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American politics: Purpose and worth

Thu, 07/31/2014 - 16:00

Bumper sticker The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan. By Rick Perlstein. Simon & Schuster; 856 pages; $37.50 and £25. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukONE of Ronald Reagan’s favourite jokes, loved and polished like a pebble carried for luck, told of a small boy with incurable optimism. Shown a room heaped with horse dung, the child gleefully began digging. “With all this manure,” the boy beamed, “there must be a pony in here somewhere.” Americans of the left did not laugh. To them—as Rick Perlstein argues in “The Invisible Bridge”, a fine (if overlong) history of the late 1960s and early 1970s—Reagan’s emergence as a national leader was a tragedy. As seen by the left, Reagan lulled Americans back to sleep at the moment that an unhappy, failure-haunted country was poised to wake and see itself clearly for the first time. For such critics, Reagan’s...

Correction

Thu, 07/31/2014 - 16:00

In our review of Tom Wilkinson’s book, “Bricks and Mortals” (“Building societies”, July 19th), we referred to the Great Mosque of Djenné in Timbuktu instead of the Djinguereber Mosque in Timbuktu.

Governing Britain: A difficult truth

Thu, 07/31/2014 - 16:00

The Blair kitsch project The Blair Supremacy: A Study in the Politics of Labour’s Party Management. By Lewis Minkin. Manchester University Press; 798 pages; £90. Buy from Amazon.comAmazon.co.ukThe Too Difficult Box: The Big Issues Politicians Can’t Crack. Edited by Charles Clarke. Biteback Publishing; 352 pages; £25. Buy from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk“A CHANGING world means changing policies and a changed party,” Tony Blair told a flock of die-hard supporters in London on July 21st. The former prime minister was recalling the day, precisely 20 years earlier, on which he had ascended to the leadership of the Labour Party. But what did this...

King Tutankhamun: Finding the pharaoh

Thu, 07/31/2014 - 16:00

THE British Museum’s “Treasures of Tutankhamun” show in 1972 was the world’s first blockbuster exhibition. For nine months, more than 7,000 people queued every day, filling the museum’s forecourt in Bloomsbury, to see the wonders from the boy-king’s tomb. Since that travelling exhibition, no display of Egyptian antiquities has come close. Not that this has stopped curators from trying.The latest effort is at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. By focusing on the excavation rather than the contents of the tomb, the show manages to convey the thrill of unsealing a grave still stuffed with treasure. The story begins in November 1922, when a British archaeologist, Howard Carter, sent a telegram to his patron, George Herbert, the Earl of Carnarvon, saying: “At last have made wonderful discovery in Valley; a magnificent tomb with seals intact.”Thanks to blow-ups of the original glass-plate negatives, visitors get to see exactly what confronted the excavation team when they entered: an antechamber piled high with chairs, boxes and beds adorned with animal heads; a painted chest filled with the pharaoh’s robes and sandals; and a rectangular stone sarcophagus containing the...

European history: Religious warring

Thu, 07/31/2014 - 16:00

The new Charlemagne Christendom Destroyed: Europe 1517-1648. By Mark Greengrass. Allen Lane; 722 pages; £30. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukTHE new Penguin History of Europe, edited by Sir David Cannadine, was launched more than a decade ago. With five volumes now out, it is shaping up to be the best general account available, superseding all previous ones. The latest volume covers what might be called the birth of modern Europe, from the Reformation, which broke the dominance of the Roman Catholic church, to the Treaty of Westphalia, which entrenched the idea of the nation-state. It also maps the transition from the medieval notion of Christendom to the modern concept of Europe, something that provides the main theme for Mark Greengrass, now an emeritus professor at Sheffield University.Like the four earlier volumes in the series, this one strays far from the traditional focus on...

Cricket in Pakistan: Batting for survival

Thu, 07/31/2014 - 16:00

Wounded Tiger: A History of Cricket in Pakistan. By Peter Oborne. Simon & Schuster; 624 pages; £25. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk“WHAT do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” The literary challenge posed by C.L.R. James, a Trinidadian Marxist author, has borne much fruit in recent years, especially in India. Led by Ramachandra Guha, cricket writers have produced illuminating studies of the Indian game’s socio-political context in which not only cricket, but also India, is the subject. Pakistani cricket is every bit as wonderful to enthusiasts of the world’s second most popular game and as important to an emerging Asian country’s fragile self-identity. But, compared with India, it has been relatively neglected. So Peter Oborne’s ambitious history of Pakistani cricket, “Wounded Tiger”, has been eagerly awaited. It does not disappoint.The title refers to a team talk given by the then Pakistani cricket captain, Imran Khan, halfway through the 1992 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. The Pakistanis were playing abysmally and on the verge of elimination. To survive, they must fight like cornered Tigers, urged...

