Enemies within?

For most of the twentieth century – the period covered by David Caute’s Red List – the British establishment treated the activities of the intelligence services in much the same way it treated sexual intercourse: everyone knew it went on, but nice people didn’t talk about it. Founded not long before the First World War, … Read more

The sorrow and the pity

The most vivid piece of writing about occupied France that I know comes from the autobiography of the historian Annie Kriegel. On July 15, 1942, she was waiting – with her hat and white gloves – to undergo the oral for her baccalaureat examination. Suddenly her mother turned up and took her aside. She had … Read more

If we only had eyes to see

How many other humans are in the same room with you now? Two? Then next to you are two other universes, almost unimaginably different from yours. The exploration of those universes is more difficult and more important than the exploration of distant galaxies. Though the exploration of other human worlds is hard – and often … Read more

The truth is out there

Does science tell us how things really are? Most people in the modern world would probably answer yes. The academics who analyze the workings of science, though, are not so sure. For a start philosophers of science point out that science isn’t easy. It’s not just a matter of conquering superstition and experiments. Scientists need … Read more

Secrets of the ‘Black Rimbaud’

Mohamed Mbougar Sarr’s novel La plus secrete mémoire des hommes was a favorite of last year’s rentrée littéraire and won the Prix Goncourt, making Mbougar Sarr the first Senegalese Goncourt laureate. The prize was awarded in the heated run-up to the French presidential elections, during which the far-right candidate Eric Zemmour declared that, if elected, … Read more

Monks and bones

On June 21, 1828, Wordsworth and Coleridge, famous poets in their mid-fifties, set off on an impromptu tour of the Rhine valley, accompanied by Wordsworth’s daughter Dora. The plans had been hatched with such haste that Wordsworth’s wife, Mary – who was then helping their eldest son, John, settle into his parsonage in Coleorton – … Read more

Say what you know

The story is both familiar and unfamiliar: in the spring of 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, an African American named George Floyd died when his air supply officer was cut off by the knee of a police, Derek Chauvin. Floyd’s offence: he was thought to have used a counterfeit bill to pay for cigarettes at a … Read more

Jacket required

Big business is no business of ours. But how mysterious and delightful are its workings. See, for example, the proposed merger between two of the corporate giants of American publishing – Penguin Random House and Simon and Schuster – and the legal and literary problems it has exposed. The name of the first of those … Read more

The telltale dead

The words “a dead man does not bite” presaged the assassination of Pompey, just a few years after Caesar’sGallic Warstransported Britain onto the pages of written history. Debate over what the dead can and cannot communicate endures, particularly when focused on the thousand years that followed, thanks to the sheer quantity of burial evidence archaeologists … Read more

How My Eleven-Year-Old Character Changed My Mind about Traditional Narrative, a guest post by Louise Hawes

I never start with a story. It’s always a character, instead, who persuades me to build a book around them. When Hazel, whose road “handle” is Hazmat and who is the protagonist of my new middle grade novel, BIG RIG, first popped into my head, I knew that if we were going to write a … Read more