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Updated: 2 hours 3 min ago

Correction: Hummingbird

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 15:55

We made a mistake when we said that the heart beats a billion times in the life of both a hummingbird and a human being (“Fairy creatures”, April 5th). The correct figure should have been 1.26 billion heartbeats in the life of a hummingbird and 2.45 billion for a human being.

Kim Philby: Rogue mate

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 15:55

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal. By Ben Macintyre. Bloomsbury; 352 pages; £20. To be published in America by Crown Publishing in July; $27. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk Kim Philby: The Unknown Story of the KGB’s Master Spy. By Tim Milne. Biteback Publishing; 285 pages; $29.95 and £20. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk WHEN an urbane young man named Harold Philby, whom everyone called Kim, joined Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (or MI6) in 1940, no one questioned his credentials. “I was asked about him, and said I knew his people,” recalled one top spy. He belonged to the same clubs, drank the same booze and wore the same ties as the other men who secretly waged war against Britain’s enemies. He was one of them. Except he wasn’t. Kim Philby was a dedicated communist, a double agent working for the Soviet Union.The nub of this story is...

American cinema: A man in full

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 15:55

John Wayne: The Life and Legend. By Scott Eyman. Simon and Schuster; 512 pages; $32.50 and £25. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukSOON after his 57th birthday, John Wayne learned that he had a big cancerous tumour on his left lung. “I sat there,” he later wisecracked, “trying to be John Wayne.” Who was that imaginary figure: Western hero? Shy giant? Rightist bigot? American myth? Scott Eyman knows the questions but leaves it mostly to others to say what Wayne’s outsize screen personage meant. He concentrates instead on what Wayne, the actor, did.In comprehensive detail, this new biography chronicles a great star at work. Light on Hollywood gush and sleaze, it tracks the ups and downs of a long career. Its patient record of Wayne’s triple hold on audiences, critics and moneymen goes some way to explaining an astonishing fact about a man who was born in 1907, not long after the birth of film itself: that even...

America in Afghanistan: Misjudgments

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 15:55

Time to declare The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014. By Carlotta Gall. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 329 pages; $28. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukFEW observers are better placed than Carlotta Gall to judge what has gone so badly wrong in Pakistan and Afghanistan since 2001. She spent more than a decade reporting for the New York Times in both countries, often from remote corners. She has a family connection, too: her father, Sandy Gall, is a British television journalist who covered Afghanistan for many years, notably during the war of the 1980s.In “The Wrong Enemy” Ms Gall offers a provocative and compelling thesis: that America and its allies are leaving Afghanistan as a weakened state, plagued by violence and vulnerable to ambitions of its neighbours. That is despite the deaths of perhaps 70,000 Afghans, 3,400 foreign soldiers and a trillion-...

London theatre: Man of the moment

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 15:55

OF ALL modern dramatists, Arthur Miller can be the hardest to bring up to date. His plays are vivid portraits of the era in which they were written. As a result, few productions manage to go beyond presenting them as period pieces. “A View from the Bridge”, which opened at the Young Vic theatre in London on April 11th, is a rare exception. Directed by Ivo van Hove, a Belgian who is fast becoming known further afield, it is a striking new take on Miller’s work.“A View from the Bridge” tells the story of Eddie Carbone, an Italian-American longshoreman living in Red Hook, Brooklyn. After he takes in Marco and Rodolpho, two men who have illegally arrived from Sicily, events begin to unravel: his young niece Catherine becomes infatuated with Rodolpho, disturbing the jealous and protective Eddie. As a play it can seem dated: Eddie’s belief that Rodolpho is homosexual seems forced (“I’m tellin’ you I know—he ain’t right”), while the structure of Miller’s play—loosely based on Greek tragedy, with one character, a lawyer, narrating events to the audience—can appear mannered.Mr van Hove is known for his innovative approach to classic plays. Since 2001 he has been the...

Fiction: Chronicle of a death foretold

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 15:55

The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair. By Joël Dicker. Translated by Sam Taylor. MacLehose Press; 615 pages; £20. To be published in America by Penguin Press in May. Buy from Amazon.comAmazon.co.ukHARRY QUEBERT is a struggling part-time writer who, like others before and since, exchanges the distractions of New York for a quiet life in rural New England. He heads to Somerset, New Hampshire, and almost immediately falls in love with Nola, a beautiful local girl. He is 34, she is 15. One night she climbs out of her bedroom window and disappears.Thirty-three years later Nola’s body is dug up in the grounds of Quebert’s seaside home. Also in the grave is a leather bag with a manuscript copy of the novel that has made his name in the intervening period. Quebert, the sole suspect, is quickly arrested. Marcus Goldman, his gifted young protégé, turns up, intent on clearing his master’s name.Written in French by Joël Dicker, a Swiss novelist who is not yet 30, “The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair” was first published in 2012. It has since sold 2m copies in Europe and has been translated into 32 languages in 45 countries...

