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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...

A Soviet memoir: Lost in translation

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 15:59

I’ll tell the story, Grandpa The Lost Khrushchev: A Journey into the Gulag of the Russian Mind. By Nina Khrushcheva. Tate Publishing; 320 pages; $22.99. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukNINA KHRUSHCHEVA is the great-granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev; her mother was his granddaughter. Yet Nina grew up calling the one-time Soviet leader “Grandfather” because her real grandfather, Leonid, had been written out of the family history. “The Lost Khrushchev” explains what happened, and rebuts a smear which arose after the Soviet Union’s collapse: that Leonid, in truth a brave wartime pilot, had been a traitor.Ms Khrushcheva has adopted her mother’s surname as an act of solidarity with her family, who lived in a curious limbo in the Soviet Union: privileged in material terms, of high status socially, but political outcasts. Her father, Lev Petrov, was a cosmopolitan foreign correspondent (and...

Correction: David Niven

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 15:59

In last week’s review of Richard Flanagan’s “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” (“Remembrance”, July 5th) we claimed that David Niven was the moustachioed actor in “Bridge on the River Kwai”. We should have said Alec Guinness. Sorry. This has been corrected online.

Scottish contemporary art: Expanding universe

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 15:59

Room with a view IT WAS always going to be a big year for things Scottish: 2014 marks the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, when the Scots beat the English in the first war of independence. It is also the year in which the Scots will take on the world, or at least 52 parts of it, at the Commonwealth games in Glasgow. Long before the date was set for the referendum on independence on September 18th, Scotland’s main museums, its corporate culture vultures and those who approve Scottish public funding for the arts decided this was the year to host a retrospective showing the art the country had produced over the past 25 years.Over the next few weeks 60 galleries across the country—from the grand old Scottish National Gallery in the centre of Edinburgh to An Lanntair, an arthouse in the Outer Hebrides—are preparing to display work by 100 artists, covering paintings, drawings, photography, film, sculpture and conceptual installations.Spanning decades of artistic study, GENERATION shows the many different ways the Scots imagine the human universe. Across all four walls of one room in the National Gallery, Steven Campbell has...

The Spanish empire: Border line

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 15:59

World Without End: The Global Empire of Philip II. By Hugh Thomas. Allen Lane; 463 pages; £30. Buy from Amazon.co.ukIN THE 1580s King Philip II of Castile ruled over a huge empire. Iberia, much of Italy, the Low Countries, the Americas from California and Florida to Buenos Aires, the Caribbean and the Philippines were all under his suzerainty. Spanish officials even went as far as to consider the conquest of China; one thought it could be taken by fewer than 60 “good Spanish soldiers”.Hugh Thomas, a British historian, has devoted much of his life to chronicling the achievement of the Spanish conquistadors in America. In “World Without End” he completes his trilogy on imperial expansion in the century after Columbus’s first transatlantic voyage. This final volume covers the period of consolidation, the “age of administration” in which professional officials, many of them clerics, gradually took over from conquistadors.Philip and his empire have had a bad press. Lord Thomas wants to rehabilitate both. He portrays the monarch not as an intolerant control-freak but as a cultured and modest man, devoted to duty, though one who was also cautious and mistrustful. Philip liked all information to be presented to him in writing, which helped the...

New fiction: Sounds of silence

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 15:59

The Silent History. By Eli Horowitz, Matthew Derby and Kevin Moffett. FSG Originals; 528 pages; $16. Jonathan Cape; £17.99. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukMANY animals communicate, but none as successfully as humans. When a group of completely language-deprived deaf children were gathered at a school in Nicaragua in the 1970s, their improvised communication soon became a fully functional sign language like any other. Humans seem born to talk.But not in “The Silent History”, a novel about children who simply do not speak. With otherwise normal brains, they neither try nor seem to care. The novel, by Eli Horowitz, Matthew Derby and Kevin Moffett, was originally serialised for a smartphone and tablet app, with new instalments appearing periodically and special “field reports” added when readers appeared physically at locations in the novel.But the book fits well into hard covers. Despite three authors, and the...

The diamond-necklace affair: Queen, thief, wife, lover

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 15:59

How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette, the Stolen Diamonds, and the Scandal that Shook the French Throne. By Jonathan Beckman. John Murray; 386 pages; £20. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukWHEN the scandal of Marie Antoinette’s diamond necklace broke in 1785, the testimonies of those implicated spooled out into the public eye to be picked over like so much carrion on a battlefield. Cardinal Louis de Rohan, the principal member of an influential, aristocratic French family, stood accused of forging the queen’s signature in order to gain possession of a necklace containing 647 diamonds and weighing 2,800 carats.Rohan, protesting his innocence, insisted the real criminal was Jeanne de la Motte, a penniless member of the Valois royal dynasty and Rohan’s former lover. She, in turn, laid the blame at the feet of Count Cagliostro, a Sicilian con man and occultist. Cagliostro denied everything—except the assassination of Pompey the Great on the orders of a pharaoh in 48BC.For Jonathan Beckman, of the British Literary Review, this is a good subject. The events are as gloriously rococo as the farces beloved of...

