Culture Clubs

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Dominic Sandbrook is best known for four hefty books, beginning with Never Had It So Good in 2005, which together constitute a voluminous survey of the cultural, social and political history of Britain from 1956 to 1979. When they appeared, these books felt fresh and surprising in the way they mixed the high serious with […]

Dining at Lizard’s Thicket

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

I read this inspiring and depressing book a few weeks after a young man in Charleston, South Carolina, sporting Confederate flag images and apartheid slogans, and using a gun given to him by his father for his birthday, shot dead nine black churchgoers. Their families forgave the killer. The Confederate flag that had been flying over […]

Rogue of Rocinha

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

If Brazil is not for beginners, as the composer Tom Jobim once said, Rio de Janeiro often feels as if requires postdoctoral-level skills to penetrate. Like in mid-century Los Angeles, Rio’s seemingly benevolent ocean setting is undercut by noir tones of moral ambiguity, violence and betrayal. Towering volcanic humps, hidden lagoons and forest-clad mountains, strung […]

Return to Glienicke

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In 2013 Thomas Harding published an award-winning double biography, Hanns and Rudolf. It was about his great-uncle Hanns Alexander, the son of a prosperous German family who fled Berlin for London in the 1930s, and Rudolf Höss, a farmer and soldier who became the Kommandant of Auschwitz, and how their two very different lives intersected. […]

Tales from Tahrir

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Wendell Steavenson’s book begins, unpromisingly, with the false juxtaposition of what she sees as two types of writing about past events: ‘analyzed narrative, neat and ordered’ – she gives as an example the causal history of revolutions she learned aged twelve – and the more chaotic, impressionistic account she ventures herself

Lunar Tics

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Moonstruck promises far more (especially in the subtitle) than it delivers. The claims presented here for the influence of lunar cycles on life are hedged around with such terms as ‘subjective interpretation’, ‘equivocal’ and ‘little hard evidence’. But full marks to Ernest Naylor for honesty

Water, Water, Everywhere

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This gripping book should be called The Pacific and Its Rim, as it contains as much about the countries fringing the ocean’s 64 million square miles as about the big blue and its black depths. Simon Winchester is a prolific non-fiction writer whose oeuvre includes the bestselling Surgeon of Crowthorne (about the murderer who made […]

Engineering the Skies

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Oliver Morton opens with a question environmentalists and politicians of all stripes alike have rather fudged: if human-induced climate change is real (which all bar the Tea Party, Clive James and Nigel Lawson seem to accept), and if our efforts at reducing carbon emissions are proving woefully inadequate, is there another practical way forward other […]

Painting with Words

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Artists often shy away from speaking about their work, or shrink from what others have to say about it. Sometimes that’s because their fluency with, say, a paintbrush or chisel isn’t matched by a corresponding verbal facility; but more frequently it’s a calculated choice, based on the feeling that words have a way of leaching […]

Art for Everyone

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Giles Waterfield left his post as director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery in 1996 in order to be able to concentrate on writing novels and carrying out research, as well as teaching, on the history of museums. He had been a pioneering student of the subject, publishing Palaces of Art: Art Galleries in Britain, 1790–1990 […]

Striking Poses

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The Henrician Reformation, which ended religious painting in England, was a catalyst for portraiture’s dominance of the country’s visual culture. After Holbein moved from Basel to the court of Henry VIII in London, he became almost exclusively a portrait painter, avoiding virtually every other genre (though he did produce the occasional political allegory and created […]

Fifty Shades of White

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Edmund de Waal made his first pot when he was five years old and dipped it in white glaze. He made his first white porcelain bowl at seventeen and is still at it. Porcelain has been a white gold, craved and traded for a thousand years. In The White Road de Waal sets out across […]

Of Plagues & Players

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This book’s threefold rhyming subtitle – ‘Shakespeare’, ‘Year’, ‘Lear’ – is charmingly witty. It is also slightly misleading. In the manner of such currently fashionable formulas as ‘the long 16th century’, James Shapiro has assembled an exceptionally generous ‘year’. It encompasses a lot of material, not all of which belongs strictly to 1606. He has […]

Squeezing the Scorpion

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Why did the sheltered daughter of a Church of England minister, brought up to be deeply suspicious of Catholics, take the drastic step of walking into a Brussels church, finding a confessional and opening her heart? And what did she tell the priest? Claire Harman opens her biography, written in time for Charlotte Brontë’s bicentenary in 2016, with her protagonist in crisis. t’s not just that the 27-year-old student is in love with her married professor, Constantin Heger, but also that she is, Harman perceptively notes, ‘struggling with the larger issue of how she would ever accommodate her strong feelings – whether of love

Breaches of Civilisation

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Heinrich August Winkler is the doyen of modern German history writing. He has behind him a string of distinguished books on the modern age, very few of which have made their way into the English language. This neglect has finally been put right with a splendid translation of his magisterial study of the ‘West’ in […]

Eastern Approaches

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Sir John Ure’s vividly told story recounts the colourful careers of a handful of larger than life British intelligence agents and explorers who were perceptive early critics of the Bolshevik regime. They provide a welcome contrast to such self-satisfied figures as Bernard Shaw and H G Wells, who callously hailed the Bolshevik victory in Russia […]

Intelligence Tests

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Only a generation ago A J P Taylor argued that the most likely outcome of the Cold War was hot war. The early 1980s were the most dangerous period in East–West relations since the Cuban Missile Crisis twenty years before. By the end of the decade, to general astonishment, the Berlin Wall was down

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