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 January 28

'Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion', by Paul Bloom - Review
Being against empathy sounds like being against flowers or sparrows. Surely empathy is a good thing? Isn't one of the main problems with the world that there isn't enough of the stuff going around? Paul Bloom of Yale University is here to argue otherwise....
'A History of Ancient Egypt: From the Great Pyramid to the Fall of the Middle Kingdom', by John Romer - Review
If you read the first volume of John Romer's A History of Egypt, which traces events along the Nile from prehistory to the pyramid age, you will understand why he thinks Egyptology is not a science. It is hard, perhaps impossible, to be exact about anything...
Ancient and Modern
In his inaugural speech last week, the new President Trump said, among much else, the 'American carnage' of poverty, ignorance and criminal gangs 'stops right here and stops right now'.Since nobody with the slightest intelligence would offer such hostages...
Charles Moore: The Spectator's Notes
The English tradition of dissenting judgments in important civil cases is a good one. They are often better than the majority view, because they tend to be advanced by judges who resist the self-aggrandisement of their profession. In the Miller case...
Cinema: T2 Trainspotting
Danny Boyle introduced T2 Trainspotting at the screening I attended and said that, throughout filming, he'd seen the cast looking at him and what these looks were saying was: 'It had better not be shite, Danny.' This may sum up all our thinking, pretty...
Competition: Seasick
In Competition No. 2982 you were invited to recast John Masefield's 'Sea Fever' in light of the news that the poet suffered from acute seasickness.In his book Sea Fever, Sam Jefferson relates how as an apprentice seaman aboard the Gilcruix, the unfortunate...
Dear Mary: Your Problems Solved
Q. I recently made an arrangement with a flaky friend from university to go to my gym together. Half an hour after we were supposed to meet she called saying she was at the cash machine looking at her bank balance and she didn't think she could afford...
Diary
Did you know that if you use the f-word while talking to a BT representative, they hang up on you? Here's how our conversation went when I finally got through after several abortive attempts and 'holding' for at least 15 minutes. Me: 'I'm ringing because...
Donald Trump's Great Wall
Any impressively long wall is bound to cause us to recall the midfield dynamo and philosopher John Trewick. In 1978 Big Ron Atkinson took his bubble-permed West Bromwich Albion team to China on some sort of goodwill tour. The lads' diplomacy evidently...
Drink: Bruce Anderson
I know an immensely grand aristocratic lady, impeccably mannered, with a regal grace and presence, who cannot be trusted near a tin of caviar. Apart from scoffing far more than her share, she will eventually make off with the tin itself, to lick it clean....
'Empires in the Sun: The Struggle for the Mastery of Africa', by Lawrence James - Review
Empires in the Sun might conjure up romantic visions for some, but this book's essence is distilled in its subtitle, 'The Struggle for the Mastery of Africa'. Lawrence James's panoramic survey of imperial and then neo-colonial subjugation of the African...
Exhibition: Michael Andrews
Martin Gayford celebrates the quiet, underrated masterpieces of Michael AndrewsMichael Andrews once noted the title of an American song on a scrap of paper: 'Up is a Nice Place to Be.' Then he added a comment of his own: 'The best.' This jotting was...
Health Tourists Are Still Winning
The Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen on Brexit, the euro and Donald Trump's America'Did you really deserve the Nobel prize?' I ask Amartya Sen. 'Why do you think you won?'When you're sitting opposite the world's most respected living economist,...
High Life: Taki
GstaadThe snows came tumbling down just as the camel-drivers headed back to the Gulf. In fact, they never saw the white outdoor stuff. And a good thing it was, too. The outdoor stuff makes everything look so pretty that the glitzy types might have been...
Holland's People-Power Revolution
Wilders's voters are not attacking liberalism: they're defending itIt looks like the people might do it again. After the British electorate misled themselves so badly and American voters failed to rotate the Clinton and Bush families for another presidential...
'Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon', by Michael Engelhard - Review
According to the author of this beautifully illustrated, hugely engaging book, if we were ever to choose a fellow mammal to serve as symbol for our time, then the polar bear would probably make any shortlist. Standing ten feet tall on their hind legs...
