Piers Paul-Read

The road to Damascus

Saint Paul is unique among those who have changed the course of history — responsible not just for one but two critical historical developments 15 centuries apart. First, he persuaded the early followers of Jesus of Nazareth that gentiles as well as Jews could belong to their nascent church. This enabled its spread throughout the

Emile in exile

Michael Rosen, a poet, journalist and prolific author of novels for children, has written an account of Emile Zola’s year’s exile in England between July 1898 and June 1899, as a result of his involvement in the Dreyfus Affair in France. It is not a dispassionate work of history but a homage to Zola, ‘a

Do miracles happen?

Two recent popes are to be canonised on 17 April next year: Angelo Roncalli, Pope John XXIII, and Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II. Both are being declared saints in haste: conventionally the Church has waited for a few hundred years for the dust to settle, with slow promotion from ‘venerable’ to ‘blessed’, before declaring

An Officer and a Gentleman, by Robert Harris – review

The Dreyfus Affair, the furore caused by a miscarriage of justice in France in 1894, is a source of perennial interest. It raises questions of national identity, political morality and personal integrity that are still relevant today with immigration, Euroscepticism and dodgy dossiers. It is also, as Emile Zola recognised, a gripping story: ‘What a

Noble Endeavours, by Miranda Seymour – review

Like Miranda Seymour, the author of this considerable work on Anglo-German relations, I was raised in a Germanophile home. I spent summer holidays on the Bodensee and, after graduating from university, lived for a year in Munich and then another in Berlin. It seems to me a pity that my children and most of my

Satan is back

It used to be said by Catholic priests back in the 1950s that the Devil was delighted when human beings decided that he did not exist. In those days it seemed unlikely that he would disappear altogether from human consciousness because he was so well known — as Baal or Beelzebub in the Old Testament,

Benedict XVI in perspective

In March 2005, when it became clear that Pope John Paul II would soon die, Boris Johnson asked me to write a piece for The Spectator predicting who would be chosen as the next pope. With no special insight into the minds of the cardinals, I ran through the possibilities that had been mentioned in

Diary – 7 February 2013

In a recent exchange of emails, my Member of Parliament, Mr Andy Slaughter, told me he intended to vote in favour of same-sex marriage. No doubt by now he has done so. He said he believed it to be an extension of human rights. I replied that, just as there can be reductio ad absurdum,

Horrors too close to home

Reading this new edition of W.G. Sebald’s discursive meditation upon the blanket bombing of German civilians during the second world war took me back to Berlin in the early 1960s when German writers from the Gruppe 47 were in the ascendant, and no self-respecting avant-garde author wrote novels with stories or plots. They did not

In a Greene shade | 26 May 2012

One of the unanticipated benefits of British rule in India is the body of distinguished writing in the English language coming from the Indian diaspora — Naipaul, Seth, Rushdie, Mistry, Mishra and Pico Iyer. Iyer, however, is atypical in that he was born in Oxford, lived in California, and was educated at Eton and Oxford.

A bitter legacy

André and Simone Weil are hardly household names in Britain today, but in the world of mathematics the former is acknowledged as a genius for his work on number theory; and to many philosophers, André’s sister, Simone, is both a genius and a saint. André and Simone Weil are hardly household names in Britain today,

Misogyny is not just for men

‘Was it Vauvenargues or Chamfort,’ asks Pierre Costals in Henri de Montherlant’s novel Pity for Women, ‘who said that one must choose between loving women and understanding them?’ Most men would rather love women than understand them, and most women would rather be loved than understood. Women particularly resent men taking a scalpel to dissect,

Between cross and crescent

By the time the First Crusade was launched by Pope Urban II in 1095, Christendom had been at war with Islam for almost 400 years. In the view of Al- Qa’eda the crusades are on-going; however, Barnaby Rogerson’s Last Crusaders are not George Bush and Tony Blair, nor even Jan Sobieski who raised the siege

The Muslims’ letter to the Pope is not all it seems

The Muslims’ letter to the Pope is not all it seems At first sight the letter from 138 prominent Muslim scholars and imams to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders published last week, ‘A Common Word Between Us and You’, is a welcome statement of a number of obvious truths — that Christianity and

What’s become of Baring?

Maurice Baring is one of those writers of whom it is periodically said that he is unjustly forgotten and ripe for reappraisal. In his own lifetime, he was a prolific and popular author: a uniform edition of his work published by Heinemann in 1925 lists over 50 works — novels, plays, anthologies, poetry, memoirs and

The Pope was not attacking Islam

Piers Paul Read says that the controversial nature of the Pope’s address has been missed in the furore over Muslim sensitivities: he was daring to equate Europe and Christendom When he delivered his lecture on ‘Faith, Reason and the University’ in Regensburg last week, Pope Benedict XVI said some provocative and contentious things. His comment

Post-war feuds and dilemmas

Albert Camus was an exceptional man who lived in interest- ing times. His parents were pieds-noirs — French settlers in Algeria. His father died at the battle of the Marne and he was raised by his mother, an illiterate cleaning lady. Encouraged by inspired teachers, he won scholarships to a lycée and then university in

The man who should be Pope

Pope John Paul II’s recovery from his tracheotomy in the Gemelli Hospital in Rome will have delighted his well-wishers, but it may have come as a disappointment to the Pope himself. He would like to die in harness and, realising that he can no longer pull the barque of the Church with the same vigour

Decline and ascent

As a rule I decline to review books by old friends: it puts either one’s integrity or the friendship at risk. I make an exception of Father Joe because I first read it six months ago, prior to its publication in New York and, while not as overwhelmed as many American reviewers — Andrew Sullivan

The Catholic Cheshire Cat

Yvonne Cloetta, the French wife of a Swiss businessman, was Graham Greene’s mistress for the last 30 or so years of his life. Her husband spent most of the year in Africa; she lived at Juan les Pins with her two daughters, Greene in a flat overlooking the harbour in Antibes. When I first met