Strange worship

It has become a tradition: every seven and a half years, the MetLife stadium in New Jersey is filled not with football fans, but with a crowd of about 80,000 religious Jews, almost all male, black-hatted and Haredi. The occasion is the conclusion of the Daf Yomi (“daily page”) study cycle of the Babylonian Talmud. … Read more

‘I recall passing through pubs’

While the title of Douglas Stuart’s new novel invokes Alexander Trocchi’s masterpiece, Young Adam (1954) – thus placing it in a specific Scottish literary context – it is perhaps even more significant that the central character, Mungo, is named after Glasgow’s patron saint, a gentle but determined man, known for bringing dead birds back to … Read more

Call it kismet

My half of the story begins in Cairo in the spring of 2018; a spring of heat-slurred days and Iftar nights. My husband, Sam, had been posted to the Australian embassy, ​​and the two of us were living in a hotel while we searched for an apartment. Our room looked out to the Nile and … Read more

Behold the threaden sails

I used to own an old barn. Almost everyone who saw it assured me that its mismatched joists and rafters, its well-pegged and much-mortised props and ties, would certainly have come from ships. Everyone, that is, except for a visiting architectural historian, who pointed out that we were 20 miles from the sea, up an … Read more

East meets West

The series of meetings that took place outside Beijing in September 1793 between Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Great State and George Macartney, envoy from George III, did not go well. Macartney’s insistence that full respect be shown to his monarch ruffled Manchu feathers, and the emperor’s categorical refusal to make trade or diplomatic concessions … Read more

On Ally Wilkes’s “All the White Spaces”

ALLY WILKES’S ANTARCTICA circa 1920 is a panoply of polar terrors. The sirenic “call of the South” portends nightmarish killer whales with grinding teeth; frigid “Hell” and fiery shipwreck; an aurora australis that crackles and encroaches, lassoing men and dragging them to snowy deaths; a putrefying body slowly sawed apart, the stuff of Service’s “Blasphemous … Read more

Journal ease

News from Ireland: according to the critic Sarah Lonsdale, writing in the Sunday Independent last week, the country is now enjoying a resurgence of interest in the “little magazine”. Several decades after the age of Seán Ó Faoláin’s journal The BellSeamas O’Sullivan’s Dublin Magazine and other noteworthy publications, Ireland may once boast more of a … Read more

Law, society and morality

Jonathan Sumption makes a persuasive case for understanding the development of law in evolutionary terms in his review of my The Rule of Laws (March 25). Laws as we now know them, he argues, arose in Europe to satisfy the need for security, which a law-based state can provide, along with a stable system of … Read more

Forgotten men of war

The second and last armed conflict between the British Empire and the United States was once a neglected war. But the bicentennial of the War of 1812, as it later came to be known, inspired a wealth of fresh scholarship that has rightly recast it in broader geographic, social and cultural terms. While the war … Read more

Lowering the flag

One of the most striking things about our contemporary political culture is how swiftly and completely it has turned against the idea of ​​empire. Yet until 1945, empires great and small, ruled by Africans, Asians and (pre-Columbian) Americans as well as Europeans, had been perhaps the commonest form of polity, and we still find it … Read more