So far from God . . .

Ciudad Juárez, Mexico’s second largest border city, is clogged with rubbish, fouled with car exhaust and, increasingly, flooded with narcotics.


Way out west

This year America celebrates the cent-enary of Mark Twain’s death.


Girls from the golden West

Who was the first American to marry an English duke? Most students of the peerage would say it was Consuelo Yzagna who married the eldest son of the Duke of Manchester in 1876.


A smooth passage

Jonathan Raban left Britain and moved to Seattle in 1990, when he was 47.

King and his killer

In the late days of the Bush administration, it was fashionable among liberals to call George W. Bush the ‘worst’ president since the founding of the republic and to suggest that under his leadership America experienced its own version of the Dark Ages.


Schlock teaser

The somewhat straightlaced theatre-going audiences of 1880s America, eager for performances by European artistes like Jenny Lind and solid, home-grown, classical actors such as Otis Skinner, were hardly prepared for the on-stage vulgarity that the (usually) Russian and Polish immigrant impressarios, with their particular nous for show-biz, were to unleash into the saloons and fleapits across the young nation.


High priest of bop

In the Rainbow Grill in New York one evening in 1971, according to Robin D. G. Kelley, Professor of History and American Studies at the University of Southern California, Duke Ellington  halted his band in mid-flow and announced: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the baddest left hand in the history of jazz just walked into the room, Mr Thelonious Monk.'


Whither America?

At the beginning of The Ask, Horace sits with Burke and proclaims that America is a ‘run down and demented pimp’.


Insufficiently honoured here

‘Next time it’s full buggery!’ said Christopher Hitchens as I helped him onto a train at Taunton station after a full luncheon of Black Label, Romanée-Conti, eel risotto and suckling pig.


A girl’s best friend

If you wanted to write about Marilyn Monroe, how would you go about it? The pile of biographies, memoirs and novels about poor, sad Marilyn is already teetering.


The map turns red

Norman Stone forsook the chair of modern history at Oxford university for Ankara after realising that the ‘conversation at high tables would generally have made the exchanges in the bus- stop in the rain outside seem exhilarating’.


Serving God and Mammon

People have written books about America long before the United States declared itself, and we may be forgiven for asking if we really need another.


Refusing to play the game

What sort of person would you expect to be bringing out a life of J.D. Salinger two months after his death, bearing in mind that Salinger was more obsessive about his privacy than any other writer in human history and fought the publication of the last biography all the way to the US Supreme Court?


Annals of war

‘I was not an enthusiast about getting US forces and going into Iraq,’ Dick Cheney said in 1997, looking back on the First Gulf War.


The whirlwind and the saint

Dave Eggers is the very model of the engaged writer.


Method in his madness

The car manufacturer Henry Ford domin- ates this remarkable book, managing, like Falstaff, to be its tragic hero, villain, and comic relief all at the same time.

A narrow escape

For once, I felt sorry for Bill Clinton.


The great bailout

Hank Paulson’s new book is called On the Brink, but it could well have been entitled Over the Edge.


Not ‘a boy-crazed trollop’

For someone who barely left the house, Emily Dickinson didn’t half cause a lot of trouble.


Adventure with a difference

Probably my opinion of this bold book is worthless.


What a difference a gay makes

Edmund White is among the most admired of living authors, his oeuvre consisting of 20-odd books of various forms — novels, stories, essays and biographies — though each one is imbued with his preferred subject, homosexuality.

Just the bare bones

It is impossible (as I prove in this sentence) to review Philip Roth without mentioning the surge of creativity that began when the author was around 60 and which now sees him publishing a novel every year (his next one, Nemesis, is already finished).

Engrossing obsessions

With Blood’s a Rover James Ellroy finally finishes his ‘Underworld USA’ trilogy.

Karl Marx got it right

Whether the refusal to allow the Confederate states the right to self-determination, flying as it did in the face of the Declaration of Independence, was the first overt act of American imperialism is a question that goes largely undiscussed.

Joking apart

Free association underpins the comedy of Lorrie Moore’s writing — or perhaps the verb should be ‘unpins’, since her prose spins off in tangential, apparently affectless riffs.