Meanwhile, considerable riches in the latest issue of the NYRB. I particularly enjoyed Geoffrey Wheatcroft's James Bond piece (available to all - hmmm, I must get those Ben Macintyre books, they sound great!) and Jonathan Spence's piece about China specialist and historian of science Joseph Needham (subscriber-only - I was utterly enraptured by Needham's history of embryology when I first came across it in the early days of reading for breeding book), and there's all sorts of other good stuff too.
Perhaps the most extraordinary piece, though, is Richard Holmes's essay on Theophile Gautier. I've been a huge fan of Holmes's writing ever since I fell in love (c. 1992-93?) with Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer. This one is also subscriber-only, but I will take the liberty of pasting in a few paragraphs of Holmes's prose for the hallucinatory intensity of his historical imagination, in this case autobiographical:
In 1974, I had gone to live in Paris, just after completing Shelley: The Pursuit. I was aged twenty-nine, living in a fifth-floor attic room near the Gare du Nord on £100 ($150) a month and supporting myself by freelance journalism, most of it published by The Times in London. At least once a fortnight, well after midnight, I used to walk down to the all-night Bureau de Poste near the Bourse, anxiously carrying my new article in a brown manila envelope.
In the cavernous hall of the Bureau, pleasantly perfumed with Gitanes and cow gum and lino polish, I would stick on the big blue Priorité label and gingerly slide the envelope through the grill, surreptitiously watching till the Existentialist night clerk had actually put it in the Special Delivery canvas bag, hung on a brass hook behind his seat. Then our eyes would meet and occasionally I would get a reassuring greeting along the lines of "Ça va, vous, heh?"
Then came the triumphant stride back up the boulevard Magenta and the sharp left turn into the steep, narrow, cobbled, and deserted Marché Cadet (where Gautier's friend Gérard de Nerval was once arrested for removing his trousers in public), now smelling faintly of crushed peaches. Next a quick lateral diversion past Gautier's own tall, shadowy house at 14, rue de Navarin (with a salute to his mistress in the house opposite, no. 27), and finally several congratulatory ballons de rouge at a quiet little café I knew near the place Anvers off Pigalle, which always remained open until 4 AM.