We Must Learn How The Modern World Was Made

Posted on by David Gelber

Hugh Thomas tells us that he began writing this book over three decades ago, following an encounter with Eric Williams, then Prime Minister of Trinidad. Williams gave him a copy of his classic work Capitalism and Slavery, first published in 1944, which argued that profits from slavery had fertilised every sector of the British economy […]

Beyond The Pancakes

Posted on by David Gelber

Crime in New York City is falling year on year – which parallels, curiously, the common complaint that the Big Apple is losing its buzz – but there is little chance that racial paranoia will subside. The film director Spike Lee has made a career of this conflict, homing in on race tensions in Do […]

She Made History More Interesting

Posted on by David Gelber

‘I will never forget his kiss’, the Princess Marthe Bibesco wrote in 1933, ‘so young, so strangely chaste, insistent, searching my lips and sealing them with his … a moment we both felt had been long in coming.’ The words smack of the bodice rippers she churned out, when times were hard, under the pseudonym […]

Owners Move Back

Posted on by David Gelber

As a would-be fogeyish young clubman in the late Sixties, I took a shine to a still raven-haired Twenties dandy called Peter Fleetwood-Hesketh, Lancastrian squire, pioneering figure in the Georgian Group and Victorian Society, and friend of John Betjeman, whom he had briefly succeeded as architectural critic of The Daily Telegraph. (The arrangement came to […]

Disappearing Act

Posted on by David Gelber

There are diaries, and then there are diaries written for publication. Editing those of Sir Noël Coward a decade or so ago, with his lifelong friend Graham Payn, it occurred to us that though they had languished for several years in a bank vault, so sharply and professionally and, sometimes, all too tactfully were they […]

Romantic on the Loose

Posted on by David Gelber

There is no one at the present time who writes like Oliver Sacks. Living proof that there need be no impenetrable divide between the arts and the sciences, this Clinical Professor of Neurology at one of New York’s finest medical schools writes of disease and disability with profound empathy and impressive erudition. He is a […]

No Cause to be Proud of our Victor’s Justice

Posted on by David Gelber

The title of David Irving’s latest volume is well chosen. The Nuremberg trials were indeed the last engagement between the Third Reich and the four principal Allies. They were also the first engagement between those four Allies on many of the points that would later be subsumed under the heading ‘Cold War’. And they constituted, […]

Did They Pullulate?

Posted on by David Gelber

Whatever else one can say about this book, it is at least brilliantly timed. There are few subjects more topical than the sexual foibles of the Roman Catholic clergy; and to judge from the reports in the American press, vice and wickedness peep from beneath the hem of almost every cassock. One has a similar […]

She Stripped Off And Plunged In

Posted on by David Gelber

Ian McEwan is no longer a young man. This might seem obvious, but it needs saying if we are to make sense of where McEwan has gone with his writing. He was twenty-two when, in 1970, he enrolled on the University of East Anglia’s inaugural Creative Writing MA. The short-story collections that followed were brilliantly […]

Putting Kids First

Posted on by David Gelber

This is a strange book: odd title; peculiar mishmash of personal anecdotes, scientific evidence and folksy homilies about how to bring up children; and strange in its lack of any discernible structure. It has no bibliography and no index, and its chapter headings are sometimes obscure. Yet for all that, it is not a bad […]

Lashers for Breakfast

Posted on by David Gelber

As the only daughter of Herbert Asquith (Prime Minister 1908-1916) and the stepdaughter of Margot Asquith (leading light of the Souls), Violet Bonham Carter was catapulted straight into the heart of Edwardian society and British politics. Her letters and diaries, admirably noted and edited, provide a most lively and entertaining commentary on both, and prove […]

Hunting Hookworms

Posted on by David Gelber

Among the healing arts, tropical medicine has traditionally claimed a particularly heroic status. We conjure up Boy’s Own images of intrepid medical explorers deep in darkest Africa or Amazonia hunting the carriers responsible for calamitous diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, dengue and sleeping sickness – and, in our own day, terrifying viruses like Ebola and […]

More a Database Than a Book

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This is the first of two projected volumes devoted to Karl Dönitz’s attempt to win Germany’s war against Great Britain, then the western Allies, off his own bat. In an Introduction the author confides that his account is ‘quite different from that of most other historians and popular writers. In a word, the U-boat peril […]

European Scepticism is Normal

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In identically Bill-Brysonesque dust jackets, these two books seek to rediscover Europe by means of modern-day Grand Tours. Nick Middleton sticks to existing members of the Union, including recherché outposts like Ceuta and Helsinki, while Nicholas Fraser ventures east to Poland, Russia and Bosnia. Middleton wants to find out if Germans really are humourless, Scandinavians […]

Party Tricks

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

When I first went to university I was determined to rebel against my middle-class Catholic parents. The only problem was that I wasn’t sure how. This was the early Eighties: the era of revolutionary politics was over; drugs and casual sex were frustratingly unavailable (to me, anyway). And then, unexpectedly, a brilliant solution presented itself, […]

Hack with Genius: Full of Fibs and Fantasies

Posted on by David Gelber

A question that has exercised literary pedants down the years is why Robinson Crusoe found only a single footprint on his desert island. A shipwrecked sailor whose other leg had been taken by a shark? A stray member of some strange tribe of hopping cannibals? A persuasive solution is offered by Professor John Sutherland in […]

Past Masters

Posted on by David Gelber

The Outcasts of Time is the fourth fictional work by Ian Mortimer, a historian best known for his popular ‘Time Traveller’s Guides’, and the first under his own name (he’s previously written historical fiction under the pen name James Forrester). Here he sculpts a tale that follows self-flagellating protagonist John of Wrayment, a humble stonemason from […]

Conspiracies of Silence

Posted on by David Gelber

The final days of Joseph Stalin’s reign are treacherous if you cannot lie to keep the right people happy or if you take for granted the veracity of everything you hear. Yuri Zipit, the twelve-year-old protagonist and narrator of Christopher Wilson’s humorous novel The Zoo, meets both these conditions. At the age of six, an […]

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Hope Springs Eternal

Posted on by David Gelber

‘Record, splice, upload. No time for artistry. And no need either.’ Omar Robert Hamilton’s storytelling technique mirrors that of his protagonist, Khalil, a young film-maker documenting the convulsions of the Arab Spring and its aftermath alongside other members of an independent media collective in Cairo. The form and structure of this compelling debut novel evoke […]

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Poison Pen

Posted on by David Gelber

In the mid-1990s, when Samanta Schweblin was a teenager in Buenos Aires, reading (by her own account) Ray Bradbury and J G Ballard, the agrochemical firm Monsanto sowed the first genetically modified soya bean crops in Argentina. Now central to the country’s economy, soya is sprayed with controversial pesticides held responsible for a rise in cancers, […]

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