In Praise of Cash
Banknotes and coins are at the heart of British life. In these dreary contactless times, we'd be mad to lose them for everCan we do without cash? Since 2015, digital payments in the UK have outnumbered those in cash, and we are invited by the great and...
Interview: Amartya Sen
Countless lives are improved by contact with horses. Changes to business rates threaten thatThere are plans in place to tax horses out of British life. Proposed adjustments in business rates for non-residential properties -- increases of up to eight...
James Delingpole: A Berlin Wall Moment for Political Correctness
Because we're all so obsessed with what it was that made the Nazis tick, we tend to overlook the bigger mystery of how hundreds of millions of people, for a period considerably longer than the lifespan of Hitler's Germany, remained under the spell of...
James Forsyth: A Wake-Up Call for Parliament
Parliament is the cockpit of the nation, but MPs have been on autopilot rather a lot in the past 40-odd years. Ever since the United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community, more and more powers have been passed away from Parliament to Brussels...
'Jane Austen: The Secret Radical', by Helena Kelly - Review
Writing to her sister Cassandra about Pride and Prejudice in January 1813, Jane Austen declared, in a parody of Walter Scott: 'I do not write for such dull Elves/As have not a great deal of Ingenuity themselves.' That identification of the good Austen...
Leading Article: Trading Places
After any other US election it would cause little comment that the new president had chosen the British Prime Minister for his first meeting with a foreign leader. Yet this time, Theresa May's trip to Washington feels quite a coup. She has fallen out...
Letters
What is a university?Sir: As a former Russell Group vice chancellor, I think that Toby Young's appeal for more universities (Status anxiety, 14 January) needs several caveats. First, what is a university? Recently some have been created by stapling together...
Long Life: Alexander Chancellor
I keep finding myself singing 'Nellie the elephant' who, packing her trunk and saying goodbye to the circus, went off 'with a trumpety-trump, trump, trump, trump'. I'm hoping against hope that Donald Trumpety-Trump will also say goodbye to the circus...
Low Life: Jeremy Clarke
'If life is a race, I feel that I'm not even at the starting line,' I said to the doctor in French. (I'd composed, polished and rehearsed the sentence in the waiting room beforehand.) She was a sexy piece in her early fifties with a husky voice. She...
Martin Vander Weyer: Is Mrs May's Industrial Strategy Just Another Misguided Missile?
The Prime Minister's heralded 'industrial strategy' was robbed of headlines by the story of the misguided Trident missile. But it was perhaps as well that the 132-page green paper -- with its 'ten pillars' of platitude about 'delivering affordable energy...
Mind Your Language: Dot Wordsworth
'This carnage stops here,' declared the headline in the Daily Telegraph, quoting President Donald Trump's inauguration speech. My husband tried to make little jokes about it. 'Would you buy a used carnage from this man?' was probably the best, by which...
Music: Philarmonia/Nelsons
It used to be said that Bruckner composed the same symphony nine times, whereas, thanks to the comparative frequency of performances now, we know that his nine numbered symphonies are as different from one another as Beethoven's nine. Nothing could make...
Notes On. Corduroy
Every Christmas, I ask my loved ones for at least two pairs of corduroy trousers. Off with a sigh tramps my girlfriend, who knows that fashion cycles dictate that corduroy will be 'in', and therefore purchasable, only every fourth or fifth year or so....
'Nothing but a Circus: Misadventures among the Powerful', by Daniel Levin - Review
Anyone looking for a groundbreaking ethnography of the global political elite --the elusive social grouping that western electorates are currently lining up to slap in the face -- is likely to be disappointed by this book.In the course of these 'Misadventures'...
'One Toss of the Dice: The Incredible Story of How a Poem Made Us Modern', by R. Howard Bloch - Review
Can American publishers be dissuaded from foisting absurd, bombastic subtitles on their books as if readers are all Trumpers avid for tawdry, over-simplified stunts? Howard Bloch is a professor at Yale whose previous books have had medieval French literature,...
Opera: The Snow Maiden
Rimsky-Korsakov's The Snow Maiden has not received a professional staging in the UK for 60 years. Think about that for a moment, and what it says about British operatic priorities. Sixty years of Massenet and early Verdi, of Manon Lescaut and Donizetti...
