The Spectator


Ian Thomson 3 September 2011

Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars Sonia Faleiro

Canongate, pp.225, 12.99

In 1971, at the height of the Indo-Pakistan war, my parents took me with them to Bombay. I was ten and it was my first trip abroad. My father worked…Read more


Tallinn tales

Ian Thomson 27 August 2011

The Last Ambassador: August Torma, Soldier, Diplomat, Spy Tina Tamman

Rodopi Books, pp.251, 49

During the Twenties and Thirties, the Estonian capital of Tallinn was known to be a centre for espionage, infiltrated by White Russian intriguers bent on blocking Bolshevik access to north-west… Read more


Talking about regeneration

Ian Thomson 23 July 2011

Ghost Milk Iain Sinclair

416, pp.20, 9780241144350

Iain Sinclair, the London novelist and poet, is always on the move. From the industrial sumplands of Woolwich to the jagged riversides of Gravesend, he rakes unfrequented zones for literary… Read more


City of miracles

Ian Thomson 25 June 2011

Rome Robert Hughes

Weidenfeld, pp.534, 25

When in Rome: 2000 Years of Roman Sightseeing Matthew Sturgis

Frances Lincoln, pp.280, 20

Whispering City: Rome and its Histories R.J.B. Bosworth

Yale, pp.358, 25

In the autumn of 1984, after an unexplained fall, I found myself in a hospital in Rome acutely head-injured and disorientated. I had been found sprawled on the floor of… Read more


Deep, dark mysteries

Ian Thomson 4 June 2011

London Under Peter Ackroyd

Chatto, pp.192, 12.99

The Stones of London: A History of Twelve Buildings Leo Hollis

Weidenfeld, pp.456, 25

For Peter Ackroyd, the subterranean world holds a potent allure. London Under, his brief account of the capital’s catacombs and other murky zones, manages to radiate a dark mystery and… Read more


Haitian horrors

Ian Thomson 2 April 2011

Imajine Claudel Casseus, translated by Jean Rodrigue Ulcena, with a foreword by Bill Drummond

Penkiln Burn Books, pp.130, £10

Twenty years ago, in 1991, I was shown round the National Palace in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. A government official led me through long rococo halls crammed with oriental… Read more


Nostalgie de la boue

Ian Thomson 19 March 2011

Edgelands: Journeys into England’s Wilderness Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts

Cape, pp.264, 12.99

In the late 1960s I grew up in the London borough of Greenwich, which in those days had a shabby, post-industrial edge. Behind our house on Crooms Hill stood a… Read more


A war of nutrition

Ian Thomson 5 February 2011

The Taste of War Lizzie Collingham

Allen Lane, pp.634, 30

The long summer that led up to the last days of peace in Europe in 1939 — the vigil of the Nazi assault on Poland on 1 September and the… Read more


So far from God . . .

Ian Thomson 20 November 2010

Amexica: War Along the Borderline Ed Vulliamy

Bodley Head, pp.336, 20

Ciudad Juárez, Mexico’s second largest border city, is clogged with rubbish, fouled with car exhaust and, increasingly, flooded with narcotics. Ciudad Juárez, Mexico’s second largest border city, is clogged with…Read more


In a Greene shade

Ian Thomson 2 October 2010

Chasing The Devil Tim Butcher

Chatto & Windus, pp.325, 18.99

Some travel writers, in an attempt to simulate the hardship of Victorian journeys, like to impose artificial difficulties on themselves. A glut of memorably foolish yarns with titles like Hang-Gliding… Read more


Tangerine dreams

Ian Thomson 28 August 2010

Travels: Collected Writings, 1950-93 Paul Bowles, introduced by Paul Theroux

Sort of Books, pp.508, 14.99

Before tourism came travel; and before travel, exploration. A sense of wonder had accompanied journeys along the lip of the unknown, as the Victorian pathfinder was often an amateur scientist,… Read more


A flammable individual

Ian Thomson 30 June 2010

Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane Andrew Graham-Dixon

Allen Lane, pp.514, 30

On the night of 18 October 1969, thieves broke into the Oratory of San Lorenzo, Palermo, and removed Caravaggio’s Nativity. On the night of 18 October 1969, thieves broke into… Read more


Exotic Cuban underworld

Ian Thomson 17 March 2010

Our GG in Havana Pedro Juan Gutierrez, translated by John King

Faber, pp.150, 9.99

Before the revolución of 1959, Havana was, effectively, a mafia fleshpot and colony of Las Vegas. Before the revolución of 1959, Havana was, effectively, a mafia fleshpot and colony of… Read more