July 19, 2007

Are We There Yet? Travels with My Frontline Family

Rosie Whitehouse’s account of motherhood  is  about  uneasy   juxtapositions: “The sun  is  shining  and  it’s  exceptionally warm. How can a war start today?” It’s about exploring identity: “Suddenly, I realise I have come to Berlin to find out what really matters when you fall in love with and have children with someone from a different […]

July 19, 2007

Beware Falling Coconuts

The title of this book comes from signs nailed to countless trees all over Asia. A bit like terrorism, the warning is both necessary (hundreds die each year after being hit) and useless (because there is no time to get out of the way). No falling coconut hit Clapham on the head during his stints […]

June 19, 2007

Sand Cafe

There are funny moments in Neil MacFarquhar’s spoof of foreign correspondents holed up in  Dhahran during the Kuwait  War of 1991, but the greatest fun is working out who the characters might be: Thea, exotic female love interest, cable television reporter climbing her way to stardom on a musical voice and thick black fringe (Who […]

June 19, 2007

Blood River

In 1992, I sat on the banks of the great Zaire River and watched Congolese cannibalise their capital, Kinshasa, looting shops, destroying buildings and ripping copper wire from telephone lines. As drunken looters drove brand new cars out of showrooms straight into the nearest walls, one had scrawled on the last remaining unbroken plate glass […]

June 1, 2007

Rumsfeld: An American disaster

Donald Rumsfeld, Andrew Cockburn remarks in this critical biography, is “one of history’s greatest courtiers.” Rumsfeld’s sly performance at the courts of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and the Searle family (who helped him make his financial fortune) prepared him for his final role in George Bush Jr’s White House. Rumsfeld’s flaws emerged early in life. He […]

June 1, 2007

Bomber Boys: Fighting back 1940-1945

Night after night and at great risk, the daring young men of RAF Bomber Command rained indiscriminate death and destruction on Nazi Germany. They scored bulls-eyes on industrial and military targets. They also slaughtered innocents. “It’s a fair assumption that when Tom dropped our bombs women and boys and girls were killed,” one wrote home. […]

May 1, 2007

The Orwell Prize 2007

This year’s Orwell Prize, held last Tuesday night at the Frontline Club, reeked of the welcome stench of real reporting – a celebration of journalists and writers who work “from the ground up”, in Martha Gellhorn’s famous phrase. George Orwell would surely have been pleased that his eponymous prize for journalism went to Peter Beaumont, […]

May 1, 2007

Another bloody love letter

The Balkans international press corps in the nineties had its fair share of haunted characters. Sitting around in Sarajevo or Vitez of an evening as slivovitz melted inhibitions and loosened tongues it seemed that almost everyone present was on the run from something. Even among this slightly self-conscious Legion of the Damned Anthony Loyd stood […]

March 19, 2007


Jonathan Ledgard’s first novel, Giraffe, is a strange and compelling tale set in the communist Czechoslovakia of the 1970s. The story, with its savage climax, about a herd of giraffes captured in Africa and transported to a Czechoslovak zoo is all the more haunting because it is rooted in real events. This is not a […]

March 1, 2007

Intifada: The Long Day of Rage (2)

In the foreword to this perceptive and timely book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, David Pratt notes that amid the hatred and bitterness it has generated over the decades, both warring communities cling resolutely to “their respective narratives of victimhood.” Put another way, each has its own version of the events that have locked them together […]

March 1, 2007

Intifada: The Long Day of Rage (1)

The first boy was shot at around three o’clock. He was carried past, trying to be brave but sobbing with the pain of his shattered elbow. The next was shot 15 minutes later. The third was shot about 45 minutes after that. By early evening I had counted six seriously injured teenagers loaded into the […]

January 24, 2007

View from a Grain of Sand

The road to Kabul is littered with the carcasses of war – Soviet army tanks left rusting in the arid landscape, overturned buses without wheels that will never complete their journeys and the gaping wounds of bullet-ridden buildings. This is the scenery of modern Afghanistan. It is a country that has seen constant battle over […]

November 8, 2006

Journalists Under Fire:The Psychological Hazards of Covering War

Like most journalists I blow hot and cold on this question on the straightforward grounds that those who can’t stand the heat should not venture into the kitchen. I have taken part in more than one public discussion on how repeated and prolonged exposure to war affects the mental and emotional state of journalists and […]

September 26, 2006

The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq

Patrick Cockburn’s latest book, The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq opens with the following words: “It has been the strangest war.  It had hardly begun in 2003 when President George W. Bush announced on May 1 that it was over: the American mission had been accomplished. Months passed before Washington and London realised that […]

June 16, 2006

Frontline: The True Story of the British Mavericks who Changed the Face of War Reporting

This book is the history of a moment in television news, which was brief enough, yet so bright that it will stay in the minds of everyone who experienced it, like staring into a torch-beam on a dark night. Frontline still exists, as anyone knows if they have climbed up the steep stairs to the […]

May 25, 2006

On the Road to Kandahar

No one knows how Britain’s Nato adventure in Afghanistan will end. Depending on who you listen to, it is either one of the most dangerous policing roles in the new age of asymmetric warfare, or a consolidation of the post-9/11 achievements of the international community. Military commanders who pick up Jason Burke’s Road to Kandahar […]

May 15, 2006

The Tribes Triumphant

One of the great mysteries of our time is the awfulness of the American media. The world’s greatest nation gets its intelligence about the rest of the planet mainly from television, a medium dominated by air-headed bimbos and himbos – ‘I’m Cindy and he’s Grover’ – real-life car chases of narcoleptic tedium and the weather […]

April 17, 2006

One Hundred Years Of Darkness

Marcus Bleasdale’s disturbing photos eloquently present the latest chapter in the Congo’s catalogue of tragedies. The Congo has always epitomised man’s inhumanity to man. King Leopold II of Belgium, responsible for perhaps as many as ten million dead during his commercial exploitation in the late 1800s, employed a very childish Christian solution to those natives […]

March 16, 2006

An Orange Revolution

Askold Krushelnycky is that rare creature, someone who has grown more idealistic with age. He is also unusual in another respect. In the blowhard world of foreign corresponding he is something of a shrinking violet whose inclination is to underplay his adventures. I have come to know AK well down the years. Yet until now […]