Our Debt to the Reformation
Secular society is based on the values of the Reformation. So why won't today's Protestant leaders acknowledge the fact?'The Reformation was a process of both renewal and division among Christians in Europe,' said the Archbishops of Canterbury and York...
Portrait of the Week
HomeThe Supreme Court ruled by eight to three that, without an act of Parliament, the government could not effectually invoke Article 50 to start Britain's withdrawal from the European Union. It argued: 'If, as we consider, what would otherwise be a...
Radio: Aftermath; Something Understood
How does a town like Hungerford, tucked into the Berkshire hills, with its sleepy canal running through it and high street of tea shops and antique arcades, recover from that day in August 1987 when Michael Ryan ran amok with a semi-automatic gun, killing...
Real Life: Melissa Kite
The problem holding up my house move turns out to be a wiggle. Have you ever had a wiggle? It sounds jolly enough but, believe me, you don't want to go there. If you have a wiggle in your garden, you had better be prepared for the worst.I had no idea...
Rod Liddle: Brexit's Biggest Political Victims: Ukip
Perversity is a much undervalued British trait, much more redolent of our real psyche than queuing, drinking tea or being tolerant of foreigners and homosexuals -- all things for which we are better renowned. Seeing Dunkirk as a victory was magnificently...
Save Our Stables!
On Wednesday afternoon I went to the British embassy in Washington for 'a tea and champagne reception' to mark the inauguration of President Trump. Like most institutions, the embassy has struggled to come to terms with the Donald. We all know (thanks...
Status Anxiety: Toby Young
I feel a bit sorry for Piers Morgan. On Tuesday, Ewan McGregor was due to appear on the sofa with Piers on ITV's Good Morning to talk about the Trainspotting sequel, but he failed to turn up. Later, the actor explained on Twitter that it was due to the...
'Steven Spielberg: A Life in Films', by Molly Haskell - Review
Back in 1978, a young and already successful Steven Spielberg told a bunch of would-be moviemakers at the American Film Institute not to 'worry if critics like... Molly Haskell don't like your movies'. Four decades on, and just in time to mark his 70th...
Television: Apple Tree Yard; the Cult Next Door
The mid-life crisis novel, I think it's fair to say, is traditionally a male form. But in Louise Doughty's Apple Tree Yard, the person feeling a bit trapped in what might seem a pretty nice life -- while also fretting about how much (or how little) sex...
Theatre: Raising Martha; Us/Them
David Spicer's farce Raising Martha opens with a skeleton being disinterred on a frog farm by animal-rights activists. They hope to force the frog farmer, an ageing dope fiend, to set his amphibious livestock free. Got all that? It's complicated. And...
'The Blot', by Jonathan Lethem - Review
In backgammon, a blot is a single checker, sitting alone and unprotected. This is a sly title for this sly novel (which was published in the US as the more literal A Gambler's Anatomy). The hero, Alexander Bruno, is a single, exposed man, and a professional...
'The Golden Legend', by Nadeem Aslam - Review
In a Kashmiri apple orchard, a young fugitive from the Indian army's cruel oppressions spots a snake that has 'mistaken its tail for a separate creature' and started to devour itself. Imran, a.k.a. 'Moscow', will later break away from the equally barbaric...
'The Holocaust', by Laurence Rees - Review
How did the Holocaust happen? What lessons can be learned from it? Philippe Sands wonders whether anything similar could happen againSeventy years after the Nazi Holocaust, against the background of a rich and varied literature, Laurence Rees has achieved...
'The Nix', by Nathan Hill - Review
Like many debut novels, The Nix, by the American author Nathan Hill, is about somebody writing their first book. Samuel Andresen-Anderson, an erstwhile literary wünderkind, working as an English professor at an undistinguished college outside Chicago,...
The Wiki Man: Rory Sutherland
I was at home enjoying an online episode of Tales of the Texas Rangers when my daughter interrupted me, wanting something on Amazon.Just to explain, Tales of the Texas Rangers was a 1950s NBC radio series featuring Joel McCrea as Ranger Jayce Pearson....
The Worrying Rise of Geert Wilders
With the rise of Geert Wilders, the long Dutch tradition of liberalism is at risk of destroying itselfThat the US should have elected as president someone like Donald Trump came as a shock. But the US is a strange country, given to periodic outbursts...
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