How The World’s Newest Country Exploded

Book Review: A Poisonous Thorn In Our Hearts by James Copnall, published by Hurst & Co.

SUDAN – a country that ceased to exist in 2011 – is orindependence was one of the last untouristed wildernesses on earth. And for good reason: while it still existed it was the biggest country in Africa, a mainly flat and mainly uninhabitable wasteland, mostly brown, with barely a mountain or a bosky valley to its name, unbearably hot, unhealthy, poor, and full of every sort of trouble. And yet …

by Richard Walker

From The Spectator

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Pirates On Parade

From The Spectator

Book Review: Treasure Neverland by Neil Rennie, Oxford University Press

HEAR the word ‘pirate’ and what picture springs into your mind? I see a richly-bearded geezer in a tricorne hat and a frock coat, with a notched cutlass and bandolier stuffed with pistols. Never mind the real-life pirates of our day, the maritime robbery-and-kidnap specialists of Somalia and West Africa – they are all too recent to have generated sufficient fiction for us to draw on. Our common pirate is like the zombie, the vampire, the robot – a creature of the imagination, coming to us via Robert Louis Stevenson, J M Barrie and Johnny Depp. But where did he come from, really?

by Richard Walker

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The Orwell Influence

Book Review: George Orwell: English Rebel by Robert Colls

IN EARLY 1928 a former colonial policeman called Eric Blair decided that he wanted to become a writer. He moved to Paris, took a cheap room at number 6, rue du Pot de Fer in the Fifth Arrondissement, and worked at odd jobs in hotels and bars. His attempts to write fiction were failures, but he did manage to get a few essays published in literary journals. The first was A Day in the Life of a Tramp. It begins like this …

by Richard Walker

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The Case of Raymond Chandler

Book Review: A Mysterious Something in the Light: The Life of Raymond Chandler by Tom Williams

IT WASN’T the plot, and it wasn’t the characters. It was the blend of idealism and cynicism that made Raymond Chandler’s writing so compelling. His world was a chiaroscuro of crime shot through with California sunlight. And if that world were strange and ambiguous, Raymond Chandler the man, as drawn in this new biography by Tom Williams, was even stranger.

by Richard Walker

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How To Read 100 Books In Four Minutes

BOOK REVIEWING is a beautiful game that can quickly lead to bankruptcy. It’s a time-is-money kind of a problem: to review a book you have to read it, reading books takes time, and at normal speed reviewing books is an occupation that attracts well below the national minimum wage. So the question of the day is, how to speed up? How can you speed up not just reading, and writing, but also  selecting books for review from the thousands on offer? How can you get really good at judging a book by its cover?

by Richard Walker

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Egypt’s Terror-Poet

From The Economist

Book Review: Sayyid Qutb: The Life and Legacy of a Radical Islamic Intellectual by James Toth.

SAYYID Qutb, born 1906, was a rather obscure Egyptian poet, novelist, literary critic and commentator on the Koran, who was executed for his political activities in 1966. That at any rate was the sum total of the Qutb story as far as much of the world was concerned – until the events of September 11, 2001, when suddenly Qutb ceased to be obscure.

by Richard Walker

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Gold Rush

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From The Economist

Book Review: Money: The Unauthorised Biography by Felix Martin.

AMONG the many stories in this surprisingly entertaining book on the nature of money is an account of the Irish banking crisis. That was when the Irish banking system simply ground to a dead stop, with bank branches closed, the clearing system suspended, and customers unable to withdraw or even deposit money. A recipe for a ‘bank run’ you might think. But you would be wrong.

by Richard Walker

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The Celebrated Mr K

Book Review: Ryszard Kapuscinski: A Life by Artur Domoslawski

RYSZARD Kapuscinski was a liar, a spy, a fantasist and a fink. And according to this biography he was also a rather lovable fellow, which helps explain how it was that for many years he managed to masquerade successfully as the World’s Greatest Reporter, winning awards and adulation everywhere, and reportedly only just missing a Nobel prize.

by Richard Walker

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Cycle Of Pain

 From The Spectator

Book Review: Reg Harris: The rise and fall of Britain’s greatest cyclist
by Robert Dineen

THIS book is about a man who was once Britain’s number one athlete: Reg Harris, a professional cycle track sprinter who dominated the worldwide sport for fifteen years. And what is cycle track sprinting? It is racing on a prepared track with one or more opponents. It is also a form of torture. A great road race held over days or weeks, like the Tour de France, has been described as a Calvary. But track cycling is definitely torture.

by Richard Walker

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Lost At Sea

 From The Spectator

Book Review: Following Fish by Samanth Subramanian

INDIAN fish can be quite dangerous.

