Kiss Me, Clodia

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

A biography of Catullus is a bold undertaking. As Gilbert Highet wrote sixty years ago in his delightful Poets in a Landscape, ‘Apart from his poignant and violent poems, we know very little about him.’ He was born in Verona in 82 BC and died at an uncertain date, possibly in 54 BC. Daisy Dunn confidently […]

After Democritus

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

By the fifth century AD, Christianity had emerged as the predominant force in the Roman Empire, forging for the first time in the Graeco-Roman world an alliance between supreme power and religious absolutism. Polytheistic religion, largely a matter of ritual, had embraced worshippers of gods of all shapes and sizes, but what counted now was correct belief in the one true God, measured against prevailing standards of orthodoxy

Ars Longa…

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Laura Cumming’s The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Velázquez is a tale of two devotees of the great Spanish court painter, one a 19th-century bookseller from Reading called John Snare, the other the author herself. What unites this odd couple across more than a century is their shared passion for the artist. When Cumming contrasts […]

The World is Burning

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Early on the morning of Good Friday 2008, John Berger made his way to the National Gallery in London to look at the Crucifixion by Antonello da Messina. It’s one of six versions the Sicilian painted, and the least allegorical rendering of the biblical story Berger knows: ‘the most solitary painting of the scene’. Standing […]

Far from the Madding Crowd

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The Outrun is a stretch of uncultivated coastland on Mainland in Orkney (that is, the main island of this ‘sea-scoured and wind-battered’ archipelago) at the edge of the farm on which Amy Liptrot was raised. This ‘only semi-tamed’ tract provides the locus for her impressive opening chapter, which takes in agricultural terminology, Orcadian folklore, an […]

Pen for Hire

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Looking at the current American presidential campaign, where one frontrunner is touting his candidacy by trying to convince the electorate that he will rid the country of Mexicans and Mohammedans, you would be forgiven for wondering whether America’s political culture has sunk so low that ramshackle candidates of this sort are the best it can […]

Eye for a Joke

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

They say that the secret of comedy is timing, but time kills most jokes. The eclipse of the sensibility that hatched a joke is sure to prevent the splitting of sides. Chaplin’s tragicomedy was more sophisticated than Keaton’s slapstick, but Keaton is funnier to us. Chaplin’s mawkish plays for sympathy seem sentimental, his mock-childish pouting […]

‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The cover of Paul Kalanithi’s book says it all. The front shows a view from behind of a doctor in surgeon’s mask, cap and scrubs; the reverse shows a view from the same angle of a patient in a gaping printed gown. In When Breath Becomes Air, Kalanithi tells the story of his journey from surgeon to patient

Kings of Spin

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Clever book, clever title. The image of Britain for most people is not one of a shiny-faced David Cameron in a Savile Row suit or a pixie-faced Jeremy Corbyn in his Lenin cap. Instead, we see the Queen, impeccably turned out in a pastel day dress, handbag to the fore, or in a shimmering gown, […]

Negusa Negast

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It is just as well that Ras (the word literally means ‘head’, but is often translated as ‘duke’) Kassa, when he fled from Addis Ababa in May 1936 in the face of an advancing Italian army with his cousin the emperor Haile Selassie, took his youngest son, Asserate, with him. Had he not done so, […]

Sworn In, Worn Out

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This time next year, America will inaugurate president number forty-five. Does he or she know what they’re in for? William Leuchtenburg’s history of 20th-century presidents suggests that the office is a poisoned chalice. Only a lunatic or a masochist would drink from it. Hillary Clinton, by all accounts, is a little of both. The American […]

Car Park King

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Shakespeare has a lot to answer for when it comes to the portrayal of English kings, whether heroes or villains – especially when interpreted by Laurence Olivier. The actor’s hyperbolic version of Henry V, screened recently at numerous celebrations – sorry, commemorations – of the 600th anniversary of Agincourt, is vivid in its verbosity, ramming […]

Bloody Relations

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

What took place ninety-eight years ago in the Ipatiev House has cast its shadow over the Romanov dynasty. The brutal, bloody end to the lives of Nicholas II, Alexandra, their five children and several retainers in the early hours of 17 July 1918 has left the impression that the family was somehow cursed from the start. Yet, as Simon Sebag Montefiore shows in his captivating new book, the story of the house of the Romanovs, when viewed from the perspectives of power, prestige and longevity, is one of startling success. Few regimes could boast of adding nearly 150 square kilometres a day to their empire for over 300 years, eventually ruling over one sixth of the earth. ‘Empire-building’, Montefiore notes

Who Do You Think You Are?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Over a century ago, Charles Booth’s surveyors were colouring in large-scale maps of London according to their estimate of each street’s level of poverty and moral standing. Booth came up with seven classes, but by then the British had grown used to thinking of themselves as having three – working, middle and upper – as […]

Just Giving?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

A ‘free gift’ can be a morally complex thing. To give £5 to a rough sleeper, without specifying how it should be spent, with or without thanks in return, is a simple act of kindness or charity. To give £50,000 towards a new rough sleepers’ hostel is an act of philanthropy, though you might be accused […]

Migrant Metropolis

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Each night Roma beggars wheel their belongings in trollies into the pedestrian underpasses beneath the busy roads at Hyde Park Corner and set up camp. Each encampment corresponds to a different village in Romania. As one explains, ‘Our village is down at the bottom of Park Lane. At the edge of the streets of the […]

Unobtainium

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Books on resource wars are ten a penny and usually focus on oil or water conflicts. David Abraham’s attractively written book is unusual because it deals with commodities lurking in plain sight within cars, planes, fibre-optic cables, structural steels, LED lights, cameras, computers, televisions, MRI scanners, military night-vision goggles

‘Save Europe Now’

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In September 1943 Churchill informed the House of Commons that he believed that the Germans combined ‘in the most deadly manner’ the attributes of warrior and slave. If a ‘more frightful’ conflict was to be avoided in the future, they needed to be turned into a different kind of people altogether – peaceable, decent and […]

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