A sinister sort of science

  • The Perversion of Knowledge: The True Story of Soviet Science
    by Vadim Birstein, Basic Books, 2008, pp. 512

In 1978 Bulgarian agents tried to murder Georgi Markov – a Bulgarian dissident then living in London – no fewer than three times. Once, they touched him “accidentally” with poisoned skin cream, designed to cause a heart attack within 48 hours. When that failed, they tried to slip chemicals into his drink. Finally, they came up with an unorthodox but ultimately succesful plan. Continue reading “A sinister sort of science”

Out in the Cold

  • Moscow 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March,
    by Adam Zamoyski, HarperCollins, 644 pp.

Certain historical events become so covered in myth and significance, so overlaid with patriotism and emotion, that over time many people forget what really happened and why. Napoleon’s fatal 1812 march on Moscow is one such event. Continue reading “Out in the Cold”

Unimpeachably unreadable

  • My Life by Bill Clinton, Vintage Books, 2005, 969pp.

It is rare, in a conventional book review, for the reviewer to begin by describing her purchase of the book in question, but in this case it really is part of the story. For I bought My Life, Bill Clinton’s memoir, in the very early hours of the morning at a Washington bookshop which had announced it would put the book on sale at the stroke of midnight, when the embargo ended. Continue reading “Unimpeachably unreadable”

Conjugal relations in Camelot

  • Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House
    by Sally Beddell Smith, Ballantine Books, 2006, 686pp.

A week after her husband’s assassination in November, 1963, Jackie Kennedy gave an interview to the writer Theodore White. Passionately declaring that she didn’t want John F. Kennedy immortalised by “bitter” journalists who didn’t appreciate him, she told White that she had come up with her own metaphor for his presidency. She had chosen it, she said, from a line in a Broadway show song that her husband had loved: “Don’t let it be forgot that once there was a spot, from one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.” Continue reading “Conjugal relations in Camelot”