Ian Jack was the editor of The Independent on Sunday and of Granta. He is the author of The Country Formerly Known as Great Britain and he writes regularly for The Guardian.

How the Scots Are Still Scaring Britain

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond (center), British Prime Minister David Cameron, and Cameron’s mother, Mary, at the Wimbledon tennis championships, London, July 2013
Around lunchtime on Friday, September 19, an advocate of a united Britain could have looked at a political map of Scotland and, like the Queen (if David Cameron’s account to Michael Bloomberg can be believed), purred with pleasure that a disaster had been averted and all would now be well.

A Brilliant, Displaced Indian Writer

Sikhs migrating to Indian Punjab after the partition of India and Pakistan, 1947
Out of the twentieth century’s great calamities have come some of our most memorable satires: Jaroslav Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejk from World War I and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 from World War II. Their equivalent in the Indian subcontinent is a short story titled “Toba Tek Singh” by the Urdu …

Blood Sport Beneath the City

Three boys from the Annawadi slum, one of whom is portrayed in <i>Behind the Beautiful Forevers</i>, February 2009
What do we know of the poor? The question is connected to how we—by which I mean the relatively rich—write about them. Poverty first became a focus for literary investigation in the industrial cities of the nineteenth century, when its sights, sounds, and smells moved too close to middle-class houses …

Ireland: The Rise & the Crash

An abandoned new house on the Dublin–Sligo road, County Leitrim, Ireland, April 2010
In his Memoir published in 2005,[^1] the year before he died, the writer John McGahern began by describing the physical geography of the Irish county he was born in and to which he eventually returned. “The soil in Leitrim is poor, in places no more than an inch deep,” is …

Seduced by Trains

Sometime during the mid-nineteenth century, writers discovered that traveling could be a lark. Disease might prevail in the tropics, but many of travel’s other hazards had disappeared: reliable marine engines protected ships against currents and capricious winds, railway companies built sanitary hotels, rooms could be booked by wire, banditry was …