The Spectator

A weekly, UK-based magazine covering current political, economic, and cultural issues. Articles include interviews, commentary, opinion pieces, essays, and cultural criticism.

Articles from March 24

Ancient and Modern
Barely a day passes without yet another Russian explanation for the Salisbury nerve agent attack. What's new? Such disinformation has a very ancient history.After Caesar's assassination in 44 bc, his old friend Mark Antony and the 18-year-old Octavian,...
'A Shadow Above: The Fall and Rise of the Raven', by Joe Shute - Review
With bird books the more personal the better. Joe Shute was once a crime correspondent and is today a Telegraph senior staff feature writer. It is his investigative journalism, a series of meetings with people who deal with ravens first-hand, which provides...
Big Data Is Watching You
The Cambridge Analytica row shows politics moving in a disturbing directionFrom the outside it all looked haphazard and frenzied. A campaign that was skidding from scandal to crisis on its way to total defeat. That's not how it felt inside the 'Project...
Charles Moore: The Spectator's Notes
For almost as long as I can remember, Eurosceptic Tory MPs have been defined by the media as 'head-bangers'. As a result, few notice that they scarcely bang their heads at all these days. The European Research Group (ERG), now led by Jacob Rees-Mogg,...
Cinema: Unsane
Steven Soderbergh's latest film, Unsane, is a psychological thriller about a woman who is incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital even though she claims to be perfectly sane. But is she? It was filmed fast, on an iPhone 7, and some aspects are worryingly...
Dear Mary: Your Problems Solved
Q. Recently, during a stay in a luxurious mountain hotel in Italy, and having hurt my knee skiing, I was reading The Spectator in the library. I was alone in peace, thinking how wonderful the world is, when a man came in with his mobile, stretched out...
Death of the Last Male White Rhino
My visit to the deathbed of the last male northern white rhinoLaikipia, KenyaBefore vets put him down in Kenya this week, I attended the deathbed of Sudan, the world's last male northern white rhinoceros, to observe up close what extinction looks like....
Diary: Rachel Johnson
I went to a dinner for Toby Young, who has had some troubles of late, at this magazine's gracious HQ, hosted by the editor. I was slightly dreading being beasted by a reptilian gathering of hard Brexiters, but it was in the diary. So I tipped up last...
Evensong
When Palestrina wrote his Mass settings and motets, or J.S. Bach his cantatas and passions, they could not have imagined the ways in which their music would be heard today. We can now access sacred music in our living rooms, at work and on the commute:...
Exhibitions: Tacita Dean
Andy Warhol would probably have been surprised to learn that his 1964 film 'Empire' had given rise to an entire genre. This work comprises eight hours and five minutes of slow-motion footage of the Empire State Building during which nothing much happens....
Food: Tanya Gold
In 2007 Mikhael Gorbachev starred in a Louis Vuitton advert. He was driven past the Berlin Wall with Louis Vuitton luggage and the photograph was printed in Vanity Fair. It was baffling and reassuring, but nothing lasts forever.A few years ago I went...
'From a Low and Quiet Sea', by Donal Ryan - Review
Donal Ryan is one of the most notable Irish writers to emerge this decade. So far he has produced five volumes of fiction set in post-millennial Ireland. What sets him apart is a striking facility for narrative voice as well as a startling diversity...
'Gimson's Prime Ministers: Brief Lives from Walpole to May', by Andrew Gimson - Review
If you associate Lord Salisbury more with a pub than with politics, here is Andrew Gimson to the rescue, with succinct portraits of every prime minister to have graced -- or disgraced -- No. 10 to date. You will find no trace of waspish mockery in his...
'Glory and Dishonour: Victoria Cross Heroes Whose Lives Ended in Tragedy or Disgrace', by Brian Izzard - Review
'The Victoria Cross,' gushed a mid-19th-century contributor to the Art Journal, 'is thoroughly English in every particular. Given alike to the highest and the lowest in rank, but given always with a cautious and discriminating hand... the Victoria Cross...
