Now We Know

  • Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America
    By John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev
    Yale University Press, 2009, 637 pp

If one were trying to define the lowest point in the long and venerable tradition of American anti-communism, surely it came in 2003, with the publication of Ann Coulter’s Treason. Coulter’s “thesis” in this work of cut-and-paste-from-the-Internet history was that a straight line could be drawn between Americans such as Alger Hiss, who spied for the Soviet Union in the 1940s, and Americans such as Barack Obama, who criticized the war in Iraq half a century later. Continue reading “Now We Know”

Success at Last

  • Poland: A History
    by Adam Zamoyski
    Harper Press, 2009, 426pp.

A couple of years ago, Adam Zamoyski — who is, yes, a friend — told me that he was revising The Polish Way, a history of Poland he had published back in 1987. At first he had thought merely to shorten a few over-long paragraphs and check facts. But as he re-read his work, he decided it needed more dramatic changes. Continue reading “Success at Last”

President Barack Obama reaches out to all nations with vow to ‘remake America’

A friend emailed Tuesday morning from New York: “In tears already and it hasn’t begun.” Another wrote me that her husband, horrified by reports of crowds in Washington, was “afraid there will be a stampede or something awful”.
Which summed it up, really: the levels of emotion built up in advance of the 2009 presidential inauguration ceremony were so high that some wept, some fainted, and some were paralysed by fear. Continue reading “President Barack Obama reaches out to all nations with vow to ‘remake America’”

Arthur at Camelot

  • Journals: 1952-2000
    by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr, edited by Andrew Schlesinger and Stephen Schlesinger
    Atlantic Books, 2009, 912pp.

Before sitting down with this hefty doorstopper of a diary, first ask yourself whether you agree — or can imagine yourself agreeing — with the entry Arthur Schlesinger, Jr made on 27 March 1950: ‘I adore sitting around hotel rooms with politicians and newspapermen exchanging gossip over drinks.’ Continue reading “Arthur at Camelot”

Barack Obama Taps into the Ivy League For His Cabinet

Not long ago, a European professor who often lectures in the US reminisced to me about how American students have changed. when he visited Harvard and Yale in the 1960s, he told me, the students were all alike: white, male, East Coast. By the 1980s, however, they included blacks, Asians and women. Even the white males were often from Alabama or West Texas. Continue reading “Barack Obama Taps into the Ivy League For His Cabinet”

Laughable and Tragic

  • The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke
    by Timothy Snyder
    Basic Books, 344 pp.

Perhaps it was the elaborate court rituals, perhaps it was the stiff manners of the royal family, or perhaps it was the swiftness of the final collapse: for whatever reason, even the most tragic tales of the latter years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire often lapse into black humor. Continue reading “Laughable and Tragic”

The Spectre of Spielberg

  • Searching for Schindler
    by Thomas Keneally,
    Sceptre, 2008, 312pp.

Which would you rather read, The Great Gatsby or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s day-by-day account of the whisky he drank and the cigarettes he smoked while writing it? La Comédie humaine or a list of the cups of coffee Balzac downed, between midnight and sunrise, while putting all of those words down on paper? Continue reading “The Spectre of Spielberg”

Why is Vladimir Putin so scared of Georgia?

‘It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” In recent days, this famous Churchillian pronouncement on Russia has echoed through many an analysis. In particular, Vladimir Putin – former Russian president, current Russian prime minister, the man still clearly in charge of the country – has been held up as a great puzzle. Continue reading “Why is Vladimir Putin so scared of Georgia?”