5 11, 2015

Isn’t It Romantic?

By |November 5th, 2015|Uncategorized|

I was recently given The Etymologicon, subtitled ‘A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language, compiled by Mark Forsyth. I am enjoying it vastly, and one of the essays I turned to first — as I am in the midst of writing about ancient Roman historians — is on romance languages. Where do the words ‘romantic’ or ‘historical romance’ come from? The ancient Romans wrote in Latin, a formal and demanding language. But on the streets Romans […]

2 11, 2015

Take a Tip From Me

By |November 2nd, 2015|Uncategorized|

In London recently, I left my wallet in a taxi, and that evening received an email from the police station near St Paul’s saying the wallet had been handed in: as it contained about £60 the reward I should pay was £8.48. The next day I took another taxi (and very great care hoarding my belongings) to the police station, which is a bit out of the way of tube stops. I told my driver about my carelessness, and that […]

31 10, 2015

The Mission Continues

By |October 31st, 2015|Uncategorized|

Last week saw the publication of Joe Klein’s new book, Charlie Mike. The title refers to the services’ phrase for ‘Continuing Mission,’ and the book recounts how returning veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have organized themselves into two extraordinary groups, which will send in teams to help out disaster areas or other crisis points, where their army experiences enable them to adjust to the situation with great speed and immediately make themselves useful. ‘We do chaos,’ as […]

28 10, 2015

A Necessary Hitch

By |October 28th, 2015|Uncategorized|

Leafing through a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Letters (Delacourt Press, 2012), I believe I received the shortest letter he ever wrote. It reads: ‘OK, KV,’ a reply to my invitation to come to the Cheltenham Literary Festival in 1993, of which I was artistic director. He and his wife Jill Krementz duly came, and we housed them in Sudeley Castle, the impressive residence of Lady Elizabeth Ashcombe, a longtime festival supporter. Along with them we billeted Gore Vidal and his […]

27 10, 2015

Absolute Bedlam

By |October 27th, 2015|Uncategorized|

About three years ago, my elder son Toby gave me a distinctive Christmas present – a coupon for eight people to play Paintball. A few weeks later, Toby and his two siblings plus an assorted crew of friends joined me in weather that ranged from driving rain to outright snow at a paintball center outside Newbury. The game has evolved from the last time I played it – you can buy rapid-fire rifles, smoke bombs and even hand-grenades, which explode […]

2 10, 2015

Fancy Fencing Underwater?

By |October 2nd, 2015|Uncategorized|

George and Shalva Kokochashvili are twin brothers from Tbilisi, the capital and largest city of Georgia. Both are civil engineers and inventors, and together share sixteen Georgian and Soviet Union patents for inventions in sport, medicine (surgery, plastic surgery, burns, water therapy) and engineering. But above all they share a passion for fencing. They have been involved in the sport since 1972, and recently George sent me the book he and his brother have been working on painstakingly for several […]

1 10, 2015

Forward, Backwards, Sideways

By |October 1st, 2015|Uncategorized|

‘The reasons for the American Civil War were simple: the South didn’t want to give up their slaves, and the North didn’t want the South to secede.’ Thus Christopher Dickey, speaking last weak to an invited audience at the Player’s club on Gramercy Park South. The occasion was the publication of Dickey’s new book, Our Man in Charleston, the story of the British spy in the years leading up to the Civil War and beyond who, almost single-handedly,altered the course […]

24 09, 2015

Spy Story

By |September 24th, 2015|Uncategorized|

To the New York Public library for a half day’s special conference on Philanthropy. The reason for the four hours of discussion was the summer issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, the magazine which every three months posts an issue looking at one particular subject. Other recent issues have been on Fashion (just out), Swindle and Fraud, and Death (a bestseller). The magazine now sells some 44,000 copies an issue, an amazing amount for 224 pages all on a single topic.

Besides reproducing […]

23 09, 2015

Fiction Favorites

By |September 23rd, 2015|Uncategorized|

My Tweet campaign, #140×140, in which I choose my favorite 140 characters from fiction and describe each in 140 characters, is now in its fourth week. This week kicked off with Madame Bovary, which I first  read in the Boboli Gardens, Florence, devouring a watermelon just as Emma gulped her arsenic. To read the full list, tune into my Twitter account on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 9AM Eastern Time, and I encourage you to join in the conversation.


  Isabelle Huppert as […]

23 09, 2015


By |September 23rd, 2015|Uncategorized|

I talked today for nearly forty minutes on Skype to my elder son, Toby. He told me that the newspapers in Britain are full of the revelations in a new book by the Tory ex-Party Deputy Chairman Lord Ashcroft about David Cameron having congress with a pig when an undergraduate at Oxford, as part of his initiation into a select dining club there.


 One of the pleasures of our conversations together is that Toby puts up with his father’s awful puns. […]