High Life: Taki
GstaadA couple of columns ago I wrote about an incident that took place at the Eagle Club here in Gstaad. I indicated that if cowardice prevailed, I would go into detail (and I've had two weeks to think about those details). Well, cowardice did prevail,...
'I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer', by Michelle McNamara - Review
This true-crime narrative ought, by rights, to be broken backed, in two tragic ways. One is that the serial attacker it concerns, a sneaking California rapist who graduated to multiple murder, was never caught. The other is that its author died aged...
Interview: Ian Cheng
The artist Ian Cheng creates digital life forms that bite and self-harm. Sam Leith meets him (and them)Digital art is a crowded field. It's also now older than I am. Yet despite a 50-year courtship, art galleries have been reluctant to allow it more...
James Delingpole: I Wish I Had Kept My Brummie Accent. I'd Be Taken More Seriously
'No one wants to send their son to Eton any more,' I learned from last week's Spectator Schools supplement. It explained how parents who'd been privately educated themselves were increasingly reluctant to extend the privilege to their offspring; some...
James Forsyth: The Tories Are Risking Their Reputation as the Party of Law and Order
Theresa May's Home Office record is normally off limits at cabinet. But when ministers discussed the government's strategy for reducing violent crime on Tuesday, Boris Johnson took issue with what the Prime Minister regards as one of her key legacies:...
'Joseph Gray's Camouflage: A Memoir of Art, Love and Deception', by Mary Horlock - Review
Frances Wilson goes in search of Joseph Gray, whose experiments in camouflage changed the landscape of the second world warOn a night in Paris in 1914, Gertrude Stein was walking with Picasso when the first camouflaged trucks passed by. 'We had heard...
Lara Prendergast: The Vlogging Fantasy
My friend's ten-year-old daughter has a new hobby. Like many of her school pals, she hopes to become a video blogger -- a 'vlogger'. She has started to record clips of herself for others to watch, share and 'like'. She showed me a few, then gave me a...
Leading Article: Losing Control
If Brexit was going to be as easy as some of its advocates had believed, we would not have had weeks such as this one. It's hard to interpret the recent agreement over the transition period as anything other than a capitulation to EU demands. Theresa...
'Left Bank: Art, Passion and the Rebirth of Paris, 1940-1950', by Agnès Poirier - Review
We all have our favourite period of Parisian history, be it the Revolution, the Belle Époque or the swinging 1960s (the cool French version, with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Françoise Hardy). Agnès Poirier, the author of this kaleidoscopic cultural history,...
Letters
Reform National InsuranceSir: One objection to an increase in National Insurance contributions to rescue the NHS is that it would once again exempt from contributing those who most heavily use the NHS -- the retired -- and heap yet more of the burden...
Low Life: Jeremy Clarke
During the past three years I have spent quite a bit of time in a rented house in Provence. Volets Bleus is a rectangular breeze-block bungalow perched on the side of a hill. In front of it is a tiled south-facing terrace resting on concrete pillars....
Mind Your Language: Dot Wordsworth
A 72-year-old Australian called Stelarc, the BBC reported, has an ear growing from one arm. He hopes to connect a microphone to it so that people can hear on the internet the sounds it picks up. Mr Stelarc is a body-hacker. They tend to have names like...
'Money in the Morgue', by Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy - Review
Publishing loves a brand. Few authors of fiction create characters who reach this semi-divine status, but when they do, even death cannot part them from their fortunate publishers. Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Bertie Wooster and James Bond are among...
No Sacred Cows: Toby Young
I'm currently in Israel on a press trip organised by Bicom -- the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre. Bicom does a good job of getting experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to give talks to journalists and I've attended a few in...
Opera: Rinaldo; la Traviata
Handel's Rinaldo has not been highly regarded even by his most ardent admirers. I have never understood why -- even less so after the recent performance at the Barbican, with stunning forces, including the English Concert, under the inspiring direction...
Our Antidepressant Dependence
Our dangerous dependency on antidepressantsWe have become a nation of sad pill-poppers. The British, once Churchill's 'lion-hearted nation', are now among the most depressed people in the developed world. The UK ranks joint seventh out of 25 countries,...
