Ibrahim al-Husseini

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Freedom of expression in Egypt is in its most perilous condition for decades. Since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power in 2014, crackdowns on civil society organisations have intensified and dozens of writers have been arrested or forced to flee the country. His regime has adopted numerous laws that restrict free expression and peaceful […]

Case Closed?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In January 1937, the mutilated – no, butchered – body of Pamela Werner, a pretty, somewhat naive girl from Britain, was found in Peking, not far from the ice rink where she had been skating and the home she shared with her adoptive father. He, E T C Werner, a British expat, spent much of […]

Breaking Cover

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Admiring reviews of Peter Jackson’s First World War film They Shall Not Grow Old noted the astonishing immediacy and vitality of his application of colour to historical footage. Many also mentioned the climactic realisation among soldiers returning from the front at the war’s end that life had carried on without them. In other arenas, this […]

From Yorkshire to Yalutorovsk

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

John Massey Stewart’s elegantly written, beautifully illustrated book opens with this thrilling summary of Thomas Atkinson’s hazardous journeys in the Urals, Kazakhstan and Siberia: Wolves and snowstorms, camels and unbearable desert heat; bandits, murder attempts and night raids by enemy tribes; precipices, dangerous rapids; convicts, Cossacks, nomads – as well as balls and a fourteen-course […]

Waltz through Time

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Richard Bassett is no ordinary journalist. An accomplished musician with a doctorate in architectural history, he is also a gourmet whose appetite is not limited to food and drink. Irrepressibly sociable, he has a remarkable talent for making friends with almost anyone he stumbles across. He is a dedicated observer of people and things, whom […]

Caravans & Cat Skins

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In July 1324, Sultan Musa of Mali rocked up in Cairo, together with an entourage of over ten thousand slaves and retainers, staying as the guest of the city’s Mamluk governor as he passed through Egypt on the hajj. Fifty years later Cairenes were still talking about it. The Malian ruler flooded the city with […]

When the Thames Ran into the Rhine

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Those who have read Julia Blackburn’s agonising memoir of her sort-of-loved but truly awful parents will understand why the adult Julia has needed to get far away from them, in space and in time. The subjects she has chosen for her books have carried her as far as St Helena and the deserts of Australia, […]

Strolling in the Deep

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Pythagoras is today best remembered for his way with triangles, but in his time (the sixth century BC) he was quite a polymath – not so much a Renaissance man as a naissance man. His followers regarded him as semi-divine, claiming that he ‘healed the sick with incantations, predicted earthquakes, suppressed thunderstorms, journeyed into the […]

Of Coal & Calculus

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Charles Hutton will never be on the long list for depiction on a banknote, but perhaps he deserves the accolade more than some of those who have been nominated and have already received recognition in other ways. If your reaction to this suggestion is ‘Who was Charles Hutton?’ it confirms the fact that he should […]

She Had Sweets Named After Her

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Teffi (Nadezhda Alexandrovna Buchinskaya, née Lokhvitskaya) has been introduced to English readers gradually. In 2014 came Subtly Worded, a plangently satirical collection of short stories and essays. In 2016 the wittily wise reminiscences Rasputin and Other Ironies appeared, along with the extraordinary Russian Civil War-era Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea. Now comes the […]

Mightier Than the Sword

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

On the top of Philadelphia’s late-19th-century city hall, which was intended to be the world’s tallest building, there rises a bronze statue, thirty-seven feet high, of William Penn (1644–1718), the English Quaker who founded Pennsylvania. His fame has derived not only from his colonial achievement but also from his ideal of religious liberty, which he […]

No Apologies

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The life of Eric Hobsbawm is a study in the making of a reputation. Like many other intellectuals who spent their early years in interwar central Europe, he turned to communism as a means of resisting fascism and Nazism. Unlike many of these writers and thinkers, he never renounced his commitment to communism. Until the end of his long life he continued

Making the Headlines

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

American journalists are scorned by their British counterparts for beginning their articles with what is known in the trade as ‘drop intros’. Rather than tell readers the story in the opening sentences, they seek to intrigue them with some tangential material before they go on to relate the salient facts. Although these conceits can sometimes […]

Eight Billion & Bust

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It was in 1929, as the Great Depression loomed, that the American sociologist Warren Thompson first suggested that populations evolve via a set of uniform stages we now call ‘demographic transition’. The idea is a staggeringly simple one that can be easily assimilated by GCSE geography students. In every nation, mortality at first falls, leading […]

Dreaming of Rhodesia?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This is not the first book to explore how fantasies of an Anglosphere (conspicuously excluding South Africa and the Caribbean) or Empire 2.0 have crassly fed into the Brexit debate, usually in the pages of the Daily Telegraph. Last year, the French historian David Andress published an inspired polemic with the slightly awkward title Cultural […]

Jupiter Falls to Earth

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

A week or so before the election in May 2017 that brought Emmanuel Macron to power, I interviewed a senior academic at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, wishing to understand where Macron would be taking France if he won. The response from the professor was gloomy. This was, he said, first

Out with Operettas, in with Office Chairs

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Vienna 1900 – a trope for beauty, decadence, artistic achievement and ultimate tragedy, an almost idyllic World of Yesterday, as described so memorably by the bestselling novelist Stefan Zweig. Every year, countless tourists come to revel in the beauty of lavishly restored remnants of past imperial glories, a world moulded into a seamless whole by […]

Head and Shoulders above the Rest

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

According to Elizabeth Goldring in this engrossing biography, the earliest recorded use of the term ‘miniature’ in English literature comes in Sir Philip Sidney’s prose romance The New Arcadia, written in the early 1580s. Four ladies bathe and splash playfully in the River Ladon, personified as male, and he responds delightedly by making numerous bubbles, as if ‘he would in each of those bubbles set forth the miniature of them’. It’s a pleasing image, calling to mind the delicacy and radiance of the works of Nicholas Hilliard, the leading miniaturist (or ‘limner’) of the Elizabethan age, whom Sidney knew and with whom he discussed emerging ideas about the theory and practice of art. In some ways, a miniature had the ephemerality of a bubble, capturing an individual at a fleeting moment in time, often recorded in an inscription

Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Elector

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Bringing together the Lawrence Stone Lectures delivered at Princeton in 2015, this demanding but stimulating and entertaining book is a tribute to the efficiency of German publishing and the sophistication of the German reading public. It cannot happen often that a translation appears before the English-language original. Yet this book, with the title Von Zeit […]

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