The bloody founding of St Petersburg

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Peter on his high horse

St Petersburg: Three Centuries of Murderous Desire. By Jonathan Miles. Random House; 488 pages; £25. To be published in America by Pegasus in March 2018.

ANNA AKHMATOVA, one of Russia’s finest 20th-century poets, once described St Petersburg as being “particularly well suited to catastrophes”. Founded in 1703, the city went on to experience two historical traumas—the Russian revolution and the siege of Leningrad, as it was known under the Soviets. In his new biography of the tormented delta, Jonathan Miles, a British cultural historian, manoeuvres swiftly through these tragedies, devoting the bulk of his attention to the social and cultural life beneath the city’s “spiders’ webs of tramlines”.

By almost every measure St Petersburg is a haunted metropolis. The windswept city built on the mouth of the Neva is prone to flooding, as is vividly described in Pushkin’s “The Bronze…Continue reading

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Personal pronouns are changing fast

NOT so long ago a man could be jailed in Texas for sex with another man. In 2015 a county clerk in Kentucky was jailed for refusing to certify the marriage of two men. Gay rights in America proceeded at an extraordinary rate between Lawrence v Texas (2003), in which …

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Giorgio Vasari, the man who created art history

Vasari made craftsmen into stars The Collector of Lives: Giorgio Vasari and the Invention of Art. By Ingrid Rowland and Noah Charney. Norton; 432 pages; $29.95 and £23.99. TOWARDS the end of his life Michelangelo Buonarroti, the most famous artist of the Italian Renaissance, began burning his drawings. He did …

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Esther Kinsky muses on a river in England

Esther Kinsky goes with history’s flow River. By Esther Kinsky. Translated by Iain Galbraith. Fitzcarraldo; 368 pages; £12.99. To be published in America this autumn by Transit Books. IN HER post-war childhood beside the Rhine, the narrator of Esther Kinsky’s third novel learns that “every river is a border.” Flowing …