The Current Issue

June 2021, Issue 497 Sarah Watling on antiquaries * Jonathan Meades on assassins * Joanna Walters on the Sacklers * Simon King on private spies * Mark Mulholland on utopians * Max Norman on Garibaldi's progress * John Burnside on George Mackay Brown * Lawrence Freedman on the Cuban Missile Crisis * Freya Johnston on Grub Street intrigue * Simon Cartledge on Hong Kong * Jane O'Grady on David Hume * Bijan Omrani on an Eton memoir * Gavin Plumley on Billy Wilder in Vienna and Berlin * Miranda Popkey on Rachel Cusk * Lucian Robinson on Keith Ridgway *  and much, much more…

Sarah Watling

Time’s Witness: History in the Age of Romanticism

By Rosemary Hill

In August 1815, only weeks after the French defeat at Waterloo, the novelist Walter Scott set out to visit the battlefield. Standing on the spot from where Napoleon had supposedly watched the battle, Scott experienced ‘a deep and inexpressible feeling of awe’, before being besieged by hawkers. He came away with a number of mementos, including the skull of a Life Guardsman. Then he went home and wrote The Antiquary, a novel in which, Rosemary Hill observes, ‘the idea of a lived relationship between past and present, enacted through artefacts, emerges for the first time as a theme in literature’. It was also the ‘first self-portrait’ of an antiquary in British... read more

More Articles from this Issue

Jonathan Meades

Day of the Assassins: A History of Political Murder

By Michael Burleigh

In times like these we have to rue that Britain has only a paltry tradition of political assassination. This, I’d propose, is not a mark of civilisation but of timidity and the eschewal of realpolitik. To overcome our squeamishness, we might gainfully study this breathless race through two thousand years of special pollarding, which might have been more aptly named ‘Assassination: A Handbook’, for it is, among much else, an inventory of means and... read more

John Burnside

An Orkney Tapestry

By George Mackay Brown

‘Art, considered as the expression of any people as a whole, is the response they make in various mediums to the impact that the totality of their experience makes upon them, and there is no sort of experience that works so constantly and subtly upon man as his regional environment,’ wrote Mary Austin in The English Journal in 1932.  ‘It orders and determines all the direct, practical ways of his getting up and lying down, of staying in and going out, of housing and ... read more

Lawrence Freedman

Nuclear Folly: A New History of the Cuban Missile Crisis

By Serhii Plokhy

The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 still provides a compelling and dramatic story that is worth retelling. It is a story with a limited cast and a clear plot line spread over a few days. For most people, it began on Monday 22 October when President John F Kennedy announced the discovery of Soviet nuclear missile bases on Cuba and demanded that they be removed. The tension eased a little on 25 October, when Soviet ships presumed ... read more

Freya Johnston

The Poet and the Publisher: The Case of Alexander Pope, Esq., of Twickenham versus Edmund Curll, Bookseller in Grub Street

By Pat Rogers

In the course of an extraordinarily productive career spanning six decades, Pat Rogers has written cogently, perceptively and memorably about all kinds of literature, as well as about the character and capacities of literary criticism. His powers of scrutiny and summary are often arresting and always dedicated to resisting imprecision. In his latest book, Rogers imparts... read more

Darrin M McMahon

The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World

By Adrian Wooldridge

Meritocracy has come in for some hard knocks of late. Critical race theorists, egalitarians and others on the left deride meritocracy as ideology, a mechanism for perpetuating and legitimising hierarchy, elite privilege and structural inequities. Populists on the right are no less contemptuous, dismissing elites who claim to owe their positions in society to superior ability and effort as the shills of a system that is ‘rigged’. Prominent critics... read more

Joanna Walters

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty

By Patrick Radden Keefe

The Sackler name adorns the buildings of many elite arts and academic institutions, from the Metropolitan, Guggenheim and Smithsonian museums to Harvard, Yale and Oxford universities, Tate Modern, the V&A and the Louvre. It even appears in a stained-glass window at Westminster Abbey. That’s what hundreds of millions of dollars of philanthropy buys you. Such money has also earned members of this elusive family access to refined circles, mansions and... read more

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