A memoir of hawking: Birdsong

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 15:58

H is for Hawk. By Helen Macdonald. Jonathan Cape; 300 pages; £14.99. To be published in America by Grove Atlantic in March 2015. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukTHIS absorbing book opens in the Cambridgeshire fens. “It’s a land of twisted pine trees, burned-out cars, shotgun-peppered road signs and US Air Force bases,” Helen Macdonald writes. She left home at dawn in her old Volkswagen on an errand she can barely name until she finds what she is looking for: a pair of goshawks on the wing, “raincloud grey”, slipping through the air “fast, like a knife-cut”, male and female dancing together in the morning air. Three weeks later she learns of her father’s death; the story she tells is spurred by grief.Grief of many kinds, not just for the loss of a loved one. This is a well-wrought book, one part memoir, one part gorgeous evocation of the natural world and one part literary meditation on the difficult legacy of T.H....

The American civil war: Marching through Georgia

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 15:58

Dandy Yankees dawdling Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman. By Robert O’Connell. Random House; 404 pages; $28. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukTHE American South will never forget William Tecumseh Sherman. One hundred and fifty years ago, in 1864, General Sherman led an army of 60,000 northerners through Georgia and the Carolinas, burning Atlanta and foraging off the land. He aimed to shatter the Confederates into submission and to hasten the end of the civil war. Sherman’s “March to the Sea” endures as one of the most memorable, and innovative, campaigns of the four-year conflict.Yet Sherman (pictured above right), a military man for most of his career, had come perilously close to missing the action. An earlier command in Kentucky had gone badly, as he fought depression and the press bashed him as insane. An alignment with General Ulysses Grant, who emerged as...

Margot Asquith and the first world war: Telling tales

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 15:58

Margot Asquith’s Great War Diary, 1914-1916: The View from Downing Street. Edited by Michael Brock and Eleanor Brock. Oxford University Press; 417 pages; $49.95 and £30. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukDID a British prime minister ever have a more indiscreet wife? Or one more politically important? Margot Asquith gossiped and rowed with Westminster’s great and powerful. They liked receiving her invitations to Downing Street, where Tories broke bread with Liberals. Her bookish husband Herbert Asquith profited politically from these soirées.A recent television drama portrays Margot Asquith as a flibbertigibbet, who was only interested in trivia. Her wartime diaries, published for the first time, reveal an astute woman who relishes political argument. The diaries start with the lead-up to war and end with the fall of the last Liberal government and David Lloyd George’s extraordinary coup against the prime minister...

The future of the Maeght Foundation: Sunshine and colour

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 15:58

Calder cat WHEN Aimé Maeght, a French art dealer, lost his young son to leukaemia in the 1950s, a trio of formidable modern painters—Georges Braque, Joan Miró and Fernand Léger—persuaded him to turn the family’s summer retreat above the hills of Nice into an artists’ haven. The Marguerite and Aimé Maeght Foundation is 50 years old this month, and still bears abundant traces of the artists who made it happen: a magical Miró labyrinth, mosaics and stained glass by Braque. Its collection of 12,000 works includes 35 sculptures by Alberto Giacometti, as well as masterpieces by Pierre Bonnard, Marc Chagall, Miró, Léger and Alexander Calder, among others. On average, 200,000 visitors tour its colourful galleries and garden every year.Behind the idyllic exterior, though, the institution is vulnerable. The foundation is finding it hard to raise its €3m ($4m) annual budget. The 12-person board—led by Maeght’s son, Adrien, an ageing gallerist, and including Adrien’s daughter, Isabelle, as well as three representatives of the French government—is divided over strategy. Adrien’s youngest daughter, Yoyo, who eight years ago wrote the family...

