The Island of Sheep by John Buchan (1936)

The fifth and final of the series of Richard Hannay ‘spy’ novels by John Buchan.  As usual, more interesting for its social history and the light it sheds on the mentality of the right-wing squirearchy than for the – in fact quite thrilling – boys’ adventure plot. Plot in three parts 1. In the glory […]

The Three Hostages by John Buchan (1924)

Buchan’s hero, Richard Hannay, was always a posh pukka public schoolboy hero; his ‘let’s biff the blighters, Sandy!’, ‘oh hooray! another grand show!’ style is part of the semi-comic appeal of the Thirty-Nine Steps and Greenmantle, novels in which he is a relatively junior, unknown, everyman figure. However, by the time of Mr Standfast, Hannay is a […]

Mr Standfast by John Buchan (1919)

I always felt that I was a better bandit than a detective Third and longest of the five Richard Hannay novels, set against the backdrop of the Great War as it entered its 4th and crucial year. Its length is its terrible weakness as, instead of depth or subtlety, Buchan just piles on incident after […]

Greenmantle by John Buchan (1916)

This is the second of Buchan’s five thrillers told in the first person by the bluff, straight-talking South African mining engineer-cum posh chap Richard Hannay. Whereas the Thirty-Nine Steps which is about foiling a German plot to smuggle military secrets out of England, is set just before the outbreak of the Great War, this sequel was written between […]

The Thirty-nine Steps by John Buchan (1915)

Famous ripping yarn, the first novel to feature the dashing hero Richard Hannay, I’d forgotten it is set in the last months of peace before the outbreak of World War I, with Germany the enemy and the threat of war hanging over every sentence. Buchan wrote it in bed while suffering from the duodenal ulcer […]

Lenin on The Train by Catherine Merridale (2016)

Dominic Lieven’s book about the diplomatic build-up to the Great War – Towards The Flame – was very demanding, every page full of analyses and counter-analyses of complex international situations, which took a good deal of concentration to understand. By contrast, Catherine Merridale’s book is like a series of articles in a travel supplement, or the […]

Captain James Cook: A Biography by Richard Hough (1994)

A grave, steady man (Boswell, quoted page 342) I’ve covered a lot of the detail of the three epic voyages of discovery carried out by Captain James Cook in my review of the current exhibition about them being held at the British Library in London. That review includes detail of the routes, the places ‘discovered’ […]

James Cook – The Voyages @ the British Library

2018 marks 250 years since Captain James Cook set off from Plymouth on the first of his three epoch-making voyages of exploration to the Pacific. In 1768 most of the coastlines and islands scattered across this vast body of water – nearly 64 million square miles of ocean – were unknown to Europeans. When Cook’s […]

A Brief History of Superheroes by Brian J. Robb (2014)

Robb has previously written biographies of Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt. This volume is one of a series titled ‘A brief guide to [or A history of] …’ which includes guides to Stephen King, ghost-hunting, the Roman Empire, Star Wars and any other topics they thought would sell. Written for a popular audience, […]

People Power: Fighting for Peace @ Imperial War Museum London

O silly and unlucky are the brave, Who tilt against the world’s enormous wrong. Their serious little efforts will not save Themselves or us. The enemy is strong. O silly and unlucky are the brave. (W.H. Auden, 1937) It’s the centenary of the Imperial War Museum, set up in the same year as the Battle […]