New fiction: Remembrance

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 16:05

The Narrow Road to the Deep North. By Richard Flanagan.Chatto & Windus; 448 pages; £16.99. To be published in America next month by Knopf; $26.95. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukARCH FLANAGAN was an Australian soldier captured in Java by the Japanese during the second world war. He became one of “Dunlop’s Thousand”, a near-mythical group of prisoners led by Lieutenant-Colonel Edward “Weary” Dunlop, who were sent to build the “Death Railway” between Thailand and Burma.Those who survived lived through cholera, the hell ships that transported the survivors to Japan towards the end of the war, and months of service as slave labourers in the coal mines under the Inland Sea, south of Hiroshima. “For good reason,” writes Arch’s son, Richard Flanagan, in his new novel, “The Narrow Road to the Deep North”, the captives referred to that “slow descent into madness” with two words: the Line. Forever after, there were...

Football in Latin America: Jogo complicado

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 16:05

The beautiful and the damned Golazo! The Beautiful Game from the Aztecs to the World Cup: The Complete History of How Soccer Shaped Latin America. By Andreas Campomar. Riverhead; 496 pages; $16. Quercus; £20. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukTHERE has been perhaps no better fullback in the history of football than Domingos da Guia (pictured). The strong and elegant defender, known as the “Fortress”, guarded Brazil’s flank in the 1930s and 1940s. Yet as a boy he was afraid to play until his brother prodded him: “Aren’t you any good at dancing?” Domingos was and he brought his samba skills to the pitch, swinging his hips and evading opponents, a precursor to the joga bonito (“play beautifully”) style of recent Brazilian stars.Domingos developed other evasive manoeuvres too. He kept his curly hair under a cap and then took to straightening it in order to look...

The early thinking of Edmund Burke: Freedom fighter

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 16:05

Beware Burke The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke: From the Sublime and Beautiful to American Independence. By David Bromwich. Harvard University Press; 500 pages; $39.95. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukEDMUND BURKE, who died in 1797, is best known for his late writings on the French revolution. The 18th-century member of Parliament, who was a Whig, was one of the first to decry the revolt as the dangerous work of a swinish multitude. In a polemic that has echoes in the present day, he concludes: “The age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.”Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man”, which was published in 1791, is a direct riposte to Burke; indeed, Paine’s tract is subtitled, “Being An Answer to Mr Burke’s Attack on the French Revolution”. In what was to become one of the definitive treatises of the...

Human evolution: Shaped by water

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 16:05

The Improbable Primate: How Water Shaped Human Evolution. By Clive Finlayson. Oxford University Press; 202 pages; $27.95 and £16.99. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukACCORDING to the standard treatment in evolutionary biology, about 1.8m years ago man’s brain became larger, his gut became smaller and he started walking upright. No ape had done that before. It was an important milestone in the story of human evolution.The ancestor in question, Homo erectus, could use simple tools and hunt. His diet was more meat-based than plant-based. Meat has more calories than food derived from plants. Humans had transformed themselves from tree-climbing apes that needed to spend a lot of time searching for food to upright, meat-consuming hunters that could roam large distances. So successful was this transformation, evolutionarily speaking, that in due course the descendants of Homo erectus, modern-day Homo sapiens, had no problems colonising the far reaches of the globe.A few years ago Richard Wrangham, a British primatologist at Harvard University, challenged this...

The estate of Roald Dahl: Roald gold

Thu, 06/26/2014 - 15:58

ROALD DAHL’S Marvellous Children’s Charity (previously the Roald Dahl Foundation), which gives away over £500,000 ($850,000) a year, may raise wobbly smiles from sick British children with its sing-a-long-a-Willy-Wonka evenings or its Oompa-Loompa skydiving leaps. But it sits on a swishwifflingly scrumdiddlyumptious base, thanks to a regular gift from the Dahl family of 5% of the author’s worldwide royalties from books, films and stage performances. (More than 50,000 people see a Dahl-inspired stage musical each month.)Now Marvellous will receive a series of further gifts in the run-up to the centenary of Dahl’s birth in 2016. The first will come from the sale at Christie’s on July 1st of the author’s last remaining Francis Bacon painting, the swirling green study of Lucian Freud (pictured) that Dahl bought in 1967 with the proceeds of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. Purchased for £2,850, it is now estimated to sell for £8m-12m. The Dahl centenary should also help the charity consider extending its giving beyond Britain. Celebratory plans include an American tour of the popular West End musical, “Matilda”, the development of a family of Dahl apps, two big...

The Anthropocene: World domination

Thu, 06/26/2014 - 15:58

Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made. By Gaia Vince. Chatto & Windus; 436 pages; £20. To be published in America by Milkweed Editions in November; $26. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukONE of the grandest concepts in science fiction is the idea of terraforming, in which advanced civilisations reshape entire planets to suit their needs. Deliberate, large-scale terraforming remains the stuff of the far future. But an accidental sort is happening right now, on Earth. Human industrial civilisation is altering the entire planet. Its pollutants are changing the atmosphere; its greenhouse gases are warming the climate and expanding and acidifying the oceans. Humanity’s hunger is making forests vanish, deserts spread and rivers change their course. Meanwhile distinctive chemicals are being deposited in the rocks and the sixth great mass extinction in the planet...

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