Fiction: After dark

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 15:55

The Walk Home. By Rachel Seiffert. Virago; 294 pages; $25.95 and £14.99. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukFOR Rachel Seiffert, history is a burden that can never be shed. “The Dark Room”, her 2001 debut, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, traced the legacy of Nazi guilt in Germany through the lives of three ordinary people. She sought neither to explain nor justify, instead exploring how people survive the weight of their own past. Most of her writing since, both long-form and short, echoes similar themes.“The Walk Home”, her third novel, retreads this turf. The book is set in Glasgow and follows the fissures of an age-old sectarian divide in two intertwined narratives, set now and 20 years ago. In the early part of the story Lindsey is on the run, first, as a young pregnant girl, from her father and Ireland (“Her border hometown: not just boring, it was a war zone”) and later from Scotland, her...

University sport in America: Power of the punch

Thu, 04/10/2014 - 15:59

It looks peaceful enough The Price of Silence: The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite, and the Corruption of Our Great Universities. By William Cohan. Scribner; 653 pages; $35. Buy from Amazon.com; Amazon.co.ukON MARCH 13th 2006 the lacrosse team from Duke University, a wealthy private institution in North Carolina, hired two strippers to dance at a party. One was a black single mother, Crystal Mangum, who claimed afterwards that some of the players had raped her in a bathroom. The ensuing scandal provoked much hand-wringing about race and class. After charges against three players collapsed Duke settled lawsuits for around $20m each. William Cohan, a former banker who has made a career writing about Lazard Frères, Bear Stearns and Goldman Sachs, studied at Duke. But he pulls no punches and few parties emerge well from this book.Duke’s lacrosse team had long been a headache...

Depression in the West: Tidal wave

Thu, 04/10/2014 - 15:59

The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic. By Jonathan Rottenberg. Basic Books; 256 pages; $26.99 and £17.99. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukJONATHAN ROTTENBERG was a depressive. Now he is a leading researcher into depression and director of the University of South Florida’s mood and emotion laboratory. He says depression afflicts many, is poorly understood and very hard to treat. If the world is to reverse what he calls the current “perfect storm” of depression risk, a radical rethink is needed on how depression is understood.Some believe that depressive illness is simply the result of a depletion in the brain of certain neurotransmitters and is treatable with antidepressants. But Mr Rottenberg argues that it may be an evolved, protective response to certain stimuli. Depression, or rather what he refers to as the impulse to “hunker down and wait, at least for a while”, might help humans cope with grief, protect them from conflict, or even help them to avoid being socially ostracised by alerting them to “social risk”. But behavioural responses appropriate to early hunter-gatherers are not necessarily...

Matisse’s cut-outs: Carving into colour

Thu, 04/10/2014 - 15:59

THE image is as striking as it is unexpected: Henri Matisse aged 80, sitting in a cane wheelchair, slicing giant shears through a sheet of colour held in his left hand. At his feet a litter of bright paper scraps surrounds him; a riot of dancing shapes is pinned to the walls. The photograph, taken by Lydia Delectorskaya, the painter’s assistant and muse, documents the startling originality of his “cut-outs”: vibrant designs of apparent simplicity spooling from a master’s hands in the last decade of his life, each one a tableau of luminosity and power.Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate Galleries in London, considers them among the 20th century’s most moving works of art. He has long dreamed of mounting this exhibition, which opens on April 17th, bringing 120 pieces to London’s Tate Modern and then, in October, to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It will be the first (and quite possibly the last) chance to see these pieces reunited in the whirling profusion with which they first blossomed in the studio.The show tells the definitive story of Matisse’s lesser-known final chapter through newly discovered photographs and film of the artist at work in his...