'Paul: A Biography', by N.T. Wright - Review
Saint Paul is unique among those who have changed the course of history -- responsible not just for one but two critical historical developments 15 centuries apart. First, he persuaded the early followers of Jesus of Nazareth that gentiles as well as...
Portrait of the Week
HomeBritain and the European Union agreed on a transitional period after Brexit on 29 March 2019 until the end of 2020 in which Britain can make trade deals and EU citizens will be able to claim UK residency. The Irish border question was unresolved....
Radio: Blind Blues Musicians
As Bob Shennan, the BBC's director of radio and music admitted this week, there are almost two million podcast-only listeners in the UK who never tune into BBC Radio. They're captivated by specialist music (Heart, Absolute, etc), specialist talks (mostly...
Real Life: Melissa Kite
'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!' I screamed through the window of the car while driving down Cobham High Street.'Are you aware,' my saner self said to me, 'that you are driving down Cobham High Street screaming a slogan from a...
Rod Liddle: Our Response to the Nerve Gas Attack Has Been an Act of Self Harm
There was a growling Russian maniac on the BBC's Today programme last week, an MP from the United Russia party called Vitaly Milonov. Breathing rather heavily, as if he were pleasuring himself, Mr Milonov likened our country to Hitler's Germany for having...
Spectator Sport: Roger Alton
Which would you least like to see coming towards you? An Uber driverless car, Ant McPartlin in his black Mini after a long lunch, or a Johnny Sexton up and under? Sexton is a rugby genius: two of his kicks won Ireland the VI Nations Grand Slam at the...
Television: The Durrells
For as long as I can remember, Sunday nights have been the home of the kind of TV drama cunningly designed to warm the sternest of heart cockles. Think, for example, of Robert Hardy cheerfully bellowing his way through almost every scene of All Creatures...
Theatre: Summer and Smoke; Great Apes
Summer and Smoke by Tennessee Williams dates from the late 1940s. He hadn't quite reached the peaks of sentimental delicacy he found in his golden period but he was getting there. As a lesser-known curiosity, the script deserves a production that explains...
'The Book of Chocolate Saints', by Jeet Thayil - Review
The Indian poet Jeet Thayil's first novel, Narcopolis, charted a two-decade-long descent into the underworlds of Mumbai and addiction. One part de Quincey, one part Burroughs, it was distinguished not just by the sustained beauty and brilliance of its...
'The Friendly Ones', by Philip Hensher - Review
Readers should skim past the blurb of The Friendly Ones. The novel is about prejudice, of many different kinds; but this description might prejudice one's reading:The Friendly Ones is about two families. In it, people with very different histories can...
The Listener: Vince Staples
Grade: B+Another ex-Long Beach crip replanted in pleasant Orange County via the conduit of very large amounts of record company money and thus now able to draw on his time as a gangsta, while telling us all it was a very naughty thing to have done.The...
The Russian Wives Club
They live in Knightsbridge, dislike McMafia, and won't discuss their husbandsThe Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Knightsbridge is nestled in a maze of mews streets and embassy rows somewhere between Harrods and Hyde Park. It's as much an expat social club...
'The Western Wind', by Samantha Harvey - Review
Samantha Harvey is much rated by critics and those readers who have discovered her books, but deserving of a far wider audience than she has hitherto gained -- so much so that just before Gaby Wood's appointment as literary director of the Booker Prize...
Treating Depression Is Hit and Miss
Treating my depression has proved a hit-or-miss affairAntidepressants saved my life, I am sure of that. But I am also certain they made my mental illness much worse too. It has taken just under two years from my first very dark thoughts to me feeling...
When Fat-Shaming Saves Lives
I'd rather be fat-shamed than have cancerSofie Hagen is a young Danish comic I admire. I didn't see her most recent show, Dead Baby Frog, but I saw her win the best newcomer award at Edinburgh in 2015 and I was happy for her. I liked her sweet face and...
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