Inigo Thomas

Inigo Thomas is finishing his book about the art dealer Tomás Harris.

From The Blog
10 January 2022

I first met Joan Didion in the summer of 1993, soon after I moved to New York, at the launch party for Christopher Hitchens’s book For the Sake of Argument. I was mesmerised by the hand with which she held her glass – her long, thin fingers. Those hands are on show in the recent Netflix documentary about Didion made by her nephew, Griffin Dunne: she waves her arms and hands in front of the camera as if casting a spell. I’d recently been to Miami and had read her book about the city. As she saw it, Miami was ‘long on rumour, short on memory, overbuilt on the chimera of runaway money and referring not to New York or Boston or Los Angeles or Atlanta but to Caracas and Mexico, to Havana and to Bogotá and to Paris and Madrid’. Much of Miami is about the Cuban exile scene, where a love of guns, violence and conspiracy prefigures the paramilitary supporters of Donald Trump. ‘As in other parts of the world where citizens shop for guerrilla discounts and bargains in automatic weapons, there was in Miami an advanced interest in personal security.’ A single word, ‘advanced’, turns a flat sentence into something else.

From The Blog
9 March 2021

With so few people on the streets, your eyes are drawn upwards. I’ve walked or cycled down Rupert Street countless times but have never before noticed the Exchange and Bullion Office at No. 9. The Survey of London says they were the offices of Benjamin Smart, a gold dealer in the 18th and 19th centuries. 

The​ Jalori Pass in Himachal Pradesh, northern India, is ten thousand feet above sea level: there was snow on the ground when I crossed it on foot in May 1982, on a trek in the Himalayas with a friend. The route took us down the side of a mountain to the resthouse we were aiming for, a single-roomed stone building, maintained by an absent housekeeper. Apart from four bare bedsteads, there...

The Most Beautiful Icicle: Apollo 11

Inigo Thomas, 15 August 2019

In​ Neil Armstrong’s photograph of Buzz Aldrin standing on the moon, taken with a camera strapped to his chest, Aldrin stands at ease, his right arm hanging loosely at his side, the left raised as if he’s about to do something – look at his watch, perhaps? The photograph was taken fifty years ago, on 20 July 1969, and it’s one of the most recognisable photographs...

Diary: Berry Bros

Inigo Thomas, 20 December 2018

The​ Medieval English Economic History paper was the one I looked forward to least. Sure enough, when I glanced at the list of questions I realised that of the three I had to answer one would have to be on a subject I knew next to nothing about. First things first: I got up from my desk and walked out of the exam hall to the lobby, where I lit a cigarette – it was 1985, and that sort...

Along the Voie Sacrée

Inigo Thomas, 8 November 2018

The monument​ at Montfaucon d’Argonne, near Verdun, commemorates the American advance that began in September 1918 and ended with the signing of the Armistice on 11 November. George Marshall, after whom the Marshall Plan is named, drew up the order of battle for the American Expeditionary Force. More than a million American soldiers fought in what is known as the Hundred Days...

At Manchester Art Gallery: Annie Swynnerton

Inigo Thomas, 27 September 2018

A portrait​ of Henry James hangs in the Strangers’ Dining Room at the Reform Club. The picture was acquired in 2008, and is on the same red wall as portraits of Dickens and Thackeray. James is seated and sunlight falls on the left temple of his semi-bald head – he’s in his late sixties – and he looks up, distracted, as if someone had just entered the room....

At the Shore

Inigo Thomas, 30 August 2018

Visiting​ the sea for its own sake is a two-hundred-year-old idea, roughly speaking. John Nash finished his expansion of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton in 1822. A few years later, Boulogne, on the other side of the Channel, became an early beach resort: ‘You will find whatever you are looking for there,’ Manet wrote to a friend.

A postcard of Brighton Beach c.1890.


At the Pool

Inigo Thomas, 21 June 2018

The​ Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida is enormous. So is its pool, which you could say is more of a lake. When Madonna stayed there in the early 1990s, she apparently insisted on having the pool to herself, less for the swimming perhaps, and more because as a material goddess she could. I went to a book party at the hotel years ago (the American Booksellers Association jamboree was...

At Maison Empereur

Inigo Thomas, 10 May 2018

Where​ would I find a hardware store in Marseille? I was on holiday fifty miles north of the city. ‘The Maison Empereur,’ my friend replied. ‘It’s an amazing place.’ The next morning, I drove to the coast: the hardware shop is near the old port. Marseille was founded 2600 years ago by Phocaeans, Greeks from Anatolia, known for their coinage and for the galleys...

Short Cuts: At the Ladbroke Arms

Inigo Thomas, 22 February 2018

The Ladbroke Arms​ is a pub in Notting Hill known for years as the policemen’s pub. The explanation is obvious: over the road is the local police station. Two decades ago, if you went for a drink near closing time you could count on running into heavy-set men who liked to tell their tales of riot and violence – theirs, other people’s. This was the overwhelming reason for...

Diary: Michael Wolff’s Book Party

Inigo Thomas, 8 February 2018

‘Never​ lose your sense of the superficial’ was Lord Northcliffe’s advice for tabloid journalists. It’s something Donald Trump appears to understand for himself – and so do the journalists who write about him. Or most of them. Michael Wolff never planned to write a book about the president just as Trump never planned to become president. Wolff remained...

Short Cuts: Cromwell’s Seal

Inigo Thomas, 4 January 2018

The image​ on the seal is of the House of Commons in the mid-17th century, when the chamber was inside the old Palace of Westminster. It began to appear on seals, medallions and medals after Charles I had lost the war and Parliament was supreme. Once Charles was dead, moulds for his seals were smashed by a blacksmith in the Commons itself. The royal coinage was replaced by the...

In for the Kill: Photographing Cricket

Inigo Thomas, 17 August 2017

Patrick Eagar​ made his career taking photographs of cricketers, though when he started out in London more than fifty years ago his subjects were mainly party people. In 1966, he took a picture with his Leica of someone he’d never heard of: Oskar Schindler. ‘It is not an exciting shot,’ he once said. ‘But it exists. It is just about the only photograph I have seen of...

Diary: My Father, Hugh Thomas

Inigo Thomas, 15 June 2017

The registrar​ at Chelsea Town Hall on the King’s Road said that anything I told him would be assumed to be true: a notice on the desk next to his computer monitor explained the dangers of perjuring yourself. Then we began to go through the details of the death certificate. Name: Hugh Swynnerton Thomas. Date of death: 7 May 2017. Your relation to him? Son.

A few years ago, when I...

