William Leith

Was this footballer killed for scoring against the Nazis?

Vienna, April 1938. To mark the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by the Third Reich, the German football team plays a match against the Austrian team, which will cease to exist when the match is over. The Austrians are much better, but can’t seem to score – aha, the match has been fixed by the

No one ‘got’ the Sixties better than David Bailey

What caught my eye towards the end of Look Again was this conversation between David Bailey and the shoe designer Manolo Blahnik. They are talking about a brief golden age, a perfect moment in their lives: Blahnik: So sometimes I just have to sit down and say: ‘God, did all this happen?’ All the excitement,

Living on a nuclear submarine does your head in

Richard Humphreys spent a good part of five years, between the ages of 18 and 23, living inside a nuclear submarine, which he describes variously as ‘sleek, black and athletic looking’, and ‘this fierce black messenger of death’, and ‘this huge, black leviathan’, and ‘a killing machine’, and ‘silent as death’. The first time he

Closure at last | 1 August 2019

This is horrible. But it’s a book by Mark Bowden, who wrote Black Hawk Down and Killing Pablo, so it’s compelling: an almost perfect true crime story. Two sisters, aged ten and 12, disappeared from a shopping mall in 1975 and were never seen again. What happened to them was a mystery for 40 years.

A deadly box of chemicals

Do you remember the swine flu panic a decade ago? Jeremy Brown, the author of this book, describes it here. In March 2009, 60 people died in Mexico. The cause: a flu-type virus. The Mexican government ‘closed schools, banned public gatherings, and ordered troops to hand out face masks at subway stations’. This flu crossed

The spirit of Christmas past

This book, an excellent history of Christmas, made me think of a Christmas cartoon strip I once saw in Viz magazine. There’s a couple. It’s Christmas Eve. The man goes out to buy the woman a present. On the way, he steps into a pub for a few drinks. Much later, drunk, having missed the

Soaked in blood and symbolism

We’re in Virginia, in the 1850s. A girl called Emily is tormenting her dog, Champion, and her father’s teenage slave, Rawls. Seeing this, Emily’s father, Bob, beats her with his belt and kicks the dog. Of Rawls, Bob says: ‘Now leave him be so he can get about my business!’ A girl, a dog, a

Drugs, guns and blood

The Spanish journalist Alberto Arce worked for Associated Press in Honduras in 2012 and 2013. After a year, he says: ‘My wife and daughter left me. It was the right choice.’ Arce stayed on in the capital, Tegucigalpa, ‘fighting against addictions, sadness and depression’. He believes he ‘won’ that fight, ‘but only because each morning

Sweet dreams are made of this

I’ve read several books​ ​about​ ​sleep recently,​ ​and​ ​their​ ​authors​ ​all​ ​tell​ ​me​ ​the same​ ​three​ ​things.​ ​The​ ​first​ ​is​ ​that,​ ​in​ ​the modern​ ​world,​ ​it’s​ ​hard​ ​to​ ​get​ ​enough sleep.​ ​The​ ​second​ ​is​ ​that​ ​sleep​ ​is​ ​very important.​ ​Every​ ​night,​ ​we​ ​pass​ ​out.​ ​Every morning,​ ​we​ ​regain​ ​consciousness, half aware​ ​that​ ​time​ ​has​ ​passed.​

Manning up

Is this the best book I’ve ever read on the subject of masculinity? Maybe it is, I thought, the first time I read it. And then I thought, Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full is about masculinity. So is Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon, David Vann’s Goat Mountain and Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. But

Two dark tales

Just over halfway through this grim and gripping book, the author describes herself and her girlfriend ‘lying on my bed kissing’. She says: ‘I love kissing her.’ And: ‘We kissed and kissed, and soon my hands were at her shirt and I was tugging it off.’ And: ‘I kissed her again.’ And: ‘I reached down

Cold comfort | 25 May 2017

All animals, Scott Carney tells us, seek comfort. But human beings are a bit different. We don’t need to spend much time actively seeking it. He’s right: it’s all around us — in your nice warm house, your air-conditioned car, your shoes, your bed, the temperate shopping mall you visit. Here in the affluent west,

His and her healthcare

When I started this book, I have to admit, I did not think it would be as absolutely fascinating as it turned out to be. It’s by a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, and it’s about the medical differences between men and women. There are lots of medical differences between men and women — something

A force for good

When I saw this book, a biography of Huw Wheldon, who was managing director of BBC Television between 1968 and 1975, I thought ‘Aha!’ Inevitably, my mind was filled with images -of Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall, of the Led Zeppelin guitar riff at the start of Top of the Pops, of the men in

A sex vampire on wheels

The title of this book tells you a lot. Jack Sutherland, who grew up in London and Los Angeles, worked as a personal assistant to Michael Stipe, the singer in REM and, later, to Mickey Rourke. He also worked as a limo driver in Hollywood. A drug addict, he gravitated toward crystal meth, which can

Warning: this book only contains strong language

Dan Marshall, the author of this memoir, loves to swear. ‘It’s very difficult for me to write a sentence without using a bad word,’ he tells us. ‘That last sentence, for instance, was fucking impossible for me to write.’ Dan is young, rich and American. One day, in his twenties, he and his girlfriend, Abby,

Even worms and vampire bats do it

I used to think we had five senses — sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. And I used to think I knew how they worked. Using specialised instruments, such as eyes, ears and fingertips, they gave us information about the outside world. I imagined that the eye saw things, and then told the brain what