Singing: Voice-overs

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 15:58

A History of Singing. By John Potter and Neil Sorrell. Cambridge University Press; 355 pages; £19.99. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukTHE first music that humans made was song. All music arrived, the early Hindus believed, through the yoni, or birth canal, of Vedic chants. The Abrahamic religions also based their music on the chanted word, often equating instruments with pagan frivolity. From the earliest known praise songs of the Sumerian king Culgi of Ur, 3,000 years ago, singing voices have celebrated, seduced and bound tribes together.Yet this obvious truth cannot be proven. Until recording technology arrived, hard evidence was limited to images of open mouths on walls and pots, and medieval singing manuals. Luckily, this has not stopped musicologists from trying to sketch out a history of singing. John Potter, a singer formerly with the Hilliard Ensemble, and Neil Sorrell, a composer and expert in Asian music, approach this challenge with brio.Their survey bristles with facts. Though written for the expert, it is equally accessible to the amateur alto. Who knew, for example, that...

Crime and punishment: Lashes and lashing out

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 15:58

The Punisher’s Brain: The Evolution of Judge and Jury. By Morris B. Hoffman. Cambridge University Press; 352 pages; $30 and £21.99. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukON A February afternoon in 1978, Freddie Hall and an accomplice kidnapped Karol Hurst, who was 21 years old and seven months pregnant. They drove her to nearby woodland where she was beaten, raped and murdered. After dumping her body, they used her car in a botched robbery of a corner shop, during which they killed Lonnie Coburn, a sheriff’s deputy. The facts have never been in dispute. On the jury’s recommendation, Mr Hall was sentenced to death in accordance with Florida law.In a long string of appeals the debate centred on whether this was the appropriate punishment. Mr Hall has an IQ of about 71, well below the national average. He is now the longest-serving inmate on death row, and his case became news again recently when the Supreme Court ruled on executing people who are mentally disabled. The court struck down the state’s rigid policy that anyone with an IQ of more than 70 is mentally fit to die, regardless of other evidence. Mr Hall’s lawyers insist that...

Clare Boothe Luce: A woman of substance

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 16:01

Beauty was her masquerade Price of Fame: The Honorable Clare Boothe Luce. By Sylvia Jukes Morris. Random House; 735 pages; $35. Buy from Amazon.comAmazon.co.ukBEAUTY was an asset Clare Boothe Luce used to her political (and financial) advantage. But so, too, were the other characteristics summed up by Sylvia Jukes Morris in this second and final part of her exhaustive biography of one of the most remarkable women of 20th-century America: “charm, humour, coquetry, intellect, ambition”. These brought her marriages to two wealthy men, two outspoken terms in the House of Representatives, an ambassadorship in Rome and an array of honours that culminated in the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Not bad for a woman born illegitimate in an unpromising part of New York.But the package of characteristics, to which should be added a ferocious capacity for hard work, also brought much more: a...

Alan Stanbrook, 1938-2014

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 16:01

In March 1984, when The Economist expanded its books section to include coverage of the arts under the name Books Plus, Alan Stanbrook was just the man for the job. He had joined the paper in 1975 as a financial writer. But his life’s passion, discovered while doing a year of National Service before going up to Oxford, was film. He began freelancing for Films and Filming, squeezing in screenings whenever he had a spare moment. He developed a particular liking, long before it was fashionable, for Asian cinema and was a regular visitor to the popular Busan film festival in South Korea. He kept meticulous notes and never forgot a film. Reviewing “Saving Private Ryan” in 1998, he was able in less than an hour to produce an elegant history of great Hollywood war films going right back to “All Quiet on the Western Front” and its much better second-world-war equivalent, “A Walk in the Sun”. He had seen them all.

New art from the Middle East: Shifting chronicle

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 16:01

ASK most American museum-goers, even avid ones, to name a prominent artist from the Arab world, and they will probably draw a blank. Now an ambitious show at the New Museum in the Bowery district of Manhattan aims to put that right. “Here and Elsewhere”, which opened on July 16th, does not propose to define Arabic art as a unified whole or even try to pin down a regional aesthetic. Instead, it presents more than 45 artists working in a wide range of media, who chronicle or bear witness to political and social change in the Middle East in all its heated confusion and messiness.The exhibit borrows its title from a French film of the same name, “Ici et Ailleurs”, made by Jean-Luc Godard and his partner, Anne-Marie Miéville, with Jean-Pierre Gorin, about the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The project ran into trouble during filming in 1970, when King Hussein ordered the raiding of PLO camps in Jordan. Many of those who had been filmed were killed. Uncertain at first about how to proceed, Mr Godard and Ms Miéville decided to recast the unfinished work, mixing what they had shot with file footage, voice-over narration and...

