Looking for a Fix

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Since 1993, when the Drug Enforcement Administration realised that the killing of Pablo Escobar had made no impression on the price of cocaine on American streets, practically every British newspaper has run editorials urging politicians to rethink drugs policy, up to and including legalisation. Yet politicians still regard legalisation as a ‘third rail’ issue guaranteed […]

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Hi Ho, Rocinante

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In late 1960, in those uneasy weeks between John F Kennedy’s September speech to Protestant ministers in Houston – where he assured them, ‘I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president who happens also to be a Catholic’ – and Boynton v Virginia, the US Supreme Court’s […]

Inner Space

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Does the fact that a violent psychopath’s brain is likely to show deficits in the right ventromedial frontal cortex ‘explain’ his behaviour or is this just a description of a bad person’s brain? If it does explain it, in a causative sense, does it excuse the individual from moral responsibility? If so, can it also […]

The Sense of an Ending

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This book could not have appeared at a more timely moment. On 18 July 2014, the Assisted Dying Bill presented by Lord Falconer was given a second reading in the House of Lords. The bill would make it possible for mentally competent, terminally ill people to have the assistance of doctors and nurses to end […]

Dancing Queen

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Any social history of the 1930s should devote at least a paragraph to the Baby Ballerinas – three Russian teenagers whose dancing caused a sensation throughout the Western world. Stars of the Ballets Russes companies that continued Diaghilev’s mission after his death in 1929, they combined astounding technique with precocious artistry, fuelled by inexhaustible funds […]

Who’s in the Driver’s Seat?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘The factory of the future will have only two employees: a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.’ You’ll find Warren Bennis’s dictum among the comments on many recent articles about the joblessness of the economic […]

Better Now?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Some of you may, even today, be poised to write ‘Happy Birthday’ on a card. Reader, hold thy pen! Consider what you are saying to the birthday boy or girl. There is an implied imperative. So what if my birthday is not in fact happy? What if it’s miserable? Am I therefore a failure (as […]

Big Game Hunter

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

For a man who died more than four years ago, Tony Judt remains remarkably prolific. During his lifetime he built a well-deserved reputation as one of the most combative, clear-sighted and illuminating historians of his generation, crowned by Postwar, his sweeping history of Europe after 1945. In 2008 he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a horrible condition that left him paralysed from the neck down. In the summer of 2010, at the age of only sixty-two, he died.

Together We Stand

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The family has been and still is, for better or worse, the core institution of all human societies. It has demonstrated a remarkable robustness in the face of all the environmental and man-made shocks that history has thrown at it. That extraordinary durability says something about the fundamental biological and social imperatives that make humans […]

Rolling in It

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Lee Jackson is a celebrated ‘Victorianist’ who knows London as well as any cab driver. He has previously given us A Dictionary of Victorian London and Walking Dickens’ London. Now he has written a dark and faeculent history of the mud-spattered underbelly of the great waddling beast. Jackson has a keen eye for human behaviour, […]

Sins of the Sisters

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Hubert Wolf is a distinguished German ecclesiastical historian whose study of the nuns of Sant’Ambrogio was first published in German in 2013. It has been quickly translated and it is easy to see why. Based on a file of inquisitional reports that had lain concealed in the Vatican archive for a century and a half, […]

‘Re-enchanting the World’

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The word ‘illustrated’ suggests, if not an easy ride, then at least an easier one than most histories of the Reformation provide and this volume, brilliantly assembled by Peter Marshall, has the feel of a primer. But it is much more than that. The seven contributors, including Marshall himself, are at the top of the […]

Soft Power

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

After books devoted to coal, cod, sugar, salt, tea, coffee, the potato and countless other household staples, along comes cotton. The futures market in commodity titles has never looked brighter. This may not be the first volume devoted to our favourite textile, but it is the most ambitious and probably the most important. Claiming cotton […]

Bring Up the Bodies

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The work of Timothy Tackett on the French Revolution has made him one of its most influential recent historians. As long ago as 1986 he produced a still-definitive analysis of the first and deepest divide within the Revolution, the split among Catholics over the clerical oath of 1791. Ten years later he traced in unprecedented […]

Place of Terror

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Ravensbrück was never intended as a death camp. The only concentration camp built entirely for women, it was planned by Himmler as a place of labour and re-education for prostitutes, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses and vagrants – all the ‘undesirables’ of the new Nazi Germany. But as Sarah Helm documents with meticulous thoroughness, such was the level of brutality that the women died, first in their tens, then in their hundreds and finally in their thousands.

All Change, Please

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Paul Barolsky is a freak – a tenured academic (professor of art history at the University of Virginia) who avoids footnotes; who writes bite-size paragraphs and mini-sections with startling headlines rather than structured chapters; who makes jokes and has jokey titles (Michelangelo’s Nose); who revels in lateral thinking, fast-forwarding and degrees of separation (‘From Ovid […]

When Blue Met Yellow

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

For a relatively short book, Michel Pastoureau’s thought-provoking Green: The Story of a Color is crammed with so many intriguing facts and displays such wide and deep learning that it would be churlish to dwell at length on those aspects of his subject that he conspicuously neglects. Still, a spot of churlishness does no one […]

Object of Desire

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The ancient story of Europa forms part of a broader mythological amalgam involving fertility, moon worship and eastern Mediterranean migrations. In classical mythology, Europa is the daughter of Agenor, king of Tyre. Zeus, falling in love with her, disguises himself as a bull among her father’s cattle grazing by the sea and swims off with […]

From Mogadishu to Missouri

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Is there any country on earth for whom the modern nation-state has been such a curse as Somalia? Perhaps it’s an unfair question, since there is so little history to go on. From high hopes on independence in 1960, when the former Italian territory of Somalia was united with its northwestern neighbour, British Somaliland, it […]

Destination Kugluktuk

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Kathleen Winter was working as an itinerant writer, with three books of fiction to her name, when a friend called saying he had been offered a berth as writer-in-residence on a tourist ship. The two-week journey was to begin on the east coast of Greenland and proceed across the Davis Strait and through the channels […]


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