An​ enormous queue of well-dressed men and women formed at Tate Britain on the opening night of the Hockney exhibition in early February. It inched forward, a few more guests at a time; at the back people craned their heads trying to work out the reason for the bottleneck – or gave up and went to get a drink in one of the galleries off the octagonal hall at the centre of the building....

The Chase: ‘Rain, Steam and Speed’

Inigo Thomas, 20 October 2016

Chasing after hares is as old as any ancient rite, but who or what is hunting the hare in Turner’s painting? Is it just a train, and how familiar, really, is that location? You can shut down the iconographical interpretation of art, with its artistic and literary allusions, and concentrate instead on Turner’s painterliness, but with Rain, Steam and Speed you might be missing something if you do. What happens if you look at it as a mythological painting, like Diana and Actaeon, a study of the hunter and the hunted, the hubris of the one and the elusiveness of the other?

Nikolaus​ Pevsner took an interest in cars. He considered them a form of industrial art. ‘It is only the taking of risks which makes life worth living,’ he said in the 1930s, maligning British car designers for their insufficient daring. But appreciation is one thing, driving another, and no matter how admiring or critical he was of cars and their design, Pevsner was always...

At Tate Britain: Frederick Swynnerton

Inigo Thomas, 21 January 2016

Frederick Swynnerton​ was a portrait painter born in Douglas, capital of the Isle of Man, in 1858. His father was a sculptor and stonemason: so were two of his four brothers, Joseph and Mark. Robert became a jeweller, while Charles was a churchman, who moved to India where he became a chaplain in Delhi as well as a folklorist. The stories contained in his book Romantic Tales from the...

In the Library

Inigo Thomas, 25 April 2013

I am sitting at 291 in Rare Books and Music – that’s seat 291 in one of the British Library’s reading rooms. Opposite me at the same oak and green leather desk are two students, both of whom are reading books, checking their BlackBerries and looking at their Apple and Acer computers. You wonder, how much more multi can tasking get? Then there’s a phenomenon called...

Short Cuts: The Hudson Plane Crash

Inigo Thomas, 11 February 2010

For sale, at auction, opening bids welcome: one used airliner in bad condition. No engines, no avionics, no chance of flying again. Missing doors, missing rafts and emergency chutes, distressed cabin, heavy damage to the belly of the rear fuselage, the wings lopped off. View by appointment with the owners, Chartis – a new name for a large section of AIG. The wreckage is in storage in...

Clan Gatherings: the Bushes

Inigo Thomas, 24 April 2008

An obscure utopian novel published in Dallas in 1960, Alpaca is notable less for its depiction of an ideal polity than for the fact that it was written by the oil tycoon H.L. Hunt. ‘Except that I am slow, I am the best writer I know,’ Hunt once said. Alpaca is a South American country threatened with dictatorship, though Hunt’s fictional would-be dictator is a Communist, not...

Success and James Maxton

Inigo Thomas, 3 January 2008

James Maxton – Independent Labour Party MP, socialist, orator, Scotsman and the subject of a biography written by Gordon Brown twenty years ago – was not a successful leader, although some of his contemporaries in the 1920s thought he might become one. ‘Maxton was never a government minister,’ Brown wrote of his subject, ‘and his failure to achieve any high...

Diary: New York Megacity

Inigo Thomas, 16 August 2007

New York is no longer a city of five boroughs with a village at its centre. The latest report of the US Conference of Mayors describes it as a megacity, with the metropolitan area absorbing surrounding counties in New Jersey and New York State. This is a city with a population of 18 million and a GDP of $1 trillion, just a little lower than Spain’s. It’s the richest place on the...

President Gore: Gore Vidal

Inigo Thomas, 10 May 2007

‘Likeable’ isn’t a word you would use to describe Vidal. ‘Irrepressible’ is one word you would. He’s written 29 novels, hundreds of essays and the two memoirs: it is a daunting bibliography, and no obvious starting-point presents itself, other than the man himself. In Two Sisters, his ‘novel as memoir, memoir as novel’, the narrator, V., an idealised Vidal, says: ‘In a sense, the only purpose of life is the creation of a self and what matters is the sum total of all one’s attempts.’ There have been many attempts, and many lives. As well as being a novelist, satirist, playwright, essayist, formerly an American abroad now an American at home, Vidal is a television and radio wit, patrician, actor, conversationalist, self-made man, host and sometime Congressional candidate. Anti the American empire he is, but he’s a bit of an empire himself. Or a caste.

Who is Bob Woodward? If his books had no jackets, if the prefaces and acknowledgments were ripped away; if you’d never watched American television or read the US papers; if all you had were the texts and you read them from cover to cover, would you know who Bob Woodward is? No, you wouldn’t, but if you read the jackets, acknowledgments and prefaces and followed the TV news, you...

From The Blog
14 June 2017

In 1893, the London Daily News published an article about Notting Dale, an area in north Kensington also known as the Potteries for its brick-making kilns and clay pits. ‘A West End Avernus’ was the headline: poor, overcrowded, with shocking housing – if there was an entrance to the Underworld, then this, the article said, was it. A grotesque report inspired by the piece a couple of years later blamed the bad condition of the area on the ‘vicious proclivities of the people themselves’. They were, the report said, ‘loafers, cab-runners, beggars, tramps, thieves and prostitutes’. One of the clay pits made by the 19th-century brick makers was so large that it was called the ‘Ocean’: it was filled with slime. The houses nearby were said to be of ‘a wretched class, many being mere hovels in a ruinous condition, filthy in the extreme, and containing vast accumulations of garbage and offal’. The wells were contaminated. The risk of cholera was high.

From The Blog
27 January 2017

Ann Coulter has been Donald Trump’s outspoken champion since he launched his campaign. In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome!, her book that came out last summer, was more of a manifesto than anything Trump has written himself (that said, I’m not sure he’s ever written anything himself). ‘The only guy whose personal life sounds fascinating is Trump and he never discusses it,’ she wrote. ‘He was too busy talking about building a wall, renegotiating bad trade deals and ending our insane Muslim immigration policies.’ She said yesterday that the cost of building the wall along the US-Mexican border would be ‘roughly equal to one year's worth of therapy, hospital costs of little girls raped by illegal immigrants’. She is a monster.

From The Blog
20 January 2017

‘First we are going to cut it off, and then we are going to kill it.’ That was how Colin Powell described the battle plan he and his generals came up with for the war they were about to wage against Saddam Hussein’s army in 1991, and that is, more or less, what happened. ​ After the US A-10 tank-buster bombers known as Warthogs had finished off the Iraqi armoured brigades on the Basra Road, Harold Pinter, disgusted by the gratuitous carnage, wrote a poem called ‘American Football’. He sent it to several publications, including the London Review of Books, where I then worked. He had it faxed to the paper's office on Tavistock Square. None of the editors much liked the poem, but because it was by Pinter there was some further deliberation, and as the afternoon ended we thought we'd defer the decision to the following morning.

From The Blog
19 December 2016

‘We will introduce a United Kingdom Sovereignty Bill to make it clear that ultimate authority stays in this country, in our Parliament,’ the Conservative Party's 2010 manifesto said. It was a promise they never kept. Six years later it’s a promise that’s completely obsolete, thanks to the EU referendum, although just now even that ‘ultimate authority’ is in some doubt, as the Supreme Court deliberates on Miller v. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. ‘Our approach to foreign affairs is based on a belief in freedom, human rights and democracy,’ the 2010 manifesto also said. ‘We are sceptical about grand utopian schemes to remake the world. We will work patiently with the grain of other societies, but we will always support liberal values.’

From The Blog
21 November 2016

Richard Hofstadter gave the Herbert Spencer Lecture at Oxford on 21 November 1963, on the rhetoric and superstitions of the American right. The next presidential election was a year away, but Barry Goldwater, a US senator from Arizona, owner of a department store in Phoenix and author of an influential book about his conservative politics, who promised to roll back Roosevelt’s New Deal, was likely to be the Republican candidate.

From The Blog
7 July 2016

The skies over New York on the morning of 11 September 2001 were famously clear: the skies over much of the eastern seaboard three mornings later were covered by cloud low enough to have obscured the top floors of the World Trade Center, had its two towers not been destroyed. There was a hope that overnight rain would put out the fires burning in the ruins and the wreckage at Ground Zero. But the fires burned for weeks, and anyone who knew their smoke will remember it for ever.

From The Blog
30 June 2016

The Polish Social and Cultural Association on King Street in Hammersmith was daubed with racist graffiti at the weekend. I went to school just up the road, and take the attack on the Polish club more personally than I can explain.

From The Blog
27 June 2016

In the address she delivered to the College of Europe in Bruges in September 1988, Margaret Thatcher introduced her notion of the European super-state and why Britain should see it as a threat. 'We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain,' she said, 'only to see them reimposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels. Certainly we want to see Europe more united and with a greater sense of common purpose. But it must be in a way which preserves the different traditions, parliamentary powers and sense of national pride in one's own country; for these have been the source of Europe's vitality through the centuries.’

From The Blog
9 February 2016

The controlled explosion at the Gare du Nord just after noon on Saturday was loud enough to sound as if it wasn’t controlled, but when nothing happened – shards of glass from the roof of the train shed did not fall on our heads, the station was for a few seconds absolutely and reassuringly silent – everyone carried on as if nothing had happened. I was on my way to lunch with friends before the rugby at the Stade de France – France v. Italy. The explosion was mentioned briefly at our table, then swiftly forgotten.

From The Blog
5 February 2016

Evelyn Waugh was no enemy of money – he wrote for it, he made a lot of it – but monied society was his subject, and like F. Scott Fitzgerald he wrote about the careless, destructive people for whom spending money is a palliative for everything, the Toms and the Daisys, the Beavers and the Brenda Lasts. ‘Mr Graceful,’ Brenda says to her solicitor in A Handful of Dust, ‘I’ve got to have some more money.’ In a piece about hotels in New York, Waugh explained there was no end to what you could spend your money on if you stay in one:

From The Blog
25 January 2016

When I lived in New York there was another dimension to the annual snowstorms, and that was the weather reporting of Robert McFadden, one of the New York Times’s great journalists. Now 78, he has been writing for the paper since 1961. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1996 'for his highly skilled writing and reporting on deadline during the year'. Among the pieces the judges mentioned was one about a shooting rampage in Harlem and another about cockfights in the Bronx, as well as McFadden's coverage of the Unabomber case and the Oklahoma City bombing. They also cited a feature on Easter Day in Corona, Queens. It began:

From The Blog
22 January 2016

No one could accuse Diana Kennedy of cowardice. The 92-year-old Englishwoman lives in an adobe house in Michoacán, three hours west of Mexico City, where she writes about Mexican food culture. She has seen off extortion attempts by the local police. She isn’t bothered by nearby drug traffickers. She travels through the provinces of Mexico in an old jeep, in which she also sleeps. She takes a spade with her so she can dig the wheels out of the mud when necessary. ‘I never travel in straight lines,’ she says.

From The Blog
12 January 2016

Not so long ago, I had a bicycle accident in the quarter of Camden Town that forms the background for many of Frank Auerbach's paintings. The front wheel lost its grip as I rode over a manhole cover, made more slippery that morning by overnight rain. It was bad luck, but my good luck it wasn't worse — my bike slipped away to the left, I fell to the right, my hip and chest took most of the impact, I wasn't wearing a helmet, it happened on a side street used by few cars, two people picked me up.

From The Blog
16 December 2015

Saturday Night Fever was based on a story for New York Magazine by the British rock critic Nik Cohn. ‘The Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night’ was ‘true’, Cohn said. ‘While Manhattan remains firmly rooted in the sixties, still caught up in faction and fad and the dreary games of decadence,’ he wrote, ‘a whole new generation has been growing up around it, virtually unrecognised. Kids of sixteen to twenty, full of energy, urgency, hunger. All the things, in fact, that the Manhattan circuit, in its smugness, has lost.’ Years later, Cohn revealed that his story was based on people he'd known in Shepherds Bush.

From The Blog
16 September 2015

Had​ ​I put £1000 on a Tory​ ​Parliamentary​ ​majority​ ​in March​, when the odds of that​ ​outcome​ ​were​ ​rated as low as​ ​100-1, I'd have made £100,000.​ Had I then placed my winnings on Jeremy Corbyn to win the Labour Party leadership at the start of the contest, when he was a 200-1 outsider, I would have found myself on 12 September with £20 million. But I didn’t: Cameron and Corbyn's victories may have made someone a fortune, but it wasn't me. Those two elections have another winner, someone who has run no campaign but has recently returned to a position of power after four years away from the job. No prizes, no bets on who that is:

From The Blog
16 September 2015

Two years ago, I counted 64 cranes from the top of Primrose Hill; now I count 96. Words attributed to William Blake are carved in stone on the hill's summit: 'I have conversed with the Spiritual Sun, I saw him on Primrose Hill.’ They were recorded by the poet’s friend, Henry Crabb Robinson. Blake told Crabb Robinson that God had spoken to him: ‘He said, "Do you take me for the Greek Apollo?" "No," I said, "that" – and Blake pointed to the sky – "that is the Greek Apollo. He is Satan.”’

From The Blog
30 June 2015

Manet’s oil sketch for A Bar at the Folies-Bergère was auctioned last Wednesday night at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art summer sale. The large Salon painting has been at the Courtauld since 1934, but the privately owned sketch was last on sale 21 years ago, when it went for £4 million. This year, its value was estimated at between £15 and 20 million. It was sold in a few seconds for £15 million, plus £1.9 million in fees. (The overall total for the night was £178,590,000, twice as much as last summer’s sale.) Auctions have been described as ‘tournaments of value’ but there was no jousting; the sale was settled between the seller, the buyer and Sotheby’s before the bidding began, and the auctioneer brought down the hammer after just one bid.

From The Blog
12 May 2015

There was no election for the House of Lords last week, obviously, so no surprise to wake up to on that front, but that doesn’t mean there’s no surprise at all. The numbers of the House of Lords are as follows:

From The Blog
11 March 2015

‘If anyone invented homosexuality it was Guy Burgess,’ Jack Hewit once said. If Hewit is remembered for anything it is for the men he slept with, and was bullied by. Christopher Isherwood, Anthony Blunt and Guy Burgess were three of them. Burgess ‘was the most promiscuous person who ever lived’, Hewit said. ‘He slept with anything that was going and he used to say anyone will do, from 17 to 75.’ Blunt said that Burgess was very persuasive, though that sounds too reasonable: he was feral. He also knew how to put people down. ‘The trouble with you, Anthony,’ he once told Blunt, ‘is that you want to have your cake and eat it, and you want to look as if you are giving it to the poor.’

From The Blog
27 February 2015

Fernand Braudel began work on The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II in 1923. He finished it in 1946. Three years later it was published in Paris, and a revised and expanded second edition appeared in 1966. In 1972, almost fifty years after he started it, an English translation was published.

From The Blog
20 February 2015

In André Maurois's 1930 children's novel Patapoufs et Filifers (translated by Rosemary Benét as Fattypuffs and Thinifers in 1940), Terry and Edmund are the children of Mr and Mrs Double. Terry, like his father, is thin; Edmund, like his mother, isn't. One day, the inseparable brothers descend into an underworld where you're either a Fattypuff or a Thinifer. The brothers are therefore divided, one packed off to Thiniville, the other to Fattyborough.

From The Blog
29 January 2015

Karl Miller liked to quote a passage from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: Like one, that on a lonesome road Doth walk in fear and dread And, having once turned round, walks onAnd turns no more his headBecause he knows a frightful fiend Doth close behind him tread. The passage was much better, he'd add, if you changed a word in the penultimate line. Take out 'fiend', replace it with 'friend'. Mark Boxer was a friend of Karl's; he was a friend of the LRB, too, and while he was no fiend, exactly, he was on the tail of his many friends, caricaturing them in his drawings, not always to their liking. He was the first editor of the Sunday Times colour supplement, as such publications were called back in the day, but the drawings are the lasting achievement.

From The Blog
18 December 2014

'Wild' would be a generous way to describe the use of historical detail in The Imitation Game, the movie about Alan Turing. 'Based on', 'sourced from', so they say, but what in The Imitation Game isn’t invention? And why? Anyone who's read Andrew Hodges’s biography of the mathematician, or Mavis Batey’s book about Dillwyn Knox, with whom Turing worked at Bletchley from 1939 until Knox's death in 1943, will ask themselves why the movie made up so much when the tales of Turing and his colleagues are unbeatable stuff.

From The Blog
27 November 2014

Ossie Gooding was a fast bowler from Barbados who played cricket for the army and for Hampshire's second eleven in the 1960s. Then he played club cricket for Ashford, and, until he died in 2002, for Harold Pinter's team, the Gaieties. He worked for the Home Office and when they moved his job to Newcastle, Pinter bought Gooding's train tickets to London so he could play as often as possible. For many years, a Pinter XI took on the Guardian at a ground at Gunnersbury in West London. At the 1981 match, a Guardian batsman disparaged Gooding and his bowling. What he said, exactly, Gooding never let on, but it must have been bad: Gooding wasn't vengeful or quick tempered but his next ball to that batsman was a bouncer which hit his cheek. Teeth and jaw were broken, there was a lot of blood on the pitch, the batsman went off to hospital – 'retired hurt' entered into the score book.

From The Blog
24 November 2014

Escalope de foie gras à la Cambacérès, roughly speaking, is a piece of toast covered with an apple purée and a slice of foie gras placed on top, the escalope already dusted with flour and briskly fried without oil or butter. A Madeira sauce – reduced beef stock with some of that fortified wine – is poured over it all. (A warning: this completely misrepresents the dish. There shouldn't be anything rough about it. A Madeira sauce isn’t something you can rustle up in moments.)

From The Blog
14 November 2014

A new butcher's opened in Primrose Hill earlier this autumn, and because the shop sells foie gras it has been besieged by animal rights protesters, if only on Saturday afternoons. 'You have blood on your hands,' was one of the taunts aimed at the butchers the other day. The livers of wild geese and ducks typically double in size as they prepare for migration or the winter ahead. If domesticated and force-fed, their livers can expand six times or more. The fattening of all animals is ancient and persistent, and the making of foie gras is as old as Greece. Ditto, the sacrificial and spiritual significance of the livers of goats, sheep and cattle; the complexion of a liver determined whether the feasting element of a sacrifice would go ahead. If the liver looked unusual then the animal was dispensed with. The cultivation of edible livers has been so systematic and accompanied with such veneration and symbolic force that to call the practice 'inhumane' is, historically speaking, to misrepresent it (which isn't to say the animals don't suffer).

From The Blog
24 October 2014

Amanita caesarea is an edible mushroom that grows around the Mediterranean from late August to October. In France, it’s known as the oronge, in Italy the ovolo. In London, they’re Caesars, or that’s what the greengrocer said when I bought some last week. He’d heard about them for years, but this was the first time he'd seen them at New Covent Garden. There weren't many takers over the next few days, I noticed; orange and yellow, Caesars are beguiling to look at, but that's their problem. Mushroom buyers in Britain tend to like their fungi to look like a suit: neutral.

From The Blog
16 April 2014

In his autobiography, My Silent War, Kim Philby reminisces about the food he knew in London in the 1930s. 'Haute cuisine', he liked to label it, only the 'haute' element was more about his appreciation than it was about the food itself. His taste, as two new books about him suggest, was for Mediterranean cooking, food that Elizabeth David would make better known after the war – bouillabaisse, paella, that sort of thing. He apparently wasn't a bad cook, either, which was less typical of men of Philby's background.

