Raising a Stink

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The repeal of Prohibition in the United States occurred the same week that federal judge John M Woolsey threw out obscenity charges against James Joyce’s Ulysses, delivering what must have been a double blow to the wowsers and moral guardians of 1930s America. Woolsey’s decision paved the way for the publication of Joyce’s monumental work […]

Hittites & Misses

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

His dark glasses are heavy and impenetrable. His hat lies low on his brow. The long peak leaves the rest of his face in shadow, deepened against the background of glaring sunshine and sand. Whose identity lurks behind the picture, purportedly of the author, on the dust jacket of 1177 BC? To judge from his […]

Building Mitteleuropa

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

There is a spectral presence in today’s Europe and it comes from the world of this book. When the Soviet Union broke up, its western regions saw the revival of states first brought into being by Germany almost a hundred years ago. On 3 March 1918, the Central Powers forced the Russians to sign the […]

Bird’s-Eye View

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The ancient Chinese classic of philosophical whimsy and platitude-busting, the Zhuangzi, includes an Aesopian fable about a peng – a sort of cosmic super-albatross that glides across the face of the earth at an impossible height – and a quail. While the tiny quail flutters busily about in the brambles, never getting more than ten […]

Sanctuary in the Mountains

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Caroline Moorehead’s previous book, A Train in Winter, tracks the destinies of women who suffered in France under the Nazis because they were resisters and ‘subversives’, or because they had helped others of their kind, and also Jews, to escape the Vichy machine of destruction. Although rightly admired for the scope and detail of its […]

Their Enemy’s Enemy

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Together with the Germans’, Stalin is alleged to have remarked, ‘we would have been invincible.’ For just under two brief years between August 1939 and June 1941 they were together, bound by an uncanny alliance forged on the eve of the Second World War. The British and French were not surprised. Their prejudice against the […]

Talking Turkey

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Ten or fifteen years ago, a title like this probably wouldn’t have appeared. The idea of Faber publishing a book on Turkey for a general audience only makes sense after a decade during which the country has risen steadily in international visibility and is now the focus of considerable political, economic and cultural attention. Alev […]

From Beijing to Xinjiang

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Sometimes China seems almost impossible to write about in any meaningful sense. While every country has regional, social and cultural variations, in China these internal differences – between east and west, rich and poor and so on – are often too profound to reconcile easily. Even the hoary notion that the entire country is under […]

Grizzled Man

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Werner Herzog is much more than just a filmmaker. He is an adventurer, an explorer, an athlete, a guru, a daredevil man of action, a pilgrim, a keen football player and cook, a curmudgeon and a crank. He is, possibly, a complete maniac. The great Pauline Kael, in an enviably apt phrase, called him a […]

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Only Connect

Posted on by Tom Fleming

List books! Huh! Good God, y’all, what are they good for? If they’re of the ‘1,000 Varieties of Potatoes You Absolutely Must Eat Before You Die’ variety – bought but never read and almost invariably dumped into charity shops by their ungrateful recipients – the answer is undoubtedly, to quote Edwin Starr, ‘absolutely nothing’. Ditto […]

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The Pearl of Paris

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Three opera composers of the highest class died before they were forty. Mozart’s oeuvre is so rich in variety and accomplished in technique that one could not wish for more: his achievement seems miraculously complete. But Bellini and Bizet each left only one outright masterpiece – Norma and Carmen respectively – alongside a pile of […]

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All Things Bright & Beautiful

Posted on by Tom Fleming

The naturalist Mark Cocker lives in a Norfolk village called Claxton, where most of what he chronicles in this book took place. I spent my first twenty-five years in a nearby village, and loved my place as intensely as he loves his. What’s more, I believed that I knew it intimately. I am now ashamed […]

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Song of the Earth

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Partway through this fascinating work we come across the Cornish painter Peter Lanyon (died 1964), and he seems to me unexpectedly emblematic of the whole. He came home from the Second World War to join the eagerly abstractionist movement of English artists that became known as the St Ives School. He was the one Cornishman […]

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More War than Peace

Posted on by Tom Fleming

It was, one supposes, inevitable. The bicentenary of the fall of Napoleon was simply too tempting a subject for authors and editors alike. I have spent virtually the whole summer wading through a series of new works on the French emperor. Notable among these are Napoleon: Soldier of Destiny, the first volume of a two-part […]

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Napoleonic Coda

Posted on by Tom Fleming

As we approach the two-hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and the jamboree of commemorations that it will unleash, it is perhaps salutary to ask what it is that we will be celebrating. Waterloo was Napoleon’s last battle, the defeat that condemned him to a second abdication and removal from the European stage. But […]

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There Be Vipers

Posted on by Tom Fleming

In the Alte Pinakothek in Munich hangs a quartet of paintings by Jan van Kessel the Elder (1626–79) showing the four continents then known to the West. Asia is represented by an elegant female figure with welcoming, outstretched arms suggestive of the riches awaiting Europe. Her turbaned companion stands guard beside her in an exotic […]

The Icemen Cometh

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Contemporary writing on the Antarctic reflects our gruesomely unheroic age. Men with frozen beards produce accounts of epic struggles replete with snapped-off digits and self-congratulatory morals about winning through and, more importantly, beating the other guy. If the other guy inconveniently ends up getting there first, he is inevitably revealed to have cheated. I remember […]

The City that Never Slept

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Midnight at the Pera Palace is a vibrant, entertaining and dazzlingly original social history not only of the city of Istanbul at the dawn of the modern era, but also of the many worlds that intersected in ‘the only place on earth to have been the epicenter of both Christendom and global Islam’. The story […]

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How to Spend It

Posted on by Tom Fleming

‘The wealthy invariably win’ is an observation by John Kampfner that has recently been given intellectual underpinning by Thomas Piketty, who in Capital in the Twenty-First Century came up with a neat little formula to prove that the rich always get richer relative to the rest of us because the rate of return on capital […]

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Who Runs the Show?

Posted on by Tom Fleming

So it’s all a big stitch-up by the rich and powerful, dutifully serenaded by craven politicians and crazed ideologues? Scrawled in the margins of my copy of The Establishment – And How They Get Away with It are my angry protests, double-underlinings with ‘No! No!’ beside them and inky shouts of ‘Rubbish!’, ‘Cop-out!’ and ‘This […]

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