The Current Issue

June 2024, Issue 530 Peter Davidson on Renaissance spies * Rosa Lyster on Richard Flanagan * Philip Snow on Zhou Enlai * William Whyte on Oxford Dons * Gyles Brandreth on diaries * Munro Price on Belle Epoque Paris * Barnaby Crowcroft on Abdel Nasser * Jonathan Keates on Adèle Hugo * Alex Goodall on theatrical culture wars * Sophie Duncan on queer Shakespeare * Tim Hornyak on nuclear war * Mike Lanchin on US borders * Alpa Shah on Narendra Modi * Miles Pattenden on Roman roads * Peter Oborne on cricket * Andrew Crumey on the Space Shuttle Challenger * Sophie Mackintosh on Joyce Carol Oates * Paddy Crewe on Kevin Barry * Stevie Davies on Hiromi Kawakami * and much, much more…  and much, much more…

Peter Davidson

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

In the 17th century, the Uffizi offered its visitors a rather more diverse range of exhibits than it does now, among them weapons made by some distant precursor of Q Branch. The Scottish traveller James Fraser on a visit to Florence in the 1650s recorded what he saw: ‘A rarity, five pistol barrels joined together to be put in your hat, which is discharged at once as you salute your enemy & bid him farewell … another pistol with eighteen barrels in it to be shot desperately and scatter through a room as you enter.’ It is not possible to go very far in the divided Europe of the early modern period without coming across some instance of the many kinds of covert activity that are chronicled in this genial and immensely readable work. The spirit of the age is captured in an extraordinary line in the poem ‘Character of an Ambassador’ by the Dutch polymath and diplomat Constantijn Huygens, which says that ambassadors are ‘honourable spies’... read more

More Articles from this Issue

Rosa Lyster

Question 7

By Richard Flanagan

H G Wells and Rebecca West are standing in front of a bookcase, talking frantically at each other about matters of literary style, moving closer and closer until they kiss. The physicist Leo Szilard is somewhere near the British Museum, staring down the street and watching the traffic lights change. A man in a Japanese prison camp is waiting to see if he will die of hunger or exhaustion, or be murdered by his guards when American forces invade. Post-kiss, an overwhelmed Wells darts off to Switzerland... read more

Gyles Brandreth

Full Disclosure

‘I always say, keep a diary and someday it’ll keep you.’ No one knows who came up with that line first. It might have been Lillie Langtry. It could have been Margot Asquith. What we do know is that the line was made famous by Mae West, who gave it to her character Peaches O’Day in the script for her 1937 film Every Day’s a Holiday. Every day is a diary day for me and has been since 1959, the year I turned eleven and my great-aunt Edith (a Lancashire infant school headmistress) gave me a shortened (and thoroughly expurgated)... read more

Philip Snow

Zhou Enlai: A Life

By Chen Jian

Few modern political leaders have been more versatile than Zhou Enlai. A journalist and recruiter in Paris in the early 1920s for the infant Chinese Communist Party (CCP), he reappeared repeatedly over the next few decades: as director of political affairs for the National Revolutionary Army set up to rid China of its warlords; as the spymaster managing the CCP intelligence network after the rift between the CCP and the Chinese Nationalist Party in 1927; as the Red Army’s chief decision-maker... read more

Sophie Duncan

Straight Acting: The Many Queer Lives of William Shakespeare

By Will Tosh

Will Tosh’s Straight Acting opens with a fleet-footed history of Shakespeare’s sexuality as presented in the scholarly literature and closes with Tosh’s own conclusion that Shakespeare was ‘bi rather than gold-star gay’. In between are seven chapters that reimagine Shakespeare’s life – and the lives of early modern men – as profoundly queer. The result is a creative and capacious book that moves smoothly between recorded and speculative history... read more

William Whyte

History in the House: Some Remarkable Dons and the Teaching of Politics, Character and Statecraft

By Richard Davenport-Hines

For those who fancy studying there, choosing an Oxford college can seem a daunting task. On paper – and online – they all present themselves as essentially the same. Their prospectuses uniformly claim that candidates will find them friendly, inclusive, supportive. Inevitably, they have at least one image of a suitably varied mix of students walking past ivy-covered walls. There’s almost always... read more

Paddy Crewe

The Heart in Winter

By Kevin Barry

The Heart in Winter, Kevin Barry’s first novel in five years, opens in Butte, Montana. It is the last decade of the 19th century and Butte, having been established as a mining camp in 1864, is now on the cusp of becoming one of the largest industrial cities in the American West. As with most boom towns of the period, its growth has been characterised by a furious influx of hopeful prospectors from across the globe, all of whom have little choice but to collide – in a simmering, spitting brew of class and culture... read more

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