On HHhH, by Laurent Binet

The Life of Life

I spent time getting things ready for my daughter's pre-ball party. Then I relaxed for an hour, reading about the Nazis. It was Laurent Binet's historical novel, HHhH, about Reinhard Heydrich, the Hangman of Prague, the high-ranking Nazi who devised the methods for murdering the Jews on an industrial scale. I came upon this detail: when a brave assassin confronted Heydrich on a Prague street, the gun jammed. One theory is that it jammed because the assassin had been carrying it hidden in a box of grass, and the grass had got into its workings. Why would he be carrying the gun in a box of grass? Because many Czechs kept rabbits, and collected plants from the city parks to feed them.

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The Psychology of Cities

Visiting East Hastings Street
On the Amtrak train from Seattle to Portland my mind was on American cities – orderly Seattle, mild in the dreamy rain, Portland with its bookshops, cycle lanes and sustainable housing – and I was reading about another kind of city, a cold, fantastical, intimidating metropolis: the world capital Germania, seat of power of the thousand year Reich.
Before World War Two, Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, designed for him the new Berlin. Germania was to embody the extraordinary power of a regime that had fulfilled its need for Lebensraum and would now rule the world. The design was monumental, gigantic and militaristic. In his book Speer, The Final Verdict, Joachim Fest describes Speer's plan for the new capital as "despotic architecture, that, for all its high aims, never got beyond demonstrating naked power...one cannot overlook the excessive rage of this architecture, nor the hysterical trait inherent to it."

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Charlotte Grimshaw BBC TV Interview

Charlotte Grimshaw talks to Nick Higham on the BBC TV's Meet the Author

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-23192801

Me and James K Baxter

The Real New Zealand 

This month I received an email from a British man who's making a documentary about the "real New Zealand." He was, he said, interested in New Zealand themes: extreme sports, Maori culture, wine, conservation, manuka honey, sheep. But above all he wanted to meet real New Zealanders. He listed some he'd heard about, including a champion sheep shearer who can hypnotise sheep and blow up trees. Could I supply some Kiwis like that? They didn't all have to be eccentric, he said, but it would help.I was eager to help, but did I know the sort of person who could blow up a tree, or hypnotise sheep? (Why did this person blow up trees? Was that actually legal?) I couldn't organise him a powhiri. Obviously I would rather die than take him bungy jumping. It was hard to come up with a reply. I imagined emailing London: "I want the real Britain. Can you tee me up with a Beefeater, a Hooray Henry, a minor Royal. Plus I'd love to see a really serious football riot, and meet some jihadists from Bradford..."

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Queen Elizabeth's Day

World

She starts drinking every day before noon. None of her children has a real job. Mired in a culture of entitlement, always needing a handout, she drains the coffers of the state. Her photo looked down at me from the wall of the train: England's top beneficiary, Queen Elizabeth II.

I was on my way to a party thrown by London publishers, Faber. In a huge, hidden garden behind Southampton Row, owned by another monster of entitlement, the Duke of Bedford, the crowd mingled and murmured. There was a striped marquee, there were Chrissie Hynde and Jarvis Cocker, there was Alan Hollinghurst making his solemn way through the green dusk under the trees. The actress Miranda Richardson, looking vague and fey, absent-mindedly stroked the flank of a statue of a leaping fawn.

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Bloomsbury Days

Parallel Universe

When I was a child I had disagreements with my mother, as one does. I remember sitting in the bath arguing while she toiled in the next room over some chore to do with my baby sister. There must have been one too many comebacks from me, in the echo chamber of the bathroom. She stormed in, slapped me about the shoulders and shouted, "Animals are not as important as humans!" While capable of much storming and weeping myself, I was oddly unmoved on that occasion, calmly looking up and seeing the displaced steam, whirling and rearranging itself, sucked after her as she raced out the door again. 

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David Bain on Stage

Telling the truth in Perth.

At the International Justice Conference in Perth, a symposium organised by Justice W.A., an Australian lawyer joked, "I've never been in the room with so many convicted killers." Exonorees Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton and Rubin "Hurricane" Carter mingled with Betty Anne Waters and legendary U.S. lawyer Barry Scheck. Outside there were palm trees, exotic birds. There were dolphins in the river, Aborigines living along the riverbank and a heat wave, 43 degrees. Inside, in the air-conditioned chill, I was talking to David Bain.

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Family Brand

At a book launch at New Zealand House in London, an official solemnly concluded his speech with a quote from "the great writer, el Doctorow". Next to me a British poet registered the mistake with a raised eyebrow. I thought of el diablo, el Dorado: the devil, the City of Gold. Beyond the windows the great city was sunk in a brown haze, lights blurred in the gloom, raindrops snaked down the windows. Inside it was hot and crowded and the light was harsh. I was in a mood to pay close attention: el diablo was in the detail, and the conversations all were gold. We were talking about family. A woman told me a story: when she was a student she stayed in a small town in Italy and fell in love with a young man. She grew close to his family, and thought seriously about staying. But her father, who had a mysterious job in the UK government, had the young man vetted, and discovered his family was the centre of a powerful mafia clan.

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