From The Blog
9 April 2014

The broad daylight at the southern end of the Mont Blanc Tunnel always seemed brighter than the light we'd left behind, but when you're seven it's easier to magnify minor differences. In 1970, and for some years that followed, the differences between France and Italy, as I saw them from a car window – there were so many of them. Both countries had motorways named for the sun – the Autoroute du Soleil, the Autostrada del Sole – but one took you to the Mediterranean, the other took you from one part of the Mediterranean to another. In France, the border police stared at you as if you were about to do something wrong; in Italy, they waved you through: 'Avanti, avanti.'

From The Blog
3 April 2014

In mid-March, on the weekend that France played Ireland at the Stade de France (the reason I was in Paris), the city authorities made public transport free. This was because of the air pollution, which was bad despite the skies that were clear and blue. The mayor had hoped that Parisians would give up on their cars and travel instead by Metro, tram or bus. I don't know Paris well enough to guess whether there were fewer cars that weekend or not, but the streets on those ideal spring days didn't seem any less packed with traffic. Still, there's nothing like the idea of free transport – the thought you could go anywhere, despite there being people to see, and places to be, such as the Stade de France at five. You wonder what would happen were Boris Johnson to consider the same thing, what with the London air, like the air over much of Southern England today, spiked with Saharan dust.

From The Blog
25 March 2014

The opening exhibit of a new show at the British Library about displays of scientific data, Beautiful Science, is an animated film depicting the world's oceans and the thousands of currents that drift and swirl across them. Perpetual Ocean, made by Nasa, is less beautiful than it is mesmerising: in three minutes the film shows the surface currents of the oceans over a two-and-a-half year period, from June 2005 to December 2007. There's a no less mesmerising 20-minute version too.

From The Blog
17 March 2014

Assuming the pilots of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 didn't destroy the plane; assuming they didn't crash-land it either; and assuming instead they got it to an airfield, how long would the runway have to be to accommodate a jet as large as a Boeing 777?

From The Blog
14 March 2014

Crashes of commercial airliners are rare. That they should happen so infrequently, as Clinton Oster and colleagues wrote in Why Airplanes Crash (1992), 'is one of the remarkable achievements of the 20th century'. Despite this, it's axiomatic of plane crashes, when they do occur, that they should be talked about as if they happen all the time. What happened last week to the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that was on its way to Beijing? Who knows. On the Today programme this morning Justin Webb interviewed a man who knew something about flying. Webb talked about the importance of not speculating, then asked the guest what his hunch was.

From The Blog
5 March 2014

'Bland calm' is the phrase Lesley Blanch used to describe one of Russia's most adept generals and one of the country's all-time most powerful people, Count Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov. He fought Napoleon; he was commander of the Russian forces occupying France after Waterloo; he personally settled the debts his officers ran up in Paris from 1815 to 1818; he took on and defeated the countries of the Caucasus. In The Sabres of Paradise (1960), Blanch described Vorontsov as 'the apotheosis' of his family: It was as if many generations were all embodied or crystallised in this arrogant, astute and ruthless yet high-principled man. He was an enigmatic figure, coldly handsome, a great milord in the English manner, haughty and reserved. He seldom smiled and never lost his air of bland calm.

From The Blog
3 March 2014

Among the files recently released by the National Archives are a collection of papers relating to Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers. MI5 was unsurprisingly interested in the court proceedings involving the two men, and in Chambers's subsequent and widely-read book about his espionage days, Witness. Among the files is a report of an MI5 interview with Rebecca West in January 1951. She was at the time writing a book about Klaus Fuchs, but as her interviewer points out she didn't ask anything of him in relation to the Fuchs case.

From The Blog
17 February 2014

From the terrace at Cliveden, with its western and southern panorama, the Thames and its floodplain are partly obscured by woodland, and so yesterday you couldn't judge the extent of the flooding in the valley below. But that didn't appear to matter to the large number of people visiting the house and its gardens, on the first gale-free day in some time, many of whom had turned out to see what they could of the floods. Disaster tourism?

From The Blog
22 November 2013

From the summer of 1996 until he died in July 1999, I worked for John Kennedy Jr at his monthly glossy magazine, George. ‘There's no one like you, Inigo,’ he said on the phone when he offered me the job. I was always going to take the post if he wanted to give it to me, but he had a way of never making it easy for anyone to say no.

From The Blog
25 March 2013

In yesterday's Mail on Sunday, Michael Gove explained what he thinks is holding back education in Britain: communism, Marxism, anyone who is against his curriculum – that sort of thing. ‘I refuse to surrender to the Marxist teachers hell-bent on destroying our schools,’ the headline ran. ‘Education Secretary berates “the new enemies of promise” for opposing his plans.’ The article began: Exactly 75 years ago the great English writer and thinker, Cyril Connolly, published his most famous book – The Enemies Of Promise. Connolly’s work explores the ways in which the talented individuals of his time were prevented from achieving their full potential. As precis go, that barely merits a mark of any kind: it could just as well be said of, say, Homage to Catalonia, also published ‘exactly’ 75 years ago.

From The Blog
5 February 2013

Yesterday it was reported that 75 per cent of beef products exported to Ireland from Poland may not be beef but horse. The Food Standards Agency in the UK promises to make public from now on the results of its investigations into the meat (and horse) trade. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, Auguste Escoffier was draughted into the army as a cook and stationed at Metz. He wrote about horse meat in his autobiography. Food at first was plentiful; then, as the war carried on, it wasn't: Around 15 September the lack of food supplies began to be felt and I had to attack my reserves.

From The Blog
12 November 2012

On the Today programme on Saturday morning, John Humphrys asked the then director-general of the BBC, George Entwistle, if he was going to resign. Entwistle replied, awkwardly, that he would plough on: he would find out how and why Newsnight had aired a segment repeating old, discredited allegations that a powerful Conservative figure from the 1980s and 1990s had abused children at a Welsh care home. Twelve hours later, Entwistle resigned.

From The Blog
1 August 2012

Pugilistic, provocative: when was the late Gore Vidal not up for a fight? He and Norman Mailer famously fought – in public, in private. Mailer head-butted Vidal just before the two men appeared on the Dick Cavett Show in 1971. 'You're a liar and a hypocrite,' Mailer told Vidal once the programme had begun. Six years later, Mailer knocked Vidal to the floor at a party in New York. 'Once again words fail Norman Mailer,' Vidal said, before he got up. 'He was very kind when I was in a lot of trouble,' Mailer said of Vidal a decade later as the two headed towards reconciliation, or accommodation. 'Gore is a most avuncular fellow. Then we broke. If I ever see him again I will smash him. Still, he and I are in some way bound together, like a bad marriage.'

