Culture Clash

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

AT THE TIME of the Cold War there may have been two superpowers, equally capable of obliterating each other with nuclear weapons, but in some thmgs they were very unequal: notably culture. In the century before the Iron Curtain came down America had managed to produce no one of the calibre of Dostoevski, Chekhov, Tchaikovsky, […]

Anatomy of a Terrorist

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

THIS BOOK IS an eye-opener for all those who doubted A the need to go to war to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan or Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Despite its liberal author’s wishes. it mav even voint towards the inevitabilitv of an ~mkricank ar in iran to to.v ~leth e * Islamic regime there. But […]

A Communist’s Progress

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

GEORGI DIMITROV SPRANG from obscurity to worldwide fame in spring 1933, when the Nazis burnt the Reichstag. an institution of the Weimar Republic that stood in the way of their total control over the state. The German authorities arrested the stooge Marinus van der Lubbe, who had, probably at Goering’s instigation, actually set fire to […]

Tormented At The End

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

REVIEWING THE FIRST volume of Victor Klemperer’s daries, covering the years 1933-41, I compared him to Victor Meldrew and suggested that the sheer bloody-mindedness of this grumpy, middle-aged man attained nobility when pitted against the Third Reich. His determination to continue his academic research after being dismissed from his university job was admirable. Given the […]

Watching The River Flow

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

AS ROBERT O COLLINS admits in the bibliographical essay that concludes this excellent book, there is no shortage of literature about the Nile. From works about the search for its source to those about the discovery of the origins of man on its banks, and from Herodotus to Agatha Christie, the Nile’s waters have flooded […]

Decline and Rise

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In 1945, when Japan surrendered after the two atomic bombs were dropped, Emperor Hirohito broadcast to the nation on Japanese radio. It was the first time anyone outside the close confines of the royal court had ever heard his voice. The opening words of his speech accepting the terms of the Potsdam Declaration were: ‘After pondering […]

Rebel Province

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

THINK OF A vast area, inhabited by a small population of deeply religious people, and occupied by the Chinese, who despise the local culture and crush dissent. Tibet, surely. Could be – but this much-needed book is about Xinjiang, the far-western ‘Semi-autonomous Region’ which the Chinese have tried to subdue for over two thousand years. […]

Tales from the Catacombs

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

SINCE ITS GREAT years as capital of the Holy Roman Empire, Prague has experienced all the ways in which a city can decline without dying. It has been home to some of the greatest scientists, artists, musicians and writers of modern times, even while being more or less continuously under foreign, or at any rate […]

A Committed Poet

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

ON A  Spring day in 1913 Annn Wickham stood in her Hampstead garden and yelled her poem ‘Nervous Prostration’ at her husband, Patrick Hepburn: I married a man of the Croydon class When I was twenty-two. And I vex him, and he bores me Till we don’t know what to do! And as I sit in […]

Lamb Stew

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

WORDSWORTH DESCRIBED CHARLES Lamb and his older sister Mary as ‘a double tree / with two collateral stems sprung from one root’. They were the most intimate of companions, apparently inseparable. ‘As, amongst certain classes of birds, if you have one you are sure of the other, so, with respect to the Lambs; observed De […]

Andrew Lycett Talks To Jan Morris

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

As NIMBLE AT conveying the vagaries of power in Southern Africa, as the play of light on Venice lagoon or the patter of the New Yorker, Jan Morris is the great virtuoso of travel writers, sometimes summoning the energy of a full verbal orchestra, on other occasions reflecting with the poignancy of a carefully stopped […]

Some Kind Of A Man

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

How MANY BOOKS do we really need on Orson Welles? On my shelves alone there are three filmographic studies plus six and a halfbiographies, the halfbecause we are still awaiting Volume Two of the Simon Callow epic, getting on for five years after the publication of Volume One. And still they come, thudding off the […]

The Busiest Man in England

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

JOSEPH PAXTON’S GREAT patron, the sixth Duke of Devonshire (always called the Bachelor Duke), was one of the richest men in England. Owner of many great houses besides Chatsworth, his palace in Derbyshire, he was an obsessive collector of books, statuary, pictures, precious objects of every kind. Plants, however, were his consuming passion and Paxton, […]

The Man behind the Masque

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

MY FATHER HAS often told me of the bl ack sheep in the family, whose maltreatment of his unfortunate wife, the eldest daughter of the Earl of Burlington, drove her to an ea rly d ea th, thu s depriving his descendants of Burlington’s superl ative art coll ec tion , including the finest drawings […]

Everybody Loved Her

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

THE EMPRESS JOSEPHINE has already been the subject of nearly sixty biographies, not to mention countless historical novels, and Andrea Stuart makes no claim to have unearthed new facts. But she makes the story exciting and touching, and her original take on its heroine’s life is derived from a sense of personal identification. Both women […]

Existential Angst

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

THERE ARE SOME books which condemn a man more by praising him than by attacking him. Bernard-Henri Livy’s biography of Jean-Paul Sartre combines an irritating pseudy style – most of the book is not written in sentences, but in Blairite verbless phrases – with the adolescent multi-culti faddism for which the dandy philosopher and shameless […]

America Made Him

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

STRICTLY SPEAKING, JOHN Winthrop (1588-1649) was not one of the Pilgrim Fathers of New England. He did not sail on the Mayjlower in 1620. But ten years later he led, as elected Governor, a fleet of seventeen ships, carrying over 1,000 settlers, which landed at Salem. He founded Boston in 163 1, effectively established the […]

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A Man Of Gravity

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

IN THE MIRACULOUS first century of the modern world – the seventeenth century, which began with Shakespeare, Galileo, Descartes, Bacon and Hobbes, and ended with Newton, Wren, Dryden, Locke and the Glorious Revolution – there were many significant beginnings, but none of them (even if you include the beginning of constitutional forms of government) so […]

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