Allan Massie

For France, the murder of John the Fearless was ‘a tragedy on an epic scale’

The drama of St Crispian’s Day: Shakespeare got it right

Charles VI of France died on 21 October 1422. He had been intermittently mad for most of his long reign,…

King John at Runnymede: at odds with his barons, he came to rely on mercenaries whom he couldn’t afford

King John was not a good man: two distinguished historians echo A.A. Milne

This being the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, it is not surprising that there should be two…

Retreat of the Highlanders from Perth after the Jacobite Rising, C. 1745

Scotland’s miraculous century (it started with the Union)

In 1707 Scotland surrendered what it had of its independence by the Treaty of Union with England. That independence had…


Business books aren't meant to cheer you up. But this one will

Economics is known as ‘the dismal science’, and certainly there have been — and indeed are — economists whose day…

Ovid Banished from Rome, J.M.W. Turner, 1838 (Photo: The Athenaeum)

Roman baths didn't make you clean — and other gems from Peter Jones's Veni, Vedi, Vici

Spectator readers need no introduction to Peter Jones. His Ancient and Modern column has instructed and delighted us for many…

Laidlaw by William McIlvanney - review

Laidlaw was first published in 1977, 36 years back from now, 38 on from The Big Sleep. Like Chandler’s classic…

About to cop it?

Rebus is back, in a novel long, meaty and persuasive enough to make up for the years of absence. Actually,…


Life and letters

With few exceptions, literary journalists moulder in the grave and are soon forgotten. They may get some sort of posthumous…

Give me excess of it

There is a joke about a retired colonel whose aberrant behaviour had him referred to a psychoanalyst. He emerged from…


Life & Letters: A PM’s summer reading

One of the weaknesses of many political biographies is that they are so often all about politics. The authors either…


Storm in a wastepaper basket

‘It’s the revenge of Dreyfus,’ came the cry from the dock. The speaker was the veteran right-wing ideologue, Charles Maurras,…


Life & Letters: The Creative Writing controversy

It came as a bit of a shock to learn from Philip Hensher’s review of Body of Work: 40 Years…


Life & Letters: Shakespeare’s women

Gordon Bottomley, Georgian poet with an unpoetic name, wrote a play called King Lear’s Wife with which he hoped to…

The fascist vote

Public responses to the riots show a disturbing appetite for authoritarian politics in Britain

The country of criticism

On Karl Miller's essays

Life & Letters

There was a photograph the other day of a Hemingway lookalike competition in Key West, Florida. Bizarre? Perhaps not. It’s 50 years since he put the barrel of a shotgun in his mouth and blew his head off, but he remains the most famous and widely recognised American writer of the 20th century, indeed of all time. Sadly, however, the lookalikes all take after the bearded bust-up Papa of his last miserable years, not the handsome young author of the great short stories where every word does its work and there are never too many of them. That Hemingway created an American type — lean, rangy, debonair — last example, Gregory Peck as the journalist in Roman Holiday.

Coolness under fire

The early 19th century was the age of the dandy, and the essence of dandyism was cool self-control.


Life & Letters

The deceptive quality of light verse

Life & Letters: If you can’t make a table…

Why do you write? The question is sometimes posed by interviewers or by members of the audience at book festivals. My answer is usually rather feeble. ‘Well,’ I say, ‘I can’t sing or play a musical instrument or dance, and I can’t draw. So what else is left to me but writing?’ This is true enough.

Life & Letters: Memoirs as literature

Laurence Sterne remarked rather a long time ago that they order these matters better in France, and happily this is still the case. Fifteen hundred teachers of literature recently protested about the choice of a set book for Terminale L du bac — the exam taken by 17-year-olds. Their concern is perhaps more political than literary. Nevertheless they denounced the choice of book as ‘a negation of our discipline’. ‘We are teachers of literature,’ they said; ‘is it our business to discuss a work of history?’

Less is more

'A good rule for writers: do not explain over-much’


The laird and his legend

‘Stuart Kelly’ the author’s note declares, ‘was born and brought up in the Scottish Borders.’ Not so, as he tells us; he was born in Falkirk, which is in central Scotland, and came to the Borders as a child.


The hell of working

Allan Massie's Life & Letters


In the house of Hanover

Either Lucy Worsley or, more probably, her publisher has given her book the subtitle ‘The Secret History of Kensington Palace.’ This is enticing, or intended to be so; it is also misleading.