French fiction: Unhappy families

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 16:01

Happy are the Happy. By Yasmina Reza. Translated by Sarah Ardizzone. Harvill Secker; 210 pages; £12.99. To be published in America by Other Press in January 2015; $20. Buy from Amazon.comAmazon.co.ukYASMINA REZA has set herself a challenge in her latest novel, and she rises to it beautifully. “Happy are the Happy”, vivaciously translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone, charts the conjugal, parental and romantic woes of 18 interconnected characters. Each chapter is a monologue delivered by one of them. The cast includes Robert, a journalist who is unhappily married to Odile; Odile’s father Ernest, who is unhappily married to Jeannette; and Ernest’s sister Marguerite, who is unhappily single. There are also the Hutners. They appear to be happy, but are in fact hiding the secret of their deranged son. The structure could have given the book the staccato feeling of short stories. But in Ms Reza’s hands it has...

Volcanoes: Vulcan’s twins

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 16:01

Vents of fury Island on Fire: The Extraordinary Story of Laki, the Volcano that Turned Eighteenth-Century Europe Dark. By Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe. Profile Books; 224 pages; £10.99. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukTambora: The Eruption that Changed the World. By Gillen D’Arcy Wood. Princeton University Press; 293 pages; $29.95 and £19.95. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukFOR most of history, volcanoes embodied the capacity of the natural world to wreak havoc on human societies. Recently though, global warming—invisible, subtle, the very opposite of volcanoes—has displaced them as the incarnation of environmental threat. Two recent...

Burgundy: Amazing grapes

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 16:01

Shadows in the Vineyard: The True Story of a Plot to Poison the World’s Greatest Wine. By Maximillian Potter. Twelve; 304 pages; $27 and £19.99. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk“THE true story of a plot to poison the world’s greatest wine”. The subtitle of “Shadows in the Vineyard” makes Maximillian Potter’s first book sound like a real page-turner. Indeed, much of the detail that the author, an American journalist, has unearthed about an extortion attempt made in 2010 against Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC), the French estate that makes the world’s most expensive wine, is ripe for a Hollywood film.A mysterious criminal digs a hidden space next to vineyards so beloved that no one has ever seen the need to protect them. For over a year he spends his days listening to Mozart in his lair, and his nights meticulously mapping every vine on the estate, some of whose Pinot Noir sells for $10,000 a bottle. With help from his son, he drills holes into the roots of hundreds of vines, and then kills two of them with a herbicide. He writes to Aubert de Villaine, the head of DRC, demanding €1m ($1.4m) in exchange for keeping the rest of...

Architecture: Building societies

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 16:01

Bricks and Mortals: Ten Great Buildings and the People They Made. By Tom Wilkinson. Bloomsbury; 340 pages; $30 and £25. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukTOWARDS the end of the 15th century a boy traipsing along a Roman hillside stumbled down a crevice and landed in a subterranean gallery. That dark grotto turned out to be the Emperor Nero’s first-century villa, or what was left of it. Nero’s successors, eager to rub out all traces of the hated ruler, had built over it, and the vast villa had been forgotten.Nero’s Domus Aurea (“Golden House”) is one of the case studies in Tom Wilkinson’s “Bricks and Mortals: Ten Great Buildings and the People They Made”. Mr Wilkinson sets out to demonstrate the full complexity of a building. It takes on the personality of the people who built or occupied it, and its public image evolves in line with theirs.To illustrate his point, Mr Wilkinson (who teaches at University College London) uses examples as old as the Tower of Babel and the Great Mosque of Djenné in Timbuktu, and as recent as Oscar Niemeyer’s curved footbridge in Rio de Janeiro. He shows how each building has...

Israel and its neighbours: Blood brothers

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 15:59

Cursed Victory: A History of Israel and the Occupied Territories. By Ahron Bregman. Allen Lane; 416 pages; £25. To be published in America by Pegasus in May 2015. Buy from Amazon.co.ukONE of the products of Israel’s half-century of military rule is the surfeit of literature it has produced about Jews bullying Arabs. Ahron Bregman’s account, “Cursed Victory”, is better than most. He unmasks the administrative brutality beneath Israel’s claim to “enlightened occupation”. He recalls how in the aftermath of the 1967 conquest Israel’s government trucked a quarter of Gaza’s population to Jordan; how General Moshe Dayan’s celebrated “Open Bridges” policy, which gave Palestinians a respite from occupation and the chance to travel to Jordan, opened only in one direction for many; and how the Golan Heights were emptied of their 138,000 people, bar a few thousand Druze. The more people Israel displaced, the more land became available for Jewish settlements.A former Israeli soldier in Lebanon, Mr Bregman knows his subject first-hand. In...

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