Sudan and South Sudan: Breaking nations

Thu, 04/10/2014 - 15:59

A Poisonous Thorn in Our Hearts: Sudan and South Sudan’s Bitter and Incomplete Divorce. By James Copnall. Hurst; 315 pages; $30 and £19.99. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukThe New Kings of Crude: China, India, and the Global Struggle for Oil in Sudan and South Sudan. By Luke Patey. Hurst; 357 pages; £25. Buy from Amazon.co.ukA NEW internal war in South Sudan, now in its fifth month, has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes. When the seasonal rains begin in a matter of weeks, those in the bush, and the tens of thousands who have taken refuge inside poorly guarded UN compounds, will be without food. The UN says 3.7m people are at risk. Once again, the call has gone out for massive international aid to avert widespread death and suffering.These unfolding events are deftly forecast by James Copnall in his new book, “A Poisonous Thorn in Our Hearts”. The author was the BBC’...

Cesar Chavez: The grapes of wrath

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 15:57

The Crusades of Cesar Chavez. By Miriam Pawel. Bloomsbury; 588 pages; $35. To be published in Britain in May; £25. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukON THE last day of March, California, Colorado and Texas celebrated Cesar Chavez day, marking the memory of a man who is the closest thing America’s 53m Latinos have to a Martin Luther King. The date is Chavez’s birthday; it was also, he would tell journalists, the anniversary of the day in 1962 when he resigned from a community service group to form his farmworkers’ union. Yet among the revelations of Miriam Pawel’s detailed biography, which will become the definitive life, is the news that he actually quit two weeks earlier. A minor infraction, perhaps, but it illuminates how willing the man, whom many came to see as saintlike, was to construct his own creation myths.Ms Pawel, a former journalist, regards earlier Chavez lives as hagiography. She might say the same of a new Hollywood film directed by Diego Luna. Her book, by contrast, does not shy from the more troubling sides of her subject. Charismatic, if unprepossessing in his plaid shirt and olive trousers, the gap-toothed...

Stockmarkets: Fast times

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 15:57

Flash Boys: Cracking the Money Code. By Michael Lewis. W.W. Norton; 274 pages; $27.95. Allen Lane; £20. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukWHAT can you do in thirteen-thousandths of a second? It is not even enough time to blink your eye. But it does give so-called high-frequency traders (HFTs) enough time to buy and sell shares in today’s stockmarket. Most people would mark down such frenetic trading as a sign of technological progress and forget about it. But Michael Lewis’s new book, “Flash Boys”, alleges that this hyperactivity is a sign of how rigged today’s markets are against ordinary investors.Mr Lewis recounts how a group spent $300m to lay a cable in the straightest possible line from Chicago to New York, cutting through mountains and under car parks, just so the time taken to send a signal back and forth could be cut from 17 milliseconds to 13. In return, the group could charge traders $14m a year to use the...

Avian zoology: Fairy creatures

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 15:57

Family man The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human. By Noah Strycker. Riverhead; 288 pages; $27 and £16.95. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukPLATO suggested that humans were “bipeds without feathers”. People walk on two legs like most avian species. They are also largely diurnal and rely upon sight as their primary sense. All of this, incidentally, is unlike most mammals. Yet how much do humans really share with birds?More than people admit, argues Noah Strycker, an American field biologist, in a new book. The author wants people to appreciate birds “one feather at a time”. He trawls through an impressive amount of field research and introduces readers to some flabbergasting facts.A manx shearwater, for instance, was once kidnapped from a burrow on the Welsh coast and flown 3,200 miles (5,150km) before being released in Boston...

New American theatre: Mind the gaps

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 15:57

Whittling in the dark SO MUCH theatre is big and juicy. People fall in love and sing about it, or they murder someone and rue the day. But much of life is made of small, modest pleasures (tasty mints, starry nights) and tiny tragedies (an errant comment, an uncomfortable shoe). The real dramas are not easily dramatised. They involve quiet feelings of disappointment or vague questions about what constitutes a meaningful life. These are the concerns, at once existential and banal, that drive the plays of Will Eno. The results are moving and rather funny.After more than a decade of steady work and critical acclaim on small stages, mostly in New York and around Britain, Mr Eno is about to have his Broadway debut. “The Realistic Joneses”, starring Toni Collette, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts and Marisa Tomei, opens at the Lyceum theatre in Manhattan on April 6th. Meanwhile another new play, “The Open House”, just ended a successful off-Broadway run. For a playwright whose characters often seem to be grasping for affirmation—a feeling of security that is just out of reach—this is a nicely gratifying moment. At 49, Mr Eno is ready for his...