I learned this at first hand, sailing a rented catamaran on my annual hippie-holiday in southern India. One moment all was calm, the sea surface as dark and quiet as a dish of lukewarm dhal. And then there was a fizz, a flash – and four or five long silvery things of the swordfish sort launched themselves, whoosh, right across the boat. They were just fish, but they might as well have been rocket-propelled cut-throat razors.

by Richard Walker

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‘This Crappy Book …’

IF you don’t know how to begin your book review you reach straight for the Dictionary of Quotations. So: ‘I never read a book before reviewing it; it prejudices a man so’ – Sydney Smith, essayist and compulsive reviewer. And there, you are started.

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Pyongyang Confidential

Book Review: Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle, Maximum Target by Martin Gower, and The Man with the Baltic Stare by James Church

NORTH Korea is the least-known of nations. That is mainly because North Korea does not want anyone to know anything about it. Perhaps not entirely surprising in a country that has plenty to hide, but in North Korea isolation goes beyond concealment. It has become a way of being.

 

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A Creature Of The Shallows

Book Review: Jacques Cousteau: The Sea King by Brad Matsen

THIRTY years ago Jacques Yves Cousteau was reckoned to be one of the ten most recognised individuals in the world. This biography, uncritical but revealing, shows how that happened.

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English Delight

Book Review: The Letters of Noel Coward edited by Barry Day

NOEL Coward was far and away the most successful dramatist of his day. He dominated the English-speaking stage on both sides of the Atlantic. Aged only 24 he became a star virtually overnight with the production of his 1923 play The Vortex – a work which characteristically he wrote, directed, and starred in – and he continued to excite and dazzle audiences for most of the following quarter century with works that earned him the reputation of being the most versatile (and best paid) author of his time.

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Here Come The Rosbifs

Book Review: The Smell of the Continent: The British Discover Europe by Richard Mullen and James Munson

‘TRAVELLING is a very troublesome business,’ advised Charles Dickens’s Household Words magazine in 1852. According to the accounts drawn from letters, diaries and public sources in this compendium of facts, figures and travellers’ tales from the 19th century, he was right. What with the lack of cutlery, clean sheets, hot water for tea and baths, the constant threat of arrest, assault or robbery, the menacing presence of mustachioed foreigners and the state of the lavatories, it is surprising that the British ever embarked on foreign travel at all.

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An English Scribbly Bark

Book Review: Notes From Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin

ROGER Deakin, who died prematurely in 2006, played a large part in the current revival of writing about nature and landscape in Britain. He did not publish much during his life – a book about trees and their spiritual significance called Wildwood, and another about the culture of unofficial swimming, Waterlog. Yet those two books (both unexpected if minor commercial successes) managed to draw the attention of readers towards some things that were either new or neglected – the spell that the natural world can cast on the urban imagination, the teeming variety of the modest English countryside, and the oddly unexplored landscape of Deakin’s home territory, the eastern part of England known as East Anglia.

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Arthur Conan Doyle: A Man Divided

Book Review: Conan Doyle: The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes by Andrew Lycett, and Arthur Conan Dyole: A Life In Letters by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower and Charles Foley

THE inventor of Sherlock Holmes was the most commercially successful author of his time; by his death in 1930 he was one of the best-known Britons in the world. Arthur Conan Doyle was a phenomenon: practising doctor, war correspondent, businessman, politician and a campaigner for legal and colonial reforms as well as a popular novelist. He was a one-man intellectual conglomerate.

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