The Long ‘68 by Richard Vinen review – a year of living earnestly

This look back at the banner-waving of 1968 is too shallow in perspective and too deep in statistics

If a week is a long time in politics, as Harold Wilson observed, then half a century is a millennium. The firebrands of 1968 – Bill Clinton, then a Rhodes scholar, or Jack Straw, president of the students’ union at Leeds at the time – are now grey eminences. William Waldegrave, who fancied that he resembled Bob Dylan, boasted that he heard of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination early in 1968 while lolling in bed with a besotted conquest; the next year at Harvard, he was brutalised by the police during a demonstration by the Weathermen, and sported his wounds as badges of ideological honour. Fifty years later, Waldegrave is provost of Eton. As François Mitterrand sagely put it: “Being young doesn’t last very long. You spend a lot more time being ...

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff – review

Michael Wolff’s sensational White House exposé paints Trump as a childlike nonentity sustained by our grim fascination

Everyone knew what was in this book before anyone had read it, and the scoops skimmed off in the pre-publication headlines are now old news. Yes, here we have Bannon’s claim that the Trump campaign may have had a “treasonous” meeting with Russian agents, plus the dire warning that Ivanka thinks her brand is potentially presidential. Wolff inevitably likens the Russian cover-up to the skulduggery of Watergate, and briefly updates us on Pissgate and Pussygate – respectively the spurious tale of the golden shower in Moscow, and Trump’s better-authenticated braggadocio about his success as a groper (although, evidently believing that executive privilege protects his mendacity, he now claims that it “really wasn’t me” on that tape).

Fire and Fury also gives the lowdown on the lacquered trompe-l’oeil that is Trump’s hairdo, ...

Peter Conrad’s best art books of 2017

A quest for the real Leonardo da Vinci, a memorial to Leonora Carrington and the art in Proust fascinate and illuminate

The definite article in the subtitle of Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci: The Biography (Simon & Schuster £25.50) says it all – but why should the bestselling biographer of Benjamin Franklin, Einstein and Steve Jobs pretend to false modesty? Isaacson is uniquely well-equipped to write the definitive account of a universal man who was a painter and a musician, a scientific theorist and an engineer, a designer of military hardware and a theatrical impresario, and he makes Leonardo’s technological contraptions – a hoist, a perpetual-motion machine, a needle-grinder – seem every bit as fantastical as the effeminate saints and enigmatic sibyls he painted.

Isaacson marvels at the infinite curiosity of a thinker who set himself to “describe the tongue of the woodpecker”, yet refuses to babble about genius ...

The Vanity Fair Diaries review – Tina Brown’s supreme balancing act

Brown’s record of her years as editor of the magazine in the 80s is both enthralling and terrifying

Tina Brown’s career as a magazine editor – of Tatler, Vanity Fair, the New Yorker and lastly of Talk, the product of a brief, dodgy hook-up with Harvey Weinstein – was spent negotiating a tightrope while wearing high heels. Below yawned a gulf the size of the Atlantic; she slipped once or twice, but never fell.

Brown juggled while she teetered on the wire, hurling gravitas and glitz into the air and making them change places as they bounced between her manicured hands. A typical issue of Vanity Fair would have Annie Leibovitz’s portrait of Demi Moore’s naked and strainingly pregnant belly on the cover, while inside there might be William Styron’s dour analysis of his suicidal depression. The “mix”, as Brown called it, proved commercially irresistible, because it ...

Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza review – a people’s man at work, rest and play

A record of Barack Obama’s eight years in office by the official White House photographer reminds us of what we are missing in the age of Trump

Given Donald Trump’s hollow self-conceit, his lies, bully-boy rampages and mad determination to goad Americans into a reignited racial war, it’s no surprise that the presidency of Barack Obama looks, in retrospect, like a blessed time.

The loss to us all is dramatised in Obama Leaving, a huge photorealist tableau by Robert Longo, currently on display at the Brooklyn Museum. Under a thundery sky of charcoal clouds, Obama strides into the distance, withdrawing from a world that can no longer rely on his sanity and goodwill. Now Pete Souza, who as Obama’s official photographer spent eight years documenting his every move, shows him in the helicopter after Trump’s inauguration, looking down at the small, suddenly fragile White House where, as he ...

At the Strangers’ Gate: Arrivals in New York by Adam Gopnik – review

The New Yorker writer’s stylish memoir, via Häagen-Dazs, Nietzsche and craft beer, is generous in wit and wisdom

Anyone who worries that artificial intelligence might some day outpace the faulty circuitry inside human heads should be cheered by the existence of Adam Gopnik. His brain has nothing to fear from electronic competition. It is an organ housed in a body, kindled by the appetites and affections of the flesh; it operates friskily, risking vast generalities that it clinches with neat, nimble aphorisms. At public events, Gopnik has a loyal but ageing audience; his son, he tells us, “never feels comfortable coming to a reading of mine without a defibrillator”. The precaution is unnecessary: a talk by Gopnik fibrillates furiously enough to revive the most tottery senior citizen.

As his contributions to the New Yorker testify, Gopnik can write brilliantly about almost anything. His new book is nominally a memoir of ...

Selfie by Will Storr review – me, my selfie and I in an age of ego

Will Storr crafts an entertaining history of the self, from Narcissus to Kardashian to TrumpInfatuated with his own reflection in a pool, Narcissus pined away and died of self-love. Freud diagnosed this folly as a perversion, a neurotic choice of sterile solitude, but the warning was futile. The iPhone has mechanised narcissism and a gadget meant to facilitate communication with others has caused its most addicted users to behave like long-lost Kardashian cousins, cheesily grinning as they document their unexceptional doings. In his book on the phenomenon, Will Storr interviews a young woman who has hundreds of thousands of selfies stored on memory cards, a hard drive and a sagging, overburdened iCloud. She frequently works through the night to edit and filter her daily quota of new images in readiness for disseminating them on social media. The unexamined life may not be worth living, but do all lives deserve ...