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Updated: 4 hours 22 min ago

Derek Walcott: Beach bard

Thu, 04/24/2014 - 16:01

The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013. Selected by Glyn Maxwell. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 617 pages; $40. Faber & Faber; £30. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukFEW poets can sustain a collection spanning more than 600 pages and weighing over a kilo. Derek Walcott is one of the rare exceptions, and this is his most comprehensive anthology so far. Covering nearly seven decades, it is testament to an extraordinary talent.Born on the Caribbean island of St Lucia, Mr Walcott was awarded the Nobel prize in literature in 1992. “White Egrets” (2010), his most recent collection, which was published when he was 80, won Britain’s most important poetry award, the T.S. Eliot prize. Unlike most contemporary poets, who write in compressed phrases and short lines, Mr Walcott’s work is voluminous. “It’s better to be large and to make huge gestures than to be modest and do tiptoeing types of presentation of oneself,” he once...

Knole and its history: The story of the Sackvilles

Thu, 04/24/2014 - 16:01

The Disinherited: A Story of Family, Love and Betrayal. By Robert Sackville-West. Bloomsbury; 308 pages; £20. To be published in America in January 2015. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukROBERT SACKVILLE-WEST, seventh Lord Sackville, lives at Knole in Kent, a Tudor palace so vast that it struck Virginia Woolf as more a town than a house. His family have lived there for 400 years, and in his earlier book, “Inheritance” (2010), he described them carrying their splendid burden down the generations, swerving past their younger sons, widows and daughters, staggering under debts and dilapidations, until at last, in 1946, they collapsed into the arms of the National Trust. A theme of that book was the law of primogeniture, and the bitterness of the disinherited. Here, in “The Disinherited”, he follows the same theme down a branch of the family that was only sketched in there—a bastard branch of “illegitimate” Sackvilles.These were the children of Pepita, a celebrated Spanish dancer who, in 1852, captivated a young British diplomat, Lionel, later the second Lord Sackville. Pepita had a husband already, although they were separated...

The politics of foreign aid: Poor and benighted

Thu, 04/24/2014 - 16:01

Let me teach you how to plant a tree Aid on the Edge of Chaos: Rethinking International Co-operation in a Complex World. By Ben Ramalingam. Oxford University Press; 440 pages; $40 and £25. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukThe Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor. By William Easterly. Basic Books; 394 pages; $29.99 and £19.99. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukTHE fat reports favoured by international development agencies are full of lofty goals like “making poverty history”, not to mention grand claims about big victories. By contrast, people who work in development prefer tales about bizarre...

France between the wars: Turning dark

Thu, 04/24/2014 - 16:01

The Embrace of Unreason: France 1914-1940. By Frederick Brown. Knopf; 368 pages; $27.95. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukEVER since 1789, France has served as a metaphor: the national embodiment of universalist ideals that transcend even the holy triumvirate of liberté, égalité, fraternité. Guillotine aside, the home of Voltaire and Montesquieu became, after the revolution, a symbol for the entire project of the Enlightenment: most importantly, the triumph of human reason over the caprice of circumstance.But certain French intellectuals never accepted these principles. After the revolution the likes of Louis de Bonald, Joseph de Maistre and Pierre-Simon Ballanche advocated the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy and the political pre-eminence of the Catholic church. Later in the 19th century, after the French army was embarrassed by the loss of Alsace-Lorraine in the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71) and the subsequent Paris Commune uprising, that counter-revolutionary struggle moved even further to the right.In a time of national soul-searching, a generation...

American fiction: Looking for a place called hope

Thu, 04/24/2014 - 16:01

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. By Joshua Ferris. Little, Brown; 352 pages; $26. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.ukDR PAUL O’ROURKE runs a successful dental practice off Park Avenue. He spends his days persuading patients to floss and his evenings watching Red Sox games in the company of a curry, a Groundhog-Day existence that leaves plenty of time for existential angst.When someone creates a website and social media accounts in Paul’s name, he begins an e-mail exchange with the mystery creator—a philosophical voice from Israel who claims Paul is a descendant of the Ulms, an ancient group supposedly eradicated during biblical times. Could this unknown diaspora be the family Paul has been missing? He always longed to be embraced by the domestic tribes of his ex-girlfriends (the Christian Santacroces and the Jewish Plotzes). By joining the Ulms he could be “sucked up, subsumed into something greater, historical,...

Jazz at Lincoln Center: Riff on the world

Thu, 04/24/2014 - 16:01

FOR decades, jazz-club owners looked at their more well-heeled cousins in other genres with envy. Unlike metropolitan orchestras or opera houses, jazz groups usually lacked a steady home or grand performance space and a foundation of patrons to help them thrive. The art form that was rooted in the blues and folk music of African slaves in America was often performed in smoky basement joints. Fans paid a modest cover charge or nothing at all to hear music, and the musicians often took home a pittance as their reward for a hard night’s work.Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC), launched in 1987 as a concert series in New York, shattered that stereotype. In 1998 it was allocated 100,000 square feet (9,209 square metres) of space in the Time Warner Center in Manhattan’s pricey Columbus Circle area. The organisation raised $131m to build three state-of-the-art venues with virtually perfect acoustics that could accommodate a trio, a big band or a large ensemble.When it opened in 2004, the centre’s Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola and what is now called the Appel Room won praise for the romantic, postcard-like views of Central Park and New York’s skyline. The “House of Swing”, as...

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...

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