Q Marks the Spot 135 (January 2020)

Sacred Treasure If you've not come across it, "The Saint John's Bible is the first handwritten, hand-illuminated Bible to be commissioned by a Benedictine Abbey in over five hundred years." Some of the images are simply breathtaking. Here is a wonderful selectionMy…

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2019: Reading Highlights

These are in no particular order and I've picked them out as the ones I gave 5* to on my Goodreads page - you can see the rest here. The observant may well be able to discern themes and current…

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Q Marks the Spot 134 (December 2019)

Sacred Treasure One man mission - a fascinating story about reviving Welsh chapels - and fascinating it gets such a high profile on the BBCJames Hannam has written one of my favourite books of history (God's Philosophers: How the Mediaeval…

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On MLK, #MeToo, and the possibility of Pride in the Flawed

Does the legacy of a heroic struggle for justice cover over a multitude of sins? Or does the iconic hero’s fatal flaw render him and, perhaps even his legacy, leprous? Is it 'one strike and you're out' or might the twitteratti just possibly permit nuance and, dare I say it, complexity?

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The flicker of a smile from the unsmiling man

Shostakovich is a personal hero of mine. He walked a tightrope between the Gulag and compromise in the vortex of Stalinist Russia. But more than that, his music has brought me consolation, invigoration, provocation, and perplexity. Sometimes all at once.…

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Q Combinations 5: Kamienska & Wyeth and a winter hope

If the last Q combo was a chronological mismatch of artist and poet, this one is seasonal. Today’s still been pretty warm for a British September day, so it’s perhaps rather incongruous to be thinking about winter. But a dear friend and colleague, Jennifer, sent me this all too brief poem last week, and so I felt it was a perfect combo contender.
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Just when you thought it was safe to go back to spying… Charles Cumming’s A Colder War

It hardly needs saying, but spying did not stop with the collapse of Communism. But if spying continued, it naturally follows that so did betrayal. The haunting question provoked by every betrayal is, “Why?” Perhaps it was easier to understand during the Cold War. The globe’s ideological map was drawn all too clearly. However flawed the enemy might be, believing in their ideological stance always made it forgiving those flaws much easier. But what about today? (more…)

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Countdown to Dallas 1963: the inside story of a Sophoclean tragedy

This is a great year for conspiracists – from the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy to the constant dribble (and occasional torrent) of government surveillance revelations. It’s all happening. So i’ve been trying to get my head around the whole Kennedy thing. A few years back, I read the seminal bio by Robert Dallek, An Unfinished Life, which is the best place to start (beautifully written, brilliant insights). But have just finished Thurston Clarke’s JFK’s Last Hundred Days which is a week by week account of those final months of his life and presidency. Tragedy is a word much diluted by overuse and misuse – (more…)

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