Author Archives: Frank Brinkley

Finally Relents

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Before I started Destiny, Tim Parks’s new novel set in Italy, I idly wondered if it might resemble Verdi’s opera La forza del destino, with its marvellous stormy music and its assurance that everything can be blamed on fate. But the narrator of this commanding novel turned out to be anything but operatic. Chris is […]

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True Story of How He Finally Captured Her

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This love story begins with two gerontic delinquents driving along the northern bypass of Oxford and enjoying the ‘hoots and shouts from passing cars who have had to brake at speed’. At this point, the oldies judder off on to the grassy verge, leave the car, worm their way through a gap in the hedge […]

Too Much to Do

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the case of Philip II of Spain, absolute power did not corrupt, but it was disastrous. From the age of sixteen, in 1543, until his death in 1598, he controlled the world’s first global empire (a phrase of the time), on which, it was thought, the sun need never set. Philip inherited Spain and […]

Miraculous Survival

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the year or so that I have been working on a history of Stalin’s concentration camps, I have cried three times. Once when I read Eugenia Ginsberg’s account of the months she spent working in the children’s section of a camp, where the barbed wire, gates and guards formed a terrible contrast with the […]

A Selfish Man Condemned to Live in Ireland

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Why do we always think of Swift as old? The image one has of him is that of a crusty old codger shuffling around the streets of Dublin or London, kicking urchins out of his way while he does his best to avoid the importunings of the various womenfolk with whom he has become entangled. […]

How Stalin Ruined the Spanish Republic

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

I have long admired Gerald Howson for his dogged determination to get to the truth, whatever the cost in hard labour. No episode in recent history is covered with more acres of ignorance than that of arms deliveries to the Spanish Republic in its struggle with Franco and the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. […]

Was it an Accident?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Margaret Atwood is one of the most brilliant and unpredictable novelists alive. She is always putting her past behind her: her novels share no family likeness. It is strange to recall her early books, such as Surfacing and The Edible Woman. They were slender and graceful – and very much a young writer’s work. But […]

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Short, Fierce Life of a Homicidal Cupid

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The restless, driven, intensely idiosyncratic life of the poet Arthur Rimbaud reads like a biographer’s dream. After a brief and explosive career as the enfant sauvage of French literature, he gives up writing poetry at the age of twenty-one, becomes a drifter, gunrunner and African explorer, and expires painfully and deliriously in a Marseilles hospital […]

Portrait of the Author

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Claire Tomalin has uncovered many secrets during her long career as a biographer. She shed light on the life of Dickens’s young mistress, Nelly Ternan, and also revealed the clandestine liaison between the future William IV and the actress Mrs Jordan, who bore him ten children. Now she turns her attention to her own life. […]

The Needle & the Damage Done

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

I once went to an AA meeting in Gstaad. That’s the resort for the super rich where, as the joke goes, Roger Federer can’t afford to join the tennis club. Lindt chocolates and espresso coffee were served in a clubhouse setting. The very rich people there munched, sipped and shared. What came out of their mouths […]

Lofty Company

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Adam Begley’s book begins with an image of the 19th-century French photographer Nadar drifting among the clouds in a hot air balloon. Wearing a top hat and a floppy cravat, with a tartan blanket casually draped over one shoulder, he is depicted not as an ordinary traveller but as ‘a dandy of the air’. An uncropped

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, […]

In the Court of King Arawn

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Pedeir Ceinc y Mabinogi is a set of four loosely connected prose tales preserved in a couple of late medieval Welsh manuscripts, though they must have reached their present form by about 1200. The conventional title translates as ‘The Four Branches of the Mabinogi’, mabinogi being a word meaning very roughly ‘youthful exploits’, or the early achievements of a hero. But this title tells us almost nothing

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Hwæt!

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This single volume represents all the surviving 31,000 lines of Old English poetry in translation. It’s a big book, but this is a virtue, and it will be very handy for scholars and students. Although an academic book, it will also be a useful addition to the library of anyone curious about English literature in […]

Goodbye to All That

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In November 1989, five Oxford students boarded a ferry from Dover to Zeebrugge. The Berlain Wall had been breached and they were heading east. Eighteen hours later, remembers the Financial Times columnist Edward Luce, they were ‘driving at high speed to Berlin’, suffused with idealism and excitement. Soon they were chipping at the wall alongside […]

The Eagle & the Dragon

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Here are two ambitious books by US journalists who cover China, and a lesser effort by Harvard academic Graham Allison that does not match its portentous billing, though it will receive plenty of coverage. John Pomfret has reported on China for decades for the Washington Post and spends part of the year with his wife, […]

Road to Abbottabad

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

I suspect that most of us who are old enough to do so remember where we were on 11 September 2001. I was sitting at my desk in London, wrestling with a book proposal, when a member of a military history email discussion list (do such things still exist?) mentioned that, from his office in New […]

Rebels with a Cause

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Many of the individuals who feature in Jamie Bartlett’s Radicals appear to be in search of a spiritual home. They are, broadly speaking, men and women who live in liberal democracies that have satisfied the basic conditions of life. Yet collectively they find themselves staring into the void that might once have been filled by […]


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