Crises of a confidence-man

THE MAN WHO CONNED THE WORLD: VICTOR LUSTIG CHRISTOPHER SANDFORD, THE HISTORY PRESS, 2021, 300pp, £20 Christopher Sandford is an acknowledged expert on the cultural history of the twentieth century, who has written to scintillating effect on subjects from the Rolling Stones to Arthur Conan Doyle, and cricket to Roman Polanski. But Victor Lustig may… Continue reading

From hobbits to H-bombs

Britain at Bay – The Epic Story of the Second World War: 1938-1941 Alan Allport, Profile Books, 2020, £25                            ‘The Second World War,’ says Britain at Bay’s flyleaf, ‘was the defining experience of modern British history. It is our founding myth, our Iliad.’ It is the inspiration for an ongoing outpouring of national (often justifiable)… Continue reading

Monumental follies

Iconoclasm – Identity Politics and the Erasure of History Alexander Adams, Imprint Academic, 2020, 154 pages, £19 The ill-starred year of Covid also saw another, more localised, virus – an outbreak of attacks on public monuments in several countries, particularly the United States and Britain. While this sickness presents as a skin-disease, only scarring symbols,… Continue reading

The enigmas of islands

Phantom Islands – In Search of Mythical Lands Dirk Liesemer, trans. by Peter Lewis, London: Haus Publishing, 2019, £14.99 Dirk Liesemer is a writing Wandervögel, an epistolary inheritor of the romantically- imagined movement that flourished in Germany between the late nineteenth century and 1933. The ‘wandering birds’ took their inspiration from medieval myths, and made… Continue reading

Realms of fiction

The Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien – The Places That Inspired Middle-Earth John Garth, Frances Lincoln, 208 pages, £25 Authors have always imagined alternative universes, but in the bulging gazetteer of authorial Erewhons, from the transient town of Abaton via Atlantis, Earthsea and Hogwarts to Zyundal in the Isles of Wisdom, none attract such… Continue reading

Glories of geography

Antarctic Atlas: New Maps and Graphics That Tell the Story of a Continent Peter Fretwell, Particular Books, 2020, 208 pages, £35 Strata. William Smith’s Geological Maps Foreword by Robert Macfarlane, Thames & Hudson, 2020, 256 pages, £50 ‘Tis the season of complacency, when we sit in warmth and shiver vicariously with Mary and Joseph out… Continue reading

Times of Troubles

Say Nothing – A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland Patrick Radden Keefe, London: William Collins, 2019, pb, 511 pages In May 1169, an Anglo-Norman expeditionary force landed in Wexford to help the King of Leinster subjugate a revolt – an episode mythologised as inaugurating eight centuries of English oppression of Ireland…. Continue reading

Sowing the seeds of future farming

A Small Farm Future Chris Smaje, Chelsea Green, 2020, 297 pages Chris Smaje is almost certainly the only sociologist-turned-farmer in Somerset, and probably in England. This unusually ecologically-aware agriculturist hopes the sobering effects of COVID can encourage global radical rethinking that can reset society by restructuring rurality. More of us now see the fragility of… Continue reading

Mediterranean refugee crisis

“The masters of the Mediterranean are fellaheen today” James Joyce, Ulysses On watch – In a long slow timeless wash Reflux of freighted waters Slim frigates ride – Grey grace the warping waves bestride And fall and rise again like Greeks Upreared on dolphins (That classic life still breathing Like a soul trapped in a… Continue reading

Looking at the looker-on

10,000 Not Out – The History of the Spectator 1828-2020 David Butterfield, London: Unicorn, 256 pages Everyone has seen The Spectator. Few other journals have cut such a dash through history and culture, and no others have lasted as long. Contributing editor David Butterfield has immersed himself to excellent effect in the magazine’s billion-word digitized… Continue reading