Neal Ascherson is the author of Black Sea, Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland and the novel Death of the Fronsac. He is an ­Honorary Professor at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.
 (November 2018)

IN THE REVIEW

In Search of Britannia

Scottish knights laying siege to an English castle in the border country; from Jean Froissart’s Chronicles of France and England, fourteenth century

The Debatable Land: The Lost World Between Scotland and England

by Graham Robb
Nearly eight hundred years ago, the kings of England and Scotland decided to work out where their kingdoms began and ended. So they sent six knights from each nation on a “perambulation” from the North Sea to the Solway Firth to demarcate the Anglo-Scottish border. The knights couldn’t agree on …

By the Skin of Our Teeth

Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon, Moscow, 1959

The Cold War: A World History

by Odd Arne Westad

The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War

by Benn Steil
Two American academics have written big, serious, and thoroughly intelligent studies of the cold war. In The Cold War: A World History Odd Arne Westad, a professor of US–Asia relations at Harvard, covers the entire period that is conventionally held to have started in about 1947 and ended with the …

Death in Trieste

Claudio Magris at Caffè San Marco, Trieste, 2000

Blameless

by Claudio Magris, translated from the Italian by Anne Milano Appel
In a museum of war, a fire breaks out—or just possibly is ignited by someone—and kills the museum’s creator. This is not surprising. He sleeps among his exhibits in a wooden coffin, wearing a samurai mask and a Prussian spiked helmet, and he smokes abundantly, flicking the butts out of …

Corrective Affinities

Walter Höllerer, Susan Sontag, and Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Princeton University, April 1966

Tumult

by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, translated from the German by Mike Mitchell

New Selected Poems

by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, translated from the German by David Constantine, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Michael Hamburger, and Esther Kinsky
“Waiting for Goethe” has been a habit of tired German intellectuals over the generations. Will this ascendant sage or that once-young hell-raiser grown venerable turn out to be the giant of Weimar come again? As a waste of time, the habit is nearly but not quite harmless. It’s an excuse …

Which le Carré Do You Want?

John le Carré, Beirut, Lebanon, 1983; photograph by Don McCullin

John le Carré: The Biography

by Adam Sisman

The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life

by John le Carré
What happens when a biography collides with an autobiography? Adam Sisman’s careful, comprehensive life of “John le Carré” (his real name is David Cornwell) has been followed within months by the novelist’s own memoir. It covers many of the same anecdotes and characters. Did Sisman realize that David Cornwell was …

Jews: Ambivalent and Admirable

Rabbi Erwin Zimet singing with the twelve Jewish children whom Ian Buruma’s grandparents rescued from Nazi Germany in early 1939, at the hostel they set up for the children in Highgate, North London

Their Promised Land: My Grandparents in Love and War

by Ian Buruma
Some eighteen years ago, Ian Buruma wrote a wise but melancholy review about Anne Frank—or rather about the merciless vendetta that had settled over the dramatized version of her diary.* In it, he suggested that no side in that controversy was exclusively right, neither those led by her father, …

NYR DAILY

Referendums: Yes or No?

People wave a Catalan separatist flag after the banned independence referendum in Barcelona, October 2, 2017

Behind referendums and plebiscites lies the idea of popular sovereignty. The key factor in referendums is who has the right to call them. Formally, the Kurdish and Catalan referendums were both illegal because neither the Iraqi nor the Spanish government licensed them. Some places—California and Switzerland among them—have for many years granted a specified minimum of petitioners the right to hold a referendum. But now, globalized social media are transforming the whole ballot initiative question.