Regilding the Pagoda

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The one time I felt positive towards a dictatorship was over breakfast in Rangoon’s Strand Hotel. It was 1984, a good year to be visiting the city where George Orwell spent many of his Burmese days. Aung San Suu Kyi was still a housewife in Oxford; no one in Rangoon had heard of her. The […]

Prodigal Son

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Augustine, a work of scholarship as readable as any historical novel, is not exactly a biography. It takes the story of Augustine’s life only to his forty-fourth year; Robin Lane Fox has almost nothing to say about the thirty-three years as a bishop that still lay ahead of him. The book is not so much […]

All You Need Is Love

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

A troubled craftsman from a port city near Antioch joins a subversive group and begins a new life centred on his faith. He travels to market towns and villages, preaching and collecting funds to support the Jerusalem-based leadership of the movement. His message is one of love and unity, but he quickly comes to the attention […]

The Decryption Factor

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

What’s not to like about a Max Hastings book? He’s a reliable brand after all. Once every year or so a new one hits the bookstores, a meaty five hundred pages or more, piled high on the front tables, wrapped in an embossed cover and bearing such eye-catching testimonies as ‘masterly’ or ‘magnificent’ and with […]

Spider in the Web

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

James Klugmann was born in 1912 into a prosperous and liberal north London Jewish family. Precociously bright, he went on to read history at Cambridge in the 1930s, after which a successful academic career seemed to beckon. Instead, he committed himself to the Communist Party and spent the rest of his life working for it […]

Agent Reckless

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Is there anything new to be learned about Guy Burgess, the naughtiest of the Cambridge spies recruited in the 1930s? There has been a shelfload of books about ‘The Magnificent Five’, as they were described, in a rare flash of KGB humour, after the release of the film The Magnificent Seven. As the most outgoing […]

Inside the Shadow Theatre

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

My first year in the Foreign Office, in the days before email, was a deluge of papers: thin, white-coloured memos from other government departments, propelled across Whitehall through Victorian vacuum tubes; letters from MPs, engraved with a portcullis, demanding answers; stiff, pale-blue documents that had the scrawl of a minister across them, approving or rejecting […]

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Songs of a Broken Man

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This is the final volume of David Moody’s massive biography of Ezra Pound. According to Moody, the great American poet, whose broadcasts for Rome Radio during the Second World War led to his indictment for treason and his imprisonment for thirteen years, was a ‘flawed idealist’. Moody acknowledges ‘his moral offense, the anti-Semitism of which […]

The Third Man

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

If Tolkien and C S Lewis were the Lennon and McCartney of the Inklings, then Charles Williams was the George Harrison. (And their Ringo? Possibly Owen Barfield. Another story.) Williams’s considerable, highly idiosyncratic achievements have long since been overshadowed by those of his two world-famous Oxford pals, and no doubt always will be, even in […]

From Ian with Love

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Ian Fleming is fascinating. He was a man of his times, holding attitudes from the 1950s – towards women, race and empire – now widely discarded and discredited. Yet his creation and alter ego James Bond goes from strength to strength. A new film has opened, following on from Skyfall, the most successful yet, which […]

Homeland Insecurity

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

As Cyril Connolly ruefully remarked, most journalism does not, by its very nature, bear up to a second reading. But there are exceptions to the rule, as proved by this marvellous collection of pieces by the novelist Joseph Roth, who was born in Galicia in 1894 and died in alcoholic poverty in Paris in 1939. […]

The Real Donna Inez

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In January 1815, Lord Byron married the clever, virtuous and unshakably high-minded Annabella Milbanke. In January 1816, Annabella left Byron’s London house, taking with her their baby daughter, Augusta Ada. Lady Byron never returned. Scandalous stories spread, tales of incest – Byron’s pregnant married sister, Augusta Leigh, was still living in the poet’s establishment when […]

Words & Deeds

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

My favourite haunt at work is directly in front of the modest shelves to which unneeded books are consigned. A sort of literary service station on the heavily trodden route to the office kitchen, these are perpetually sway-backed under the weight of volumes donated by munificent publishers and discarded by New Scientist’s culture desk. All […]

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Grave, Dex, Bail and True

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘Music is the deepest of the Arts and deep beneath the Arts,’ someone once said. Forster I think, though it may have been Hitler. I read Mein Kampf and Two Cheers For Democracy in the same week and I still keep muddling them up. Whatever. Music is certainly deep beneath what the universities call the […]

Irshad Manji

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Irshad Manji, a renowned Canadian Muslim writer, is the latest victim to fall foul of the Malaysian government’s practice of banning books under a draconian Printing Presses and Publications Act that allows the Home Affairs Ministry ‘absolute discretion’ to ban books, from possession to reproduction and distribution. Book banning in Malaysia is nothing new. Works […]

Dark and Troubled Dreamland

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘I hope these disparate pieces add up to something’, writes Martin Amis with uncharacteristic diffidence in his introduction to this collection of occasional journalism ‘offered with all generic humility’. No time spent in Mr Amis’s company is ever wasted. He is a fine novelist who turns an elegant and often hilarious sentence. But even at […]

Poetry of Love

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In July 1915 Lili Brik’s younger sister, Elsa – who later married Andre Triolet and emigrated to France, where she became a writer and Aragon’s constant companion brought the twenty-two-year-old futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, huge and ungainly, famous for his orange and black striped blouse and extravagant behaviour, to the Petrograd flat occupied by Lili […]

Quest for Freedom

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

When John Edgar Wideman won the PEN Faulkner award in America last year, it was more than a sign that he was beginning to get the recognition he long deserved. With six books (fifteen years of writing) behind him, and at the age of forty-two, Wideman now felt that he was being read. About the […]

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