True to Type

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

I wrote this on a typewriter, a 1926 L C Smith No 8. I suppose my technical history is no different from that of any other writer: from first love with pencils and pens, I moved to teenage experiments with a portable typewriter, a disastrous romance with a word processor that had trouble processing my words […]

Prospero Imprisoned

Posted on by David Gelber

When the Hogarth Shakespeare series was first announced, the idea of commissioning writers to ‘reimagine Shakespeare’s plays for the 21st century’ was met by some with mistrust. To those working in theatre, however, it didn’t feel like an affront: reimagining Shakespeare is what directors, designers and actors do each time they embark on a new […]

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Home on the Range

Posted on by David Gelber

In Days without End, the fourth in a loose series of novels chronicling the McNulty dynasty, Sebastian Barry travels back in time and across the Atlantic to a troubled 19th-century America. The narrator, Thomas McNulty, fled famine-stricken Sligo aged thirteen, creeping alone onto a ship when his father’s money ran out in the belief that […]

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No Country for Old Men?

Posted on by David Gelber

‘By the simple virtue of being male, I have less chance each day to see another sunrise,’ laments Richard Bribiescas near the beginning of How Men Age. This is a dark thought to leave hanging in the air, yet he gently brightens the mood over the subsequent chapters of this charming book. Yes, this is […]

City Slickers

Posted on by David Gelber

Don’t be fooled by the title of Iain Martin’s book. He gives you a lot more than just a view of the Big Bang of 1986, which arguably helped transform the City of London into a truly global financial centre. He also provides a good historical perspective on the City’s origins and evolution and of […]

Last Dance in Lhasa

Posted on by David Gelber

Jianglin Li’s account of a pivotal moment in Tibet’s anguished history, the events of February and March 1959 that led the Dalai Lama to flee into exile and marked China’s total conquest of the country, is remarkable not only for its meticulously researched and detailed exposé of Chinese duplicity and ruthlessness but also for the […]

Last of the Stalinists

Posted on by David Gelber

Travel writers are tipping Albania as the next tourist hotspot, but what do we know of this ancient country? There is ‘luxury and inconvenience on the one hand, liberty, hard living, and filth on the other … Shut out … by iron walls of mountain, surrounded by the sternest features of savage scenery, rock and […]

Trial & Terror

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Stalin was more an arts man than a scientist. He knew his Shakespeare, lauding The Tempest, as might be expected of a Caliban who overthrew several Prosperos, and effectively banning Hamlet, as did Catherine the Great. He read Plato in the original (and plagiarised The Republic in his prescriptions for poets). He stopped writing poetry […]

Relative Values

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It took me a while to figure out what exactly this book was about. Einstein famously said (or is reputed to have said) that his biggest mistake was the inclusion in his general theory of relativity of a ‘cosmological constant’, which he came to regard as spurious. But he also made other mistakes, some arguably […]

Noé Zavaleta

Posted on by David Gelber

In August, MacLehose Press published The Sorrows of Mexico, a timely collection of writings from seven of the country’s leading journalists, including Lydia Cacho, Anabel Hernández, Diego Enrique Osorno and Juan Villoro. Their essays and reportage underline the dangers faced by outspoken writers, journalists and students in Mexico and the crimes against free expression that […]


Posted on by David Gelber

Rachel Cusk’s narrator, Faye, is a writer who is in the process of reorganising her life after the break-up of a long relationship. She moves back to London with her two sons and decides, on the advice of a friend, to buy a ‘bad house in a good street’ rather than the other way round. […]

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Innovators & Impresarios

Posted on by David Gelber

Two more contrasting books about jazz would not be easy to find. Conversations in Jazz, comprising transcripts of interviews conducted by the music journalist Ralph Gleason during the 1950s and early 1960s, embellishes and lends intimacy to canonical jazz history. Through Gleason, and often in his Berkeley home, we meet fourteen renowned musicians, all American, […]

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Clever Claws

Posted on by David Gelber

An alien zoologist on an expedition to collect samples of intelligent life on Earth would probably take a few of us back for further observation. But what other species on Earth would also be on the alien’s specimen shelves? Our extraterrestrial Attenborough’s choice would probably very much surprise us: while many of us would like […]

Cataholics & Catophobes

Posted on by David Gelber

These two books appear at a time when Larry (the Number 10 cat, in the tabby and white corner) and Palmerston (the Foreign Office cat, in the black and white corner) have made headlines by fighting like ragamuffins all over Downing Street. They are billed as ‘mousers’, but surely what Westminster needs is a really […]

I Spy

Posted on by David Gelber

In the spring of 1961, shortly after a young David Cornwell had completed his induction into MI6, he learned some sensational news. George Blake, veteran of the British secret service, had confessed to being a double agent. In the course of a decade of treachery, Blake had betrayed dozens, perhaps hundreds, of intelligence officers.

Hiding in Plain Sight

Posted on by David Gelber

One of the many surprises in Paddy Ashdown’s fascinating and fast-moving account of the wartime Resistance in the Bordeaux area is its highly improbable hero. A tiny, unprepossessing figure, frail-looking and only five foot four, Roger Landes was born and brought up in Paris. His parents, who were Jewish, moved to Stamford Hill in 1934. […]

Down & Out in Nagaland

Posted on by David Gelber

On 2 August 1943 a twin-engined Curtiss C-46 Commando aircraft of the United States Army Air Force Air Transport Command took off from Chabua in northeast India for a flight across the ‘Hump’ to Kunming in China. The twenty-one American personnel on board, en route to postings with Chiang Kai-shek in China, can hardly have […]

A Man for All Seasons

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It’s an old publishing saw – ‘Of the writing of books with Winston Churchill in the title or subtitle there shall be no end’ – and a good thing too. Here are four books covering four very different aspects of Churchill – namely, the buildings in his life, what painting meant to him, his relationship […]

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