All Reviews

Formal Wear

Glyn Maxwell, On Poetry

reviewed by Hugh Foley

Midway through On Poetry, the poet and playwright Glyn Maxwell stops to indulge in a nice bit of épatering of the bourgeoisie. Describing a fictional creative writing class ‘moving short words millimetres backwards and forwards at the taxpayers’ expense’, he conjures the image of those philistine taxpayers, ‘all the taxpayers in the nation ... lining up to give young dreamers the hard earned money we’d planned to spend on crisps.’ This is the closest Maxwell comes to mounting a... [read more]

You Can’t Go Home Again

Anthony Shadid, House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family and a Lost Middle East

reviewed by Lilly O'Donnell

House of Stone is about going home, about finding emotional and spiritual solace. So it’s fitting that it became the parting work at the end of a career and the end of a life. A couple of days after the renowned correspondent Anthony Shadid died in Syria while reporting for The New York Times, his US publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced that his memoir, House of Stone, would be released early. I was among the eager hoards who pre-ordered the book on Amazon the day its early... [read more]

‘You Watch the Jumbotron’

Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

reviewed by Matt Lewis

In the press for Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, much has been made of Ben Fountain's biography – especially of the fact that it took him over twenty years of writing full-time to get his first novel into print. Many of these column inches have been catalysed by Malcolm Gladwell’s hyperbolic New Yorker profile, in which he likened Fountain’s late blooming, carefully honed ‘genius’ to that of the great Paul Cézanne. Biographical detail can often be irrelevant, but in the case of this... [read more]

Identity Poetics

Brenda Shaughnessy, Our Andromeda

reviewed by Liam Murray Bell

Our Andromeda, as the title might suggest, is a collection of immense scale and scope. The third collection from Brenda Shaughnessy has already been described as a ‘monumental work’ in The New Yorker, and it sustains the sharp focus on the self that underlies her previous two collections, Human Dark with Sugar and Interior with Sudden Joy. The dedication at the start, ‘for Cal’, resonates throughout: Shaughnessy uses the birth of her son as a thematic reference point for her analysis of... [read more]

The Gorillas Died

Liam Murray Bell & Gavin Goodwin (eds.), Writing Urban Space

reviewed by Gee Williams

As always come the warnings from those in the know - those with passports stamped by mere survival and their papers, probably forged, made out in local names. The good neighbourhood to buy into if you can is - vague gesture - round about the … they name a ‘famous landmark’ you’ve never heard of. The street to keep moving on, head up … well you can see the entrance down there on the left amongst the dereliction. All good and bad advice. All necessary seasoning for someone who lives... [read more]

The End of the Affair?

Norman Finkelstein, Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel is Coming to an End

reviewed by Matt Hill

The 20th century saw American Jews leave the ghetto behind and become the country's wealthiest ethnic group, but perhaps surprisingly they took their politics along to the suburbs. Stubbornly clinging to their Depression-vintage liberal-Democratic values, Jews turned out almost as strongly for Obama as they once had for Franklin Roosevelt. But how does this square with their other abiding commitment – that is, to Israel? When its prevailing image was of a plucky David holding back a... [read more]

A Cargo Cult

Jonathan Lethem, Fear of Music

reviewed by Lena Friesen

The story of an album can best be told in one of two ways: it can be a kind of blow-by-blow account of how it came into being; or it can be an inner examination, the kind where outer knowledge and mere facts (beyond the songs themselves) actually get in the way of writing about the album in particular, so strong is the effect of the music and the cover and the whole aura of the thing. This recent book in Continuum’s ‘33 1/3’ series on albums is the latter; a chance for obsession, not... [read more]

Pigeon Warfare

Ben Macintyre, Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies

reviewed by Alasdair Dick

Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, the spy has been a source of continual fascination for the British public. From the early works of William Le Queux through to James Bond, there is something about the world of espionage that continues to grip us as a nation. Yet, while Ian Fleming’s protagonist is confined to a fictional world of martinis and tuxedos, Ben Macintyre’s new book is pure non-fiction, delving into one of the most intriguing and compelling stories in the history of... [read more]

Looking in Every Direction

Adam Thirlwell, Kapow!

reviewed by Sarah Emily Duff

Between 1989 and 2000, the journal History and Theory published one of the longest – and possibly most interesting – disputes within the historical profession. Over the course of the decade, Perez Zagorin, Frank Ankersmit, and, later, Keith Jenkins, debated the relative usefulness of postmodernism to historians. Historians like Zagorin, routinely accused by postmodernists of being at best naïve and at worst reactionary, have argued that since at least the 1960s few historians have been so... [read more]

Parallel Wars

Donny Gluckstein, A People’s History of the Second World War: Resistance Versus Empire

reviewed by John Newsinger

There is an apparently never-ending stream of histories of the Second World War. In recent times Norman Davies, Max Hastings, Anthony Beevor, Andrew Roberts, Michael Burleigh, Evan Mawdsley, and others have all produced substantial single-volume histories of the conflict. This reflects the enduring popular fascination that the war excites. While the predominant popular view is that the war was very much a conflict between Democracy and Dictatorship (a view complicated by the presence of the... [read more]