Jesus Will Set You Free

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Was it mere coincidence that liberal secularism developed in the Christian west?’ With this rhetorical question, Larry Siedentop begins one of the most stimulating books of political theory to have appeared in many years. An intellectual historian who spent most of his career teaching in Oxford, Siedentop believes there was no coincidence involved. Secular liberal […]

The Scars of War

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

At the height of the Iraq War, David Finkel, a reporter for the Washington Post, embedded himself with a US infantry battalion in Baghdad and wrote an acclaimed book called The Good Soldiers. Then he followed the men home and watched many slip into a vortex of violence, despair and suicide. The result is Thank You for Your Service, a stunningly intimate portrayal of young veterans

Roads to Xanadu

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the summer of 1976, following a two-year stint as an exchange student, Timothy Brook headed out of China through Friendship Pass, a rail junction on the border with Vietnam. Having already been warned not to take a folded wall map out of the country by a customs official in Shanghai, Brook was confronted by a gleeful border guard who plucked it from his rucksack and immediately confiscated the offending object. As far as the guard was concerned, Brook writes at the beginning of Mr Selden’s Map of China, the map ‘did not merely represent China’s sovereignty: it was that sovereignty. For him, the map existed at a level of reality higher than the real world.’

Song of Exile

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

I can’t decide which lines from Richard II best reflect the melancholy story of the Song Dynasty Emperor Huizong (1082–1135): ‘And tell sad stories of the death of kings’ or ‘my large kingdom for a little grave,/A little little grave, an obscure grave’. The University of Washington’s Patricia Ebrey, a master historian of this period with […]

Bard of Subtopia

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Ian Nairn was an awkward, diffident, solitary man and, like Philip Larkin, a very English type of romantic – glum, drab and wistful. Gifted with a preternaturally acute sense of place and a richly evocative vocabulary, unhampered by any professional qualifications, he was the finest architectural critic and topographical writer of his generation. Through his […]

Harnessing the Peacock

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Art historians tend to be biography-averse; lives of artists, in presenting the day-to-day, fail to do justice to the work. This is not to say that the genre cannot amplify our understanding of a painter or sculptor. One has only to think of Hilary Spurling’s magnificent two-volume life of Matisse, which illuminates his ancestry and […]

Posted in 417 | Tagged | Comments Off on Harnessing the Peacock

Doomed Poets in Romantic Squalor

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

As the saying goes, history does not always necessarily repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes. When Philip Hubert, an idealistic architect, created the Chelsea Association Building (later, and most famously, the Chelsea Hotel) in the late 19th century, New York was two cities, one superimposed on the other. In the first, the wealthy lived in […]

Great Danes?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Scandinavia, or the Nordic countries if you want to include Finland and Iceland, does seem a bit of a marvel. To Labour supporters of my generation it was our ‘shining city on the hill’: an example of what democratic socialism could be like without lapsing into Soviet tyranny. Among the political Right it was either regarded as an embarrassment, suggesting that there was in fact ‘an alternative’ to liberal capitalism

Propping up the Roof of the World

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Tibet has always been a realm of fantasy as much as a province of reality. Remote and inaccessible, this mountain fastness has spawned myths ever since Herodotus wrote about its giant gold-digging ants. It has been the haunt of fabulous beasts: the ape-like yeti and the one-footed theurang, the wind horse and the snow lion. […]

Immodest Proposals

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin of English parents and sent to school in Kilkenny. He went on to Trinity College, Dublin, where his career was undistinguished, and then joined the household of the diplomat Sir William Temple. There are mysteries about his life and career, which are compounded by his own love of mystification. […]

Posted in 417 | Tagged | Comments Off on Immodest Proposals

Naked & Read

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It seems to be the season of ‘double lives’. I have on my desk galleys of The Double Life of Paul de Man, the reader-proof doyen of deconstruction who began his career in Belgium during the Second World War writing newspaper articles sympathetic to the Nazi cause. That was an aspect of his literary production […]

Yours Unfaithfully

Posted on by David Gelber

Isherwood completists will pounce on The Animals, the collected correspondence between the English author and Don Bachardy, his three-decades-younger American artist boyfriend. It follows the publication in four volumes of Isherwood’s unabridged diaries, each carefully edited by Katherine Bucknell and encouraged by Bachardy, now approaching eighty and still working. The most recent volume of the […]

All Beat Up

Posted on by David Gelber

‘I think that William Burroughs is the only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius’ – Norman Mailer. ‘Burroughs is the greatest satirical writer since Jonathan Swift’ – Jack Kerouac. ‘Burroughs has, principally, two claims on the attention of serious readers: as a moralist, and as an innovator. On both counts, it […]

My Precious

Posted on by David Gelber

Unlike coal, gas or oil, it is relatively easy to quantify how much gold has been accrued to date. In about 1400 the world’s entire supply of mined gold would have fitted into a six-foot cube. Today, if all the coins, bars, fillings and jewellery were converted to bullion bricks, they would cover a tennis […]

False Profits

Posted on by David Gelber

In modern Britain, an exercise in thought association around the phrase ‘management consultant’ is likely to lead to a diatribe about wasted public spending and weak government. Management consultants are those masters of the bullet-point presentation who get rich by selling Whitehall departments the ‘strategies’ that enable ministers to chant

Three Graces

Posted on by David Gelber

In 1913, when Perf Wyndham married the Honorable Diana Lister, an onlooker, observing the remarkable family assembled for the occasion, commented, ‘The Wyndham clan – all so beautiful and so well pleased with each other.’ The remark, while astutely nailing one of the feelings induced by reading about these intensely self-obsessed, largely leisured women for […]

Wit & Whiggery

Posted on by David Gelber

For Hugh Trevor-Roper the writing of a letter was part entertainment, part lecture and part therapy. He was clear that ‘if one never writes real letters one can never acquire the art of expressing one’s self, and at times it is such a relief to do so’. It was a form that allowed people to […]

Posted in 417 | Tagged | Comments Off on Wit & Whiggery

Dancing Queen

Posted on by David Gelber

One of the Indian subcontinent’s many paradoxes is that its menfolk still tend to regard the female sex as subservient to them while at the same time idolising women who refuse to play second fiddle. It explains the extraordinary hold that some women politicians have over the popular electorate, from Sonia Gandhi to Mamata Banerjee […]

Stakes of War

Posted on by David Gelber

Even if history is written by the victors, as the cliché goes, the losers usually get to tell their side of the story too. Nowadays, accounts of the First and Second World Wars and other conflicts, including the American Civil War, incorporate the perspectives of both sides to give a more intricate picture of how […]

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter