The Rwandan Genocide

It is twenty years now since the Rwandan genocide, and I have been reading two books about it – one by the BBC correspondent Fergal Keane, and one by the American writer, Philip Gourevitch. In the spring of 1994, hundreds of thousands of Rwandans with machetes and clubs murdered a million people, including seventy per […]

National Army Museum, London/Bridgeman Art Library

Lessons from Afghanistan

  Diana Preston’s The Dark Defile describes the disastrous occupation of Afghanistan by Britain from 1839 to 1842. This is a well-known story—depicted in grand nineteenth-century canvases (Remnants of an Army), 1960s comedies (Flashman), and a flurry of books with Victorian titles, published or republished to coincide with our current Afghan mess: Signal Catastrophe, Crimson Snow, The Last Man, Retreat and […]

Lawrence of Arabia Documentary

The Queen of the Quagmire

First published in the New York Review of Books, 27 October, 2007.   – Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations                         by Georgina Howell Farrar, Straus and Giroux,481 pp., $27.50 – Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell, Adventurer, Adviser […]


Degrees of Not Knowing

Published in volume 27, No.7 of the London Review of Books, March 2005.   – What We Owe Iraq: War and the Ethics of Nation Building by Noah Feldman Princeton, 154 pp, £12.95, November 2004, ISBN 0 691 12179 6 – Blinded by the Sunlight: Surviving Abu Ghraib and Saddam’s Iraq by Matthew McAllester Harper […]

No Image

Great expectations

Four new biographies suggest that the more we write about Alexander the Great, the less we understand him. Alexander the Great: The Death of a God by Paul Doherty 256pp, Constable, £17.99 Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past by Paul Cartledge 384pp, Macmillan, £18.99 Alexander the Conqueror by Laura Foreman 212pp, Da […]