From The Blog
22 February 2012

Implausible, improbable, too good to be true or too good not to be true: such was the life of John Fairfax, the first man to row single-handed across the Atlantic, who died a fortnight ago and who became world famous over the weekend, when the obituaries really began to flow, many of them leaning heavily (and without acknowledgment) on an online extract from The Ocean Rowers by Kenneth Crutchlow and Steve Boga. ‘One of the world's most interesting men is dead,’ said a bold headline on Newser; he certainly led an interesting life, but that’s not necessarily the same thing.

From The Blog
1 December 2011

I should have addressed the envelope to 'Lana Peters' at 280 Ladbroke Grove, but I didn't, and the package I sent out from the London Review's offices in the spring of 1992 was instead addressed to Svetlana Allilueva. Several days later, I heard that she was angry I'd used her better-known name. Worse, a story then appeared in the Evening Standard, which said that Stalin's daughter was living in a halfway house in Notting Hill. Had I helped blow her cover? I apologised. She asked me to tea.

From The Blog
16 October 2011

A wedding party turned up, on their way to the reception. At first the bride and groom sat in their Merc and waited. Then they got out, and the crowd surrounding them, which got big quite quickly, chanted the Wedding March and cheered as the glowing couple walked off.

From The Blog
5 September 2011

Someone called David von Pein is uploading old documentaries and live TV footage to YouTube – including 'more than 23 hours of television news coverage' from 11 September 2001. The tapes – from ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN – begin at about 8.30 a.m., before the first attack, and run until after the collapse of the second World Trade Center tower.

From The Blog
16 April 2010

Here's a screenshot (click to enlarge) taken at 12.15 p.m. today of, which shows live aircraft traffic over Europe. The single plane in British airspace (over the Isle of Man) was a flight from Vancouver operated by Thomas Cook, destined for Glasgow but redirected to Manchester. The Professional Pilots Rumour Network has ceaseless commentary from its members about what is and isn't going on.

From The Blog
23 June 2010

Last summer, General Stanley McChrystal described US operations in Afghanistan as a 'retail war'. Now, thanks to Michael Hastings's notorious profile of the general in Rolling Stone, it's clearer what McChrystal meant: the conflict isn't only about winning over Afghans to the US cause, but also about selling a war that can't be won to increasingly sceptical Americans.

From The Blog
20 April 2010

The head of the Interrnational Air Transport Association, Giovanni Bisignani, has spoken breezily about the eruption of the Icelandic volcano and its consequences for aviation. The problem, Bisignani says, is Europe. 'The decision Europe has made is with no risk assessment, no consultation, no co-ordination, no leadership.' Steady on.

From The Blog
15 April 2010

You can watch the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupting here. The last eruption lasted two years. Yikes. All flights in and out of London's airports have been cancelled because of the ash cloud, and after a few hours without the drone of aeroplane turbines the absence has become pleasantly discernible. I've got so used to a plane flying overhead every ten minutes or so that now I notice there are none.

From The Blog
13 April 2010

A short guide on how to bank your way to a fortune on Wall Street, set to music and starring the ghost of Harry Secombe.

From The Blog
31 March 2010

The gangs of London, mapped.

From The Blog
26 March 2010

If you thought the Tea Party types couldn't get more crazy, Glenn Beck has exhorted his viewers to learn the lessons of Mahatma Gandhi.

From The Blog
25 February 2010

The winning plan for the new US embassy at Nine Elms, South London, was unveiled two days ago. 'Not inelegant,' was the cagey reaction of one architectural critic to illustrations of the new building, which has resemblances to a non-turreted Norman keep, a white version of the Kaaba at Mecca, the base of one of the towers of the World Trade Center, the central stack at Yale’s Beineke Library and the Richard Desmond Children's Eye Centre at Moorfields. Which is to say that it’s a cube with something of a moat and a colonnaded ground floor, and exterior walls that resemble shards of glass.

From The Blog
13 November 2009

Jerry Morris, a doctor and epidemiologist who established that bus conductors, in general, have longer lives than bus drivers, who was an authority on exercise and life expectancy, and who firmly believed in the importance of the public health service, died last week aged 99. From the Camden New Journal's obituary: To think of Jerry's life in terms of his immense contribution to public health overlooks his fanatical interest in culture. He read widely, a subscriber to the London Review of Books, the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker and the British Medical Journal. He was also an insomniac and would read two to three thrillers every week. Intelligent and racy reading may keep you and your heart going.

From The Blog
26 October 2009

The Economist's blog on American politics is called 'Democracy in America', its Asian blog 'Banyan' and its European blog 'Charlemagne' – names with such earnest symbolic authority that you might think for a second that the Economist had launched a fleet of new aircraft carriers. All Economist blogs are unsigned, which is in keeping with a publication that prides itself on corporate anonymity, but many entries are written in the first person.

From The Blog
23 October 2009

The title of Sarah Palin's ghosted memoir is Going Rogue: An American Life. Will Palin, the rednecks' favourite, eventually see the idiocy and the aptness of her title? Maybe, maybe not. A rogue is a crook or a vagabond. A rogue is an elephant ostracised by its herd. A rogue is a racehorse inclined to shirk its work on the course, something Palin may know about having given up as governor of Alaska before finishing her term. Still, in the annals of right-wingers shooting themselves in the foot (quite a phenomenon in the US), Palin's book title doesn't quite match a song Bob Dole chose for his campaign in 1996. That was a rendition of the Sam & Dave song, 'Soul Man' – the words of the chorus were changed from 'I'm a Soul Man' to 'I'm a Dole Man'.

From The Blog
16 October 2009

'According to a new study' and 'new research shows' are two enormously popular and attention-grabbing phrases, according to fresh and fairly light research of my own. They are used, typically, in newspapers, blogs, and on television to bring out the seriousness of what is to follow.

From The Blog
9 October 2009

Obama has won this year's Nobel Peace Prize. The head of the Nobel committee, Thorbjørn Jagland, explained why: 'It was because we would like to support what he is trying to achieve.' Were to someone to declare, very publicly, that they had embarked on writing the best novel of all time, what should their Nobel ambitions be? Can I have it now, please?

From The Blog
6 October 2009

In this week's New Yorker, Jill Lepore reviews a new book on management consultancy by Matthew Stewart, The Management Myth: Why the Experts Keep Getting It Wrong. Both the book and the piece take a dim view of what management consultancy achieves: offices become more 'efficient', but life doesn't become any better for those who work in them. Efficiency was meant to lead to a shorter workday, but, in the final two decades of the twentieth century, the average American added a hundred and sixty-four hours of work in the course of a year; that’s a whole extra month’s time, but not, typically, a month’s worth of either happiness minutes or civic participation.

