What’s Behind the Blue Door?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

When cab drivers over sixty put me down in front of my house on Portland Road – nothing much under £1 million in the neighbourhood these days – they sometimes say, ‘Big change here, guv. Used to be rough.’ Just how rough I learned from this vivid guidebook. All bad guidebooks are alike; each good […]

A Woman’s Lot

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

On 4 September 1987, in a Rajasthani village called Deorala, an eighteen–year–old woman named Roop Kanwar was burned alive on her husband’s funeral pyre. Several thousand people, most of them men, witnessed Roop Kanwar’s death. No one intervened, not even the lone police constable who was present. The event, however, made headlines both nationally and […]

A Bug’s Life

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Harvard Professor Andrew Spielman has dedicated his life to understanding the mosquito. Just as William Blake saw the world in a grain of sand, Spielman sees Darwinism embodied in the flying bloodsucker. Like the insect itself, his book provokes fascination and irritation. It is full of illuminating anecdotes, recherché facts, mind–boggling statistics (two million people […]

Oprah, Di and Hillary

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

When I was growing up, women did not have role models. Of course, there were famous women from history – Boudicca, Elizabeth I, Marie Curie – but they all seemed impossibly remote. I’m not certain when I heard of Mary Wollstonecraft for the first time, but I’m pretty sure it was after I had discovered […]

Ahead Of Her Time

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In the extensive catalogue of royal foolishness, the entry for Marie Antoinette has always bulged disproportionately large. Consort of the portly and ill–fated Louis XVI, she has been portrayed as the personification of the ancien régime’s self–destructive indulgence and triviality, the pampered fantasist who played at being a ‘shepherdess’ in her Versailles mock village as […]

Women At Sea

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

After the exuberance of the Sydney Olympics, it is easy to forget Australia’s murky convict past. This book takes us back to that time in the 1790s when transportation to Australia first began, its principal aim having been to relieve overcrowded gaols and deter crime in England. The floating brothel was the Lady Julian, part […]

How Much do We Want to Know?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The question is, just how much do you want to know about the First World War, the Great War, la grande guerre, Der Weltkrieg? If you are happy with the usual Anglophone approach – an emphasis on Great Britain, on the Western Front and on the army – then this book is not for you. […]

A Secret Interloper in the House

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

After the publication of Underworld, Don DeLillo confessed in an interview to being a bit of an Italian show–off. He was talking about his style, but The Body Artist shows off something else: his extraordinary range of mood. It is a long way from the hilarious White Noise via the luxuriant Underworld to this gaunt, […]

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Haunted By Loneliness

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

It is an accepted fact that any biographer of Jane Austen has to rely to an uncomfortable degree on surmise. No diaries survive and the 160 letters spared to posterity by Austen’s beloved elder sister Cassandra have long been thought to present a sanitised view of the writer’s short life. There is only one portrait […]

Lest We Forget

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

What will they say of Hitler long after we are all dead? This is the unspoken question behind the American conservative intellectual John Lukacs’s excellent book. While there are still people alive who lost family members to Hitler’s war, while we still live in a world whose political contours were largely shaped by the post–Hitler […]

Emperor’s New Clothes

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

When I was a boy growing up in China in the years after the Second World War, I knew a young Chinese man who had fought as a partisan against the Japanese occupying forces in Hong Kong. Not surprisingly, he was vehemently anti–Japanese. Furthermore, he was utterly convinced that the Japanese army had been personally […]

He Became as Famous as Mickey Mouse

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

My father was Ann Fleming’s architect and she gave him nothing but trouble, only equalled by that caused by her impossibly spoilt son, Caspar, who proved to be not long for this world. The gentlest of men, my father would clearly have liked to beat Caspar black and blue, but only now do I realise […]

Self-Parody is Normal

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

It is a brave writer who tries to put a fresh spin on Los Angeles. Not simply because it has been done countless times before, but mostly because it is impossible to do without lapsing into clichés. In their fascination with California, British writers especially are spectacularly good at getting it wrong – producing half–cocked […]

Join some Necrophiles on the Great Relic Crawl

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

l could comfortably have slept with Fynes Moryson. We would never have bickered about the bedclothes. Professional traveller as he was, Moryson had the same problem with German beds in the early seventeenth century as I have in the late twentieth nearly everywhere: ‘Throughout all Germany they lodge between two feather beds… as well in […]

If Prison Does No Good, What Can We Do?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

There are nearly one and a half million people locked behind bars in the United States. This is a threefold increase since 1980 and the numbers are rising by more than 8 per cent a year. Over 2,700 prisoners were under sentence of death in thirty–six states at the end of 1993. In that year […]

Learn, Damnit!

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The anthology wasn’t always the thing we know and publishers love . The first ever anthology was an epic undertaking, a collection of six thousand elegiac Greek poems, collated over the ages from 60 BC to the tenth century AD. By 1856 the anthology had shrunk to ‘A collection of the flowers of verse, ie […]

Filtered Feelings

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

African Women tells, ‘in their own words’, the harrowing yet ultimately uplifting story of the experiences of three generations of women from Mark Mathabane’s immediate family: Granny, now in her eighties, his mother, Geli, and his sister Florah. All three live in Alexandra township near Johannesburg, and each in her own time has endured overwhelming […]

Is Clinton Frightening the Innocents?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

It’s tempting to think of Thompson in the past tense. Along with his alma mater, Rolling Stone magazine, he was a counter–cultural babe. Seeing him still knocking around is akin to coming across an old–time sage with tales to tell from another time. Certainly, Thompson’s patented ‘Gonzo Journalism’ style – which set up the reporter […]

I Wrung Tears from my Adorable Versace Shirt

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

According to Susan Faludi, author of the recent Backlash, married women experience twenty per cent more depression than single women, and three times the rate of severe neurosis. They have more nervous breakdowns, migraines and inertia; they suffer worse insomnia, hypochondria and nightmares. Back in the Seventies, American sociologist Jessie Bernard found that women became […]

Never Truly Free

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

These two books illuminate different aspects of the Palestinian experience and go to the centre of the essential moral question for the state of Israel: how can it justify the cost paid daily by those it has excluded? David Grossman’s book, written in Hebrew and beautifully translated by Haim Watzman, is the chronicle of a […]

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