In Graphic Detail

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Twelve years after her last full-length graphic narrative appeared, Posy Simmonds’s latest examination of dark deeds among the English middle classes, Cassandra Darke, leaves me pondering the language of pictures and that slippery and highly contentious concept ‘visual literacy’. Simmonds’s tale of the mean-spirited art dealer Cassandra Darke is told largely through the author’s brilliantly […]

Insurgents in the Shadows

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Somalia’s Al Shabaab is the most resilient militant Islamist insurgency after the Afghan Taliban. It has proved nimble and adaptable as well as tenacious. It has recovered from blunders, infighting and huge human losses, and remains a formidable presence in Somalia and neighbouring Kenya despite – or perhaps because of – the vast resources devoted […]

Winding Back the Clock

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Last year the British press reported that UK schools were removing analogue clocks in exam halls because teenage students could not understand them. Apparently they had grown up reliant on digital devices and had lost (or never learned) the skill of reading a clock face. The story turned out to be substantially untrue, but the […]

Ruled by the Waves

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Along Ireland’s five-thousand-mile coastline there are more than two hundred offshore islands. In 1841, just before the Great Famine, nearly 35,000 people lived on them, but by 2016 only 8,756 souls remained, and only fifty-eight islands were inhabited. Diarmaid Ferriter’s engaging study strikes a persistently elegiac note as it chronicles this decline. Fundamentally, nature is […]

The Biggest Fish in the Sea

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In August 2017, China opened its first overseas military base in the former French colony of Djibouti, a rugged country that lies on the Horn of Africa, at a junction between Asia, the Middle East, Africa and, thanks to the Suez Canal, Europe. Cash-strapped and small, Djibouti raises revenue by leasing land for foreign military […]

Hope’s Necropolis

Posted on by David Gelber

Until the age of forty-one, Peter Hessler had spent much of his adult life in China, where he worked as a correspondent for the New Yorker. He had mastered the language, written four acclaimed books and won a MacArthur Foundation ‘genius grant’ for his portrayals of ordinary people dealing with China’s sweeping transformation. Then something […]

Scaling the Heights

Posted on by David Gelber

In her foundational biography of Lee Krasner, Gail Levin tells a story of an artists’ sit-down strike in New York in 1936. The Works Progress Administration (WPA), the innovative government programme that allowed many American artists and writers to survive the 1930s, was about to fire five hundred workers. The police responded brutally to the protests […]

The Incompleat Diplomat

Posted on by David Gelber

I met Richard Holbrooke on a few occasions, the last time not long before he embarked on his final posting, as Barack Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. But my first and most memorable encounter did not involve an actual meeting. In the autumn of 1973 I was researching

Roadkill & Camomile for Tea

Posted on by David Gelber

 I suppose the obvious next step for someone who has already written a book about how he gave up money for three years is to repudiate the technological advances of the modern world and write a book about living by candlelight and without running water. By conventional standards these are singular, not to say bizarre, […]

A Raker’s Progress

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

When, in 2011, David Cameron included gardening in a list of low-skilled, manual jobs, alongside street-sweeping, he touched a nerve among professional horticulturists. As a columnist at the time on a trade journal, I attacked the assumption, and Alan Titchmarsh followed up elsewhere, though no apology was expected or given. The slight is still widely […]

To the Innards of the Earth

Posted on by David Gelber

If I were a shrink, I’d worry about Robert Macfarlane – his dicing with eschatology, his claustrophilia, his recklessness, some of the company he keeps (sewer punks, cavist ultras, grotto mystics). But I’m not: I’m merely a repeatedly delighted fan of a true original. Macfarlane is a poet with the instincts of a thriller writer, an autodidact in botany, mycology, geology and palaeontology, an ambulatory encyclopedia – save that much of the time (a dodgy word in this context) Macfarlane does not ambulate but hauls himself feet first through tunnels the circumference of a child’s bicycle wheel in absolute darkness where day, night, maps and GPS do not exist. That’s when he is not being driven at absurdly high speed through potash mines beneath the North Sea’s shipping lanes by a gung-ho

Feds under the Bed

Posted on by David Gelber

There is a long history of FBI meddling in the affairs of public intellectuals in America, and it’s not a happy one. State surveillance of writers and political activists (such as Martin Luther King Jr) became an obsession under the bizarre and dictatorial leadership of J Edgar Hoover, who served as director from its inception […]

Ladies of the Raj

Posted on by David Gelber

With the Neapolitan saying “Vedi Napoli, e poi mori” [see Naples and die], I beg leave to differ entirely, and would rather offer this advice – “See the Taj Mahal, and then – see the Ruins of Delhi”,’ enthused Fanny Parkes while she was ‘vagabondizing’ through India in the 1830s. ‘How much there is to […]

Not Quite Master of All He Surveyed

Posted on by David Gelber

From 1519 until his abdication in 1556, Charles V, ‘By the Grace of God Holy Roman Emperor, Forever August King of Germany, King of Italy, King of all Spains, of Castile, Aragon, León, Navarra, Grenada, King of Jerusalem, King of the Western and Eastern Indies, Lord of the Islands and Main Ocean Sea, Archduke of […]

Learning to Deal

Posted on by David Gelber

For the proponents of many contemporary orthodoxies, Jared Diamond’s belief that geography accounts for some of the enduring features of global politics is an intellectual and political provocation. In his bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997), for which he received a Pulitzer Prize, he argued that Western global dominance was at least partly the result […]

We Need to Talk about Judd Nelson

Posted on by David Gelber

Bret Easton Ellis used to be famous for his controversial 1991 novel American Psycho. Now he’s infamous for being an American asshole: a Trump-loving, racist and sexist white guy. What happened? Social media happened: too many late-night tequila-lubricated tweets, controversial podcasts and celebrity profiles that caused the Twittersphere to go berserk with outrage. Ellis, in […]

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