Peter Carty

A horrifying glimpse of Syria’s torture cells

A young Syrian man is walking down a street in Damascus. He is a computer geek who likes rock music and basketball, and he’s enjoying his summer break from university. A car draws up beside him. He’s shoved inside and blindfolded. Shortly after, he finds himself strung up by his wrists in a dungeon. A

Steam trains make a comeback under the guise of heritage

So far as most of us are concerned, steam trains vanished in a puff of smoke back in the 1960s, around the time much of the railway network itself disappeared. Other than a few survivors pulling day-trippers along short stretches of track, the received wisdom is that steam is over. Yet the reality is different.

The deadly war game of the Battle of the Atlantic

My father served in the Royal Navy during the second world war. He drank over-proof rum and smoked unfiltered cigarettes, both free of charge, while wearing a uniform that enhanced his natural attractions. What more could any teenager want? Of course, there were hazards in store when he set out from Liverpool. Worst of all

Guns and poppies

My uncle Edward did not like talking about his service in Burma during the second world war. When I asked him what fighting in the jungle was like, his response was brief. ‘Grown men were crying for their mothers,’ he said, and would say no more: the worst combat theatre of that war was not

A sea of troubles

Donal Ryan is one of the most notable Irish writers to emerge this decade. So far he has produced five volumes of fiction set in post-millennial Ireland. What sets him apart is a striking facility for narrative voice as well as a startling diversity of protagonists. His first novel, The Spinning Heart — about a

Fit for the gods

For many of us, coffee is the lift that eases the load of our working day. Yet the sharpened mental focus it offers is rarely directed towards its origins. Coffee’s birthplace is Ethiopia and its beans remain high on caffeine aficionados’ hit lists. They produce smooth brews that carry an extraordinary range of tastes —

Puffing through the Punjab

‘I went to a restaurant the other day called Taste of the Raj. The waiter hit me with a stick and got me to build a complicated railway system.’ The comedian Harry Hill’s gag is an acerbic commentary on the British empire, but there can be no doubt that India’s modern history is intimately intertwined

The last great adventure

Towards the end of his life, Robert Louis Stevenson travelled widely in the central and southern Pacific Ocean. As well as the region’s exotic reputation, he was drawn by hopes that its benign climate would alleviate his chronic bronchial problems. In 1889 he arrived in Samoa and decided to settle there. He was a hit

The last great pandemic

The symptoms of the Spanish flu could be ghastly. Perhaps Laura Spinney should have chosen her title with more care because rather than becoming pale and interesting, as with tuberculosis, frequently the flu’s victims turned completely black before dying. ‘It is hard,’ one US army doctor observed, ‘to distinguish the colored men from the white.’

Descent into hell

In my work as a reviewer, a small, steady proportion of all the books publishers send me concern the Holocaust. With middle age has come a curious foreshortening of my perspective on modern history so that, paradoxically, the Nazis’ inhumanity has begun to seem less distant in time and, therefore, more horrible still. Fortunately I