Ever Upward

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Cropping the hesitant pen name ‘Incertus’, under which the young Seamus Heaney published his first attempts at poetry, Roy Foster titles the opening chapter of his study of Heaney ‘Certus’. Foster is keen to stress, for all Heaney’s shows of diffidence, how firmly on his way he was from the outset, and how fuelled by […]

Comrade, Shed No Tears

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Asked to name their favourite poems about the Second World War, many English or American readers of poetry would flounder. A few might mention Keith Douglas, Richard Wilbur or Anthony Hecht, or Hamish Henderson’s vivid, thoughtful poems about the North African campaign. Many might reply that the best poetry was written by civilians, citing T […]

Beer Lines

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The Compasses lies on the edge of an old straight track in a hollow that shelters it from the blast of the southwest wind. It’s in the hamlet of Chicksgrove. You can still see the outline of an oppidum in the field below, where Chilmark stone was mined in Roman times. A second-century Roman bust […]

Posted in 489 | Tagged | Comments Off on Beer Lines

The Importance of Being Ernie

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Ernest Bevin was a great figure of British politics in the second quarter of the 20th century. As a trade union leader, minister of labour during the Second World War and foreign secretary in the 1945 Labour government, he fought Nazism and communism. A pro-empire socialist patriot, he knew and loved power, and wielded it […]

Leaping into the Abyss

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Who would have thought that Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian poet who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913, would provide the title for the first magisterial volume of Richard Frank’s history of the Asia-Pacific War? Not me, for one. Tagore’s beautiful Bengali verse seems a world away from the ghastliness of the conflict that […]

Romancing the Scribe

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

On 17 December 1790, an enormous monolith with extraordinary carvings was unearthed in the great plaza of Mexico City. At the time, the Mexican intellectual Antonio de León y Gama supposed that it had functioned as a calendar and a sundial. He was the first in a line of dedicated Mexican scholars to write interpretations […]

Master of the Universe?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

When mainstream publishers commission monographs by Ottoman historians, it is cause for festivity in our ivory tower. It shows that someone has remembered that history is not bounded by today’s national borders but shared across time and space. The high production values of this volume, focusing on the ninth Ottoman sultan, Selim I (who reigned […]

Caught in the Crossfire

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

It is both a truism and a provocation to observe that modern anti-Semitism has a long history. It seems self-evident that the irrational and murderous hatred that is 20th-century anti-Semitism has deep roots in a millennium and more of hostility to ‘Christ killers’. Some scholars, however, have wanted to insist that the religiously motivated anti-Judaism […]

When Not in Rome

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

For travellers disembarking at Ravenna’s modest railway station from, say, Venice or Rome, the idea that this unassuming town was once the ‘crucible of Europe’ might seem an extravagant assertion, lent only a vague veneer of credibility by an afternoon wandering between the stubby bulk of the mausoleum of Theoderic and the golden mosaics of […]

Who’ll Take the Helm?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The sinking of the White Ship on the evening of 25 November 1120 was one of the most decisive turning points in English history. Aboard the vessel was the cream of the Anglo-Norman aristocracy, including King Henry I’s only legitimate son, William Ætheling. The sinking raised serious questions about the succession – questions that would […]

Jack the Lad

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Two days after John F Kennedy was shot in 1963, the headmaster of a Cambridge school at which I was teaching delivered such an impassioned threnody to the assembled pupils that he reduced many of them to tears. Especially moved by the fact that, like the president, he himself was a former naval officer aged […]

Tawk of the Town

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

You know how to have a polite conversation, right? You listen, wait for a pause, say your bit, then shut up so someone else can speak. In other words, you take your turn. You’re obviously not from New York. To an outsider, someone from, say, Toronto or Seattle or London, a conversation among New Yorkers may resemble a verbal wrestling match

Crocodile Diplomacy

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the autumn of 1960, Harlem would have struck few people as an obvious place to stay. Long famous as the heartland of black New York, the northern tip of Manhattan had an unenviable reputation for poverty, robbery and murder. Asthma, venereal disease and tuberculosis rates were shockingly high; the streets were full

A Law unto Themselves?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Have judges overplayed their hand? Have they started illegitimately wading into political and social issues, forgetting their proper place? Speak to some commentators or read particular newspapers and you would certainly think so. When, during Gina Miller’s challenge to the government’s power to trigger Article 50, the Daily Mail branded judges ‘enemies of the people’, […]

Computer Says Ike

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In her instructions to Harvard’s young historians, called ‘How to Write a Paper for This Class’, Professor Jill Lepore advises, ‘Every argument worth making begins with a question.’ The question that runs through her riveting account of the developing links, in the second half of the last century, between computing technology and politics is ‘What […]

Beyond the Black Stuff

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Daniel Yergin is a highly regarded expert on the global oil industry who won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1991 book The Prize. His main claim to fame was dismissing the idea of peak oil, the notion that the black stuff would prove finite rather than harder to access. He is vice-chairman of the business […]

Bonfires of Reason

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Three infamous conflagrations illuminate the pages of Richard Ovenden’s fascinating new history, Burning the Books. The first is the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria, which, according to Ovenden, did not go up in a single blaze but was gradually destroyed by repeated acts of arson and plunder, until there was nothing left but a metaphor. The second is the burning of the US Library of Congress by the British in 1814, when soldiers’ faces were ‘illumined’ by the flames. ‘I do not recollect to have witnessed, at any period in my life,’ a British soldier said, ‘a scene more striking or sublime.’ The third burning is certainly the best known: the Nazi Bücherverbrennungen that followed Hitler’s rise to power. ‘The 10 May 1933 book-burning was merely the forerunner of arguably the most concerted and well-resourced eradication of books

One Country, One System

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

A few years ago, I heard a Chinese anthropologist speaking about her work in Tibet. She recalled an incident where she tried to give her Tibetan interlocutors some Chinese apples, until they gently explained that they preferred local fruit, which could be more easily sliced up and distributed to their relatives, typically much more numerous

River Deep, Mountain High

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Throughout this summer, tensions have been rising in the Himalayas. It is not only Hong Kong and Xinjiang that have encountered the increasing belligerence of the Chinese Communist Party. The Himalayas have also borne witness to China’s ever more aggressive expansionism. Earlier this year, Chinese forces brawled with Indian troops in the disputed Galwan Valley […]

Portrait of the Weird

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This handsome and lavishly illustrated monograph on the artist Richard Eurich (1903–92) is most welcome. Eurich is chiefly admired for his landscapes, often panoramic in scope yet intricately detailed, and for narrative pictures that are rich in incident. His Men of Straw (1957), in the collection of the Castle Museum, Nottingham, is here given a […]

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter