Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero Of Our Time

No better summation of the Byronic hero exists than Lady Caroline Lamb’s famous “Mad, bad and dangerous to know,” though she was of course talking about Byron himself, and not his many anti-heroes. The Byronic hero is mad because he […]

Reiner Stach’s Kafka: The Decisive Years

From the time Reiner Stach’s publishers accepted his proposal for a Kafka biography to the time he delivered his manuscript for editing, a decade elapsed, and the original one-volume work ballooned into a trilogy. Kafka: The Decisive Years, published in German […]

Saul Bellow’s The Adventures Of Augie March

The title of Saul Bellow’s third and most famous novel gives us some clue to its author’s ambitions, for you do not reference Twain’s Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn without putting yourself, quite conspicuously, in the tradition of “the great American […]

Michel Houellebecq’s Atomised

It is my growing conviction that Michel Houellebecq is the most important living novelist, though it isn’t exactly easy to explain why. On a sentence-by-sentence basis, there are at least a dozen writers alive today who are his betters, and […]

George Orwell’s Burmese Days

It is no exaggeration to say that, without his experience as an imperial police officer in Burma, the man the world now knows as George Orwell, the 20th century’s greatest opponent of totalitarianism, would have remained Eric Arthur Blair, a […]

Graham Greene’s The Power And The Glory

The Power And The Glory might be the quintessential Graham Greene novel, combining the pacing and plot of a thriller – in this case, a manhunt across Mexico – with weightier themes of faith, guilt and redemption. Our protagonist is […]

Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations

I was perhaps too young to appreciate the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius when it was gifted to me as a young boy, and certainly too young to put his precepts into practice, but at the dawn of a new year […]

Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart

Fittingly, the final book I read in 2017 belongs to a growing category: novels I had wrongly prejudged. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is the post-colonial novel, you see, and so it has attracted an endless string of commentary from “post-colonial theorists” and cultural […]

Christopher Lasch’s The Revolt Of The Elites

The title of historian and social critic Christopher Lasch’s final book, The Revolt Of The Elites, published shortly after his death in 1994, places it in conversation with an earlier work of political philosophy, José Ortega y Gasset’s The Revolt Of […]

Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach

About midway through Jennifer Egan’s fifth and latest novel, Manhattan Beach, I had an overwhelming urge to flip ahead to the Acknowledgements section – a first for me, in my entire life as a reader. This is a historical novel, […]