Contemporary art in LA: Homebase

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 15:57

MANY artists have been vital to Los Angeles, but for some the city’s seminal son is Mike Kelley, who committed suicide two years ago, aged 57. More famous names have spawned greater legions of imitators or improved the business side of art in LA. Kelley put down roots here, tapping into the underbelly of America’s shiny exterior. Now a sprawling retrospective opens at two Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) locations. It shows more clearly than either of its previous incarnations (at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and PS1 in New York) just how productive Kelley was, spilling forth ideas that continue to inform not just LA and the art world, but mainstream American culture.Kelley arrived in 1976 to study at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), north-west of the city. He quickly found that he hated driving, a perverse characteristic of someone born in Detroit (America’s “Motor City”) who then chose to work in a place where cars play such a central role. He also felt trapped by rival factions at CalArts, flanked by followers of traditional painting on one side and on the other by those who preferred the more conceptual art that was in vogue during the...

New fiction: Go for gothic

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 15:57

The Quick. By Lauren Owen. Jonathan Cape; 517 pages; £12.99. To be published in America by Random House in June; $27. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukLAUREN OWEN’S debut, “The Quick”, a long and complex gothic fiction, has been praised by Kate Atkinson and Hilary Mantel. It starts in about 1870 in Aiskew Hall, a “mostly shut-up” old house in Yorkshire. From there it plunges into a murky late-Victorian London of secret gentleman’s clubs, glittering ballrooms, East End doss houses, steam trains and rattling carriages. (The familiarity of the setting is acknowledged by passing references to novels by Wilkie Collins and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.)Extracts from scientific treatises and the notes of a would-be detached observer called Augustus Mould explain the mysterious deaths and woundings that are taking place. Details of nasty procedures, such as the “Exchange” (a blood-brothers ritual) and “Mazement” (the invasion of another’s thoughts), explain why fresh blood is needed, and describe the undead’s constant chill and fear of light, as well as the efficacy of holy water and silver knives.London’s quiet yards and back...

France and “la guerre de quatorze”: Never-forgotten names

Thu, 03/27/2014 - 15:58

Forged by war MARNE, Somme, Verdun. The river plains of northern and eastern France are etched into the historiography of the first world war, just as the scars of battle—the remnants of trenches, the hundreds of military cemeteries—mark the French landscape. France was the main theatre of battle on the western front. It lost 1.4m soldiers, more than any other Western allied power. For France, the narrative of the war is not so much that of wasted lives and tragic loss as national heroism and glorious victory: the last time the country was unambiguously united on the right side of history.Much recent French academic work is a response to a school of thinking that emerged in the 1990s, which held that France nurtured a patriotic “culture of war”, which ensured a collective acceptance of conflict despite the horror, and sustained it through the notion of shared sacrifice and national unity.Historians today focus on the micro-detail: the lives and interaction in the trenches of the poilus (soldiers) and their officers. Nicolas Mariot’s “...

Memoirs of a German soldier: Return of a war classic

Thu, 03/27/2014 - 15:58

Stuff happened ERNST JÜNGER’S “Storm of Steel”, based on his diaries as a young and enthusiastic German volunteer during the first world war, was first published in 1920. It became a classic, and has appeared in German in another seven versions since. The earliest translation into English, in 1929, was not very good. Michael Hofmann’s version, which Penguin Classics first brought out in 2004, finally does the book justice, staying true throughout to the original’s boyish, action-packed, fast-paced and entirely unreflective tone.To Jünger, war is not a puzzle or disaster but merely an elemental force, like the storm in his title or any of the other metaphors he draws from nature. It is about young men being manly mostly and sometimes not; about soldiers doing soldiers’ jobs; and about things—mortars, shrapnel, splinters, bullets, gas—that kill and maim. If Jünger sees evil in all this, it is in the materiel, not in his human adversaries. British mortars have “something of personal vitriol. They are treacherous things.”...

100 years after 1914: Still in the grip of the Great War

Thu, 03/27/2014 - 15:58

WITH four months to go before the centenary of the start of the first world war, the bombardment of new books from competing historians is growing heavier. Unlike many of the young men who went off to fight in 1914, nobody thinks it will all be over by Christmas.This is not surprising. The Great War has always been a publishing phenomenon. Around 25,000 books and scholarly articles have been written on it since 1918. The arguments have been conducted with forensic intensity and unwavering moral passion. The fascination with the war, which exerts its grip most powerfully in the “Anglosphere” countries, is justified. At least 10m men died in the conflict; more than twice that number were seriously injured. Those who bore mental scars for the remainder of their lives are uncounted, as are the civilians who died or who were damaged by bereavement or dislocation.For the first time, but not the last, the organisation and technology of sophisticated industrial societies were seamlessly and lethally joined. The war destroyed empires (some quickly, some more slowly), created fractious new nation-states, gave a sense of identity to the British dominions, forced America to...