From The Blog
30 September 2009

'Bill never let his ideology interfere with his news judgment,' Howell Raines says of William Safire, the late New York Times columnist. Never? One example of Safire's news judgment being made misty by party prejudice was the tale of Mohamed Atta's visit to Prague before 11 September 2001. Atta, according to Safire, met an Iraqi secret agent in the Czech Republic, which proved a connection between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein, and this association was therefore a reason to go to war in Iraq.

From The Blog
18 September 2009

David Brooks professes to know the deep undercurrents of American life, and in his latest column for the New York Times he tries to explain why Jimmy Carter is wrong to say that the rhetorical attacks on Barack Obama are motivated by race: My impression is that race is largely beside the point. There are other, equally important strains in American history that are far more germane to the current conflicts. For example, for generations schoolchildren studied the long debate between Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians. Hamiltonians stood for urbanism, industrialism and federal power.

From The Blog
11 September 2009

Among the many very interesting Russian documents published in today's Times is a conversation between Thatcher and Gorbachev on 23 September 1989, when Thatcher declared she and George Bush were against the reunification of Germany.

From The Blog
10 September 2009

The detail about de Gaulle's wish to stand out on the Champs-Elysées comes from Jean Lacouture's biography of the general. Futher minor details about de Gaulle's habits in Lacouture's book: that he prepared every speech in front of a mirror (note to Gordon Brown), that he drank a bottle of Graves almost every night, and that he smoked 80 cigarettes every day until he returned to France in June 1944, when he suddenly gave up. It's a completely irrelevant question in relation to the big things such as D-Day, the liberation of France, and everything else that was going on at the time – and perhaps only a smoker would ask it – but why did de Gaulle give up smoking in France in June 1944?

From The Blog
8 September 2009

'There is,' the BBC reports, 'a deepening row in France over the alleged lengths gone to by President Nicolas Sarkozy's aides in order to conceal his short stature.' But it's not just about height. General de Gaulle was well over six feet tall. At the liberation parade in Paris in 1944, de Gaulle was heard whispering to an aide that the other officers and cilivians leading the march down the Champs-Elysées should allow the general to go forward on his own. 'Back a little,' the general said. It wasn't as if he didn't already stand out.

From The Blog
2 September 2009

'How To Quit Facebook' is a page in the online self-help manual WikiHow, edited and updated by its users. If you have a Facebook problem – i.e. you don’t know when to stop Facebooking – WikiHow recommends you think of other things you could be doing with the time you spend on Facebook, such as 'pick up a part time job and invest that money in stocks', 'teach a child how to throw a football', 'calculate the center of gravity' (it doesn't say of what) or even 'read a book'. It also suggests you 'call your friends on the phone or do something fun with them in person'. Be warned, however: WikiHow can, apparently, be as addictive as Facebook. There’s a whole page on ‘How to control a WikiHow Addiction’.

From The Blog
28 August 2009

General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, on his new strategy: At the end of the day, you’re fighting for the population, not with the population or against the population. As you fight for them, you are trying to convince them. You are in an argument with the enemy over the population, and they are listening, and they are watching what you do and what you say. They are going to decide based on who makes the most convincing argument. Are you protecting them? Can you stop them from being coerced at midnight by an armed man who shows up and threatens them? It’s a retail war.

From The Blog
27 August 2009

When Edward Kennedy got up to speak at the funeral of his nephew John Kennedy in New York City in 1999, I knew that he had a reputation as a good speaker. I was there because I'd worked for John Kennedy as an editor on his magazine, the glossy and not always terrifically good George; he had died in a plane crash a week earlier. Kennedy did give a good speech – good enough to make you wonder whether you really want to hear a good speech on a bad day. A few hours later, after the congregation had moved from the Upper East Side church to a school on Fifth Avenue, I heard singing coming from a nearby room. The small choir from the church had assembled and were singing Southern a cappellas: in the centre of a circle formed by those looking on was Kennedy, dancing a jig and making a fool of himself.

From The Blog
20 August 2009

Justin Webb, the BBC reporter, has returned from the US to assume new responsibilities in London, but it seeems as if he isn't pleased to be in the UK. On his blog, Webb says: 'Now back in the UK I find myself utterly at sea – I say hello to people I pass in the street. They lunge on, muttering insults.' Then, without offering any examples of what he means, he goes on to write about the 'kindness' of Americans, his affection for American cars, his dislike of Swindon, his sense that Britain may be a more violent country than the US, the peaceableness of Americans and their moral fibre. He makes one of those sweeping pseudo-lyrical observations that sound nice but mean almost nothing: ‘As for America's future – this country is full of space and youth and and hope.

From The Blog
18 August 2009

The BBC has released some papers relating to the hiring and the employment of Guy Burgess. One of the more amusing details is Burgess’s habit of writing memos on the back of the expense forms; another, his fondness for first-class travel and his justifications for it: If you will refer to your papers you will see that in the past I successfully established the principle of travelling first class when at work, under war-time conditions, on Corporation business. I think you will find this on your predecessor's minutes.

From The Blog
3 August 2009

Think of a book. Then imagine someone other than the author who might – or could never – have written it.

From The Blog
20 July 2009

Cricket bats were once distinguished only by the makers' names; now they sound like tools superheroes might use in computer games or cartoons. These are some of the names given to bats by the leading manufacturers: Beast, Fiery Beast, Angry Beast, Wild Beast, Blade Runner, Blade Strike, Ice Sub 10, Big Kahuna, Biggest Kahuna, Kahuna Chaos, Kahuna Carnage, Kahuna Twins, Kahuna Mayhem, Catalyst, Hero, Icon, Purist, Blazer, Genius, Wizard, B52, Navarone, Samurai, Uzi, Zeus, Air Blade, Don, V389, Hard Drive, Alpha, Beta, Mega Bit, Satellite, Fusion, Ignite, Nitro, Powerbow, Predator, Viper, Xiphos. Xiphos is the ancient Greek word for a single-hand double-edged sword. Cricket bats are held with both hands, and have a single face.

From The Blog
13 July 2009

'I see God's hand all over this place,' Sarah Palin says of Alaska in an interview with Runners World. The former mayor, former vice-presidential candidate, now former governor, is much absorbed by running, and it's on a run that she knows profund thoughts.

From The Blog
26 June 2009

In an interview with Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Tony Blair told an audience packed with eastern seaboard celebrities how he is writing his memoirs. 'Instead of doing this as "I met such and such five world leaders on such and such a day and they said such and such,"’ he explained, 'I'm writing it more as, if you like, a personal journey.

From The Blog
12 June 2009

If it isn't bad enough that the government believes it can stagger on, Britain's universities are to be made part of the answer to the economic mess. The portfolio of Peter Mandelson, First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and Lord President of the Council – who does he think he is, Thomas Strafford? – will include higher education. Teaching and research are to be considered 'economic sectors', and according to Gordon Brown this reorganisation will lead to a ‘single department committed to building Britain's future economic strengths'. Everything under New Labour, it seems, must have an economic function.

