Diamonds Are Forever by Ian Fleming (1956)

Opens with a kind of pre-titles chapter in which we meet a dentist who is smuggling diamonds out of a British diamond mine in Sierra Leone by paying the black workers to smuggle uncut stones out of the mines in their teeth. He pays the miners cash, takes the stones, assembles them into a package […]

Moonraker by Ian Fleming (1955)

Moonraker is divided into 25 chapters, themselves grouped into three fast-moving parts: Monday (chapters 1 – 7) Tuesday-Wednesday (chapters 8-17) Thursday-Friday (chapters 18-25) The tight time-frame and the solely English locations (London, the Drax rocket firing complex on the Kent coast, and the roads between) make this feel like a very domestic adventure. Fleming’s Othello. Sir Hugo […]

Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming (1954)

‘So it is convenient that you should die together. That will happen, in an appropriate fashion,’ the Big Man looked at his watch, ‘in two and a half hours’ time. At six o’clock,’ he added, ‘give or take a few minutes.’ ‘Let’s give those minutes,’ said Bond. ‘I enjoy my life.’ (p.225) Luxury He certainly […]

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (1953)

‘It’s not difficult to get a Double O number if you’re prepared to kill people.’ (p.64) The casino in question is in the fictional French town of Royale-les-Eaux, just north of Dieppe, near the mouth of the river Somme (p.34), based on the holiday resorts of Deaville and Trouville – ie not the sunny south […]

The Hundred Years War by Desmond Seward (1978)

There is full many a man that crieth “Werre! Werre!” That wot full litel what werre amounteth. (Geoffrey Chaucer, captured in France on campaign with Edward III in 1359 and ransomed – with a contribution of £16 from the king) The hundred years war lasted more than a hundred years The Hundred Years War did […]

Modernity Britain: Opening the Box 1957–59 by David Kynaston (2014)

Opening the Box is the first book in volume three of David Kynaston’s epic social history of post-war Britain. It opens on 10 January 1957 as Harold Macmillan drops by Buckingham Palace to be made Prime Minister, and ends on Friday 9 October 1959 as the final results show that the Conservatives have won a staggering […]

Family Britain: A Thicker Cut, 1954-57 by David Kynaston (2009)

This is the second part of the second volume of David Kynaston’s social history of post-war Britain. As usual, it is a dense collage of quotes from the diaries, letters, interviews, surveys and speeches of an enormous range of people from Prime Minister Winston Churchill to vox pops of shoppers in the street via civil […]

Family Britain: The Certainties of Place by David Kynaston (2009)

Two more massive ‘books’ contained in one hefty 700-page paperback describing Britain after the war, the first one – The Certainties of Place, under review here – covering the period 1951-5 in immense detail. The main historical events are: The Festival of Britain (May – August 1951) October 1951 the Conservatives just about win the general […]

2061: Odyssey Three by Arthur C. Clarke (1987)

Clarke’s famous characters I was struck by the cosy, clubby, collegiate atmosphere created by this novel. Although it’s meant to be about far-out events at the limits of human understanding, a thriller-cum-disaster story set at the remote end of the solar system – it often feels more like an after-dinner conversation at a gentleman’s club. […]

Trilby by George du Maurier (1895)

‘Y a pas d’quoi!’ said Trilby, divesting herself of her basket and putting it, with the pick and lantern, in a corner. ‘Et maintenant, le temps d’absorber une fine de fin sec et je m’la brise. On m’attend à l’Ambassade d’Autriche. Et puis zut! Allez toujours, mes enfants. En avant la boxe!’ Trilby was a […]