in sex

Helen Gurley Brown’s internationally influential career, as the author of Sex and the Single Girl and editor of Cosmopolitan, is revealed in this intimate biography in 50 shades of pink. ‘Let it be understood at the outset,’ writes Gerri Hirshey, an American freelance journalist for many upmarket periodicals: Sex has imbued the soft core, hard

The axeman cometh | 11 August 2016

All organic beings descended from a single primordial blob, according to Darwin. Some of them developed sufficiently to leave the commodious depths and widths of the sea to scramble ashore. Was that wise? In this intricately detailed history, David Miles, a distinguished Oxford archaeologist, takes up the story of human evolution since our species and

The wicked old Paris of the Orient

Here’s the Mandarin for ooh-la-la! As Taras Grescoe, a respected Canadian writer of nonfiction, shows in this marvellous, microscopically descriptive history of what is now one of the most populous and smoggiest megalopolises on earth, Shanghai in the 1930s was internationally notorious as ‘the wicked old Paris of the Orient’, with ‘as vivid a cast

The great monkey puzzle

King Kong, the story of a violently amorous gorilla, Me Cheeta, the autobiography of a slanderous Hollywood chimpanzee, and now this, a benign biological, psychological and cultural survey, comes in further recognition of the versatility of our primate cousins. Both collateral branches of our family seem doomed (too many humans, too few apes), unless. .