From The Blog
9 June 2009

Maybe one should be tremendously worried about the electoral victories of the British National Party. Maybe not. 'Leading historians' say there's no reason to panic. Still, worry seems to characterise some of the reaction. Harriet Harman and Alistair Darling both say that their party is responsible because – oh no! – the Labour Party has let these voters down, though only Labour, they also insist, can now rescue them from the clutches of the wicked Nick Griffin.

From The Blog
4 June 2009

Short-term profiteering is one explanation for the banking crisis. Who was among those who warned of the dangers of short-term economic and financial thinking? Gordon Brown, who has begun to resemble Richard Nixon in the way he is clinging to power because that's all there is left to cling to. Twenty years ago, in two pieces he wrote for the LRB, Brown attacked Thatcher for promoting short-term gain at the expense of long-term investment and research. In fact, Brown equated the entire Thatcher project with short-term thinking, blind as he also believed it was to long-term growth.

From The Blog
1 June 2009

The parliamentary crisis, the Guardiansaid two weeks ago, can be compared to the crisis that led to the reform of Parliament in 1832. Last week, the Guardiansaid: 'In the end, we need a new politics more than we need a new government.' What does this mean? That MPs, when they appear on TV or write editorials in newspapers, must radiate the right moral tone, just as their American counterparts do every Sunday on Meet the Press or in the pieces they write for the op-ed page of the New York Times? Making the UK more like the USA appears to be the assumption behind this clamour for change, as if the further Americanisation of institutions and practices were always for the good. If only Britain were more like the US – two wholly elected legislative chambers! two-year-long presidential election contests! the money! the expense! – the better off we would all be? And what is it with this fixation with dates?

From The Blog
26 May 2009

In his remarks to the American Enterprise Institute last week, Dick Cheney said that inmates at Guantánamo should remain imprisoned on Cuba because they are too dangerous to be incarcerated in American jails. What about the Americans arrested and jailed under the terms of the war on terror? Should they be incarcerated on Cuba, or does Cheney suppose that Americans are, regardless of what they have done, inherently less dangerous than other people and therefore don't need to be jailed at Guantánamo? Nor – surely – can Cheney have forgotten that immediately after 9/11, hundreds of men were rounded up by the FBI and other police forces in the US and imprisoned in high security American jails: 760 in total, 184 of whom were considered especially interesting by the authorities. Just over half of them were interred at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, a former warehouse on the waterfront overlooking the harbour and the Statue of Liberty. The story was covered by the New York Times, but it was treated, mostly, as local news and carried in the 'New York Region' section of the paper.

From The Blog
18 May 2009

Just when you thought that international test match cricket couldn't get more gloomy – there's too much dreary test cricket – here is Graham Collier, the director of the England and Wales Cricket Board, explaining to the BBC why a test match had to be played so early in the English cricket season: We had broadcasting contracts in place. And I think it would have been wrong not to have tests prior to us playing in an Ashes series.

From The Blog
17 May 2009

'WolframAlpha isn't sure what to do with your input.' This the automated response you will get when you type the name 'Inigo' into Wolfram/Alpha, the new, know-it-all computational search engine that was launched last week. Is it more or less reassuring to know that some things remain uncomputable?


One French City

12 August 2021

In her piece about Arles, a city on a very small hill in the southern Rhone valley, Lydia Davis mentions an old photograph depicting a sheep turning back to look at its flock (LRB, 12 August). Sheep are as central to Arles as its many named winds. In a passage on transhumance and nomadism in early modern Europe in The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (1949), Fernand...

Along the Voie Sacrée

8 November 2018

Inigo Thomas writes: I took Alistair Horne’s book about the Battle of Verdun with me when I travelled along the Champagne and Lorraine section of the Western Front in October, and it was from his book that I took the meaning of Gericht. That book was published 56 years ago. Ian Ousby, in The Road to Verdun (2010), says Horne’s use of Gericht is ‘arcane’; Adrian Gregory calls...

Au Contraire

2 August 2018

Ferdinand Mount says that the more he reads about De Gaulle the more he admires the general’s wife, Yvonne. The chef Jacques Pépin wrote of his admiration for her in his autobiography, The Apprentice (2003). In the late 1950s, during his national service, he was a cook at the Matignon, the residence of French prime ministers. (‘Careful,’ he was told by a flunkey from the arts...

No hares were harmed

20 October 2016

In my piece about Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed, Félix Bracquemond appears as George Braquemond. The error is mine. In the passage where I mentioned Bracquemond, I referred to his prints at the first Impressionist salon, and how his version of Rain, Steam and Speed left out the hare that is in Turner’s painting. But Bracquemond did present a hare among his prints at that salon:...

The Framing of al-Megrahi

24 September 2009

There are aspects of the case Gareth Peirce makes about Lockerbie and the questionable culpability of al-Megrahi that don’t seem quite water-tight to me (LRB, 24 September). ‘Invaded’, ‘occupied’: these are two words she uses to describe the country around Lockerbie immediately after the bombing of Pan Am 103. Since the scene of the crash covered 850 square miles and was...

Loving Obama

5 June 2008

‘It’s impossible to know what it would be like to bathe in the warm glow of Barack Obama’s rhetoric at first hand,’ but ‘endless cut-away shots of swooning audience members make it easy to guess’: thus David Runciman (LRB, 5 June). There is one way to engage with what Obama says at first hand: one can read his speeches, without music and without the distraction of...

Anything but Shy

7 June 2007

There is one aspect of Fritz Stern’s ‘uneasiness’ that Thomas Laqueur failed to mention in his response to Tony Judt’s testy letter (Letters, 20 September). In November 2004, Stern was presented with the Leo Baeck Medal by Joschka Fischer, then the German foreign secretary, at a ceremony in New York. In his acceptance speech, Stern spoke gloomily about politics in the US, and...
In my article about Gore Vidal, I should have made it clear that there are differing versions of Vidal’s evening at the White House in November 1961 and the confrontation that took place there (LRB, 10 May). One account of what happened became a story Truman Capote liked to tell, and Vidal successfully sued Capote for slander. The party was given by the Kennedys for the owner of Fiat, Gianni...

Khrushchev’s Secret

13 November 1997

Thomas Powers is wrong when he says that the Cuban missile crisis ‘ended halfway into the second day - Wednesday 24 October’ (LRB, 13 November). He must mean the second week. When Khrushchev learned that JFK was to give a major speech on Monday 22 October, he realised the game was up. The premise of Khrushchev’s missile strategy had been to surprise the Americans with a fully-functional...

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