Just finished reading Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.  (I’d read parts before, but don’t think I’d ever read it all straight through.)

I was struck by how deeply the novel has seeped into our culture: if asked, I’d probably have said that Madame Defarge was a real person in the Terror, not a fictional character.

Of course, both the opening and closing lines have been quoted and parodied ad nauseum:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ….


It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done;

it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.

One thing baffled me: how did M. Defarge know to look for the letter that Dr. Manette hid in his cell at the Bastille?



Just finished reading Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal by Ben Macintyre.  Great book. It’s the real-life story of Edward Chapman, an English criminal, scoundrel, and very effective charmer, who became a double agent during World War II, nominally working for the German Abwehr, doubling for the British MI5, and constantly tripling for his own account.  In some ways, Chapman’s story is more improbable than a James Bond thriller, and Macintyre tells it well.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

C. L Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), Alice in Wonderland