Towards the end of the First World War, an intrepid, multilingual young army captain called Frank Foley - son of a West Country railway worker - was recruited by the British Intelligence Corps to run networks of secret agents in Europe.
It was a role for which he had exceptional aptitude.
I have just returned from my second trip to Japan (I have family there) and once again, I've been amazed by those most impressive of peoples and their glittering, futuristic capital. Tokyo is the city of dog lovers where you won't see dog's mess on a pavement. Its high-density streets are bustling but you'll never be jostled, let alone find any litter.
Investigative journalist Ingrid Carlberg's biography of Raoul Wallenberg, the young Swedish diplomat who faced down the Gestapo and rescued Jews in Budapest during the murderous months of 1944 when Hungary came under Nazi occupation, follows quite closely on the heels of that by historian Bengt Jangfeldt.
The one fear that haunts Jews more than anything else - even more than the prospect of endless intifadas or of Iran building a nuclear bomb - is that of disappearing as a race, a culture and a religion, through the gradual, peaceful process of assimilation. In a nutshell, "marrying out".
Suddenly the world is awash with refugees. And migrants. Great waves of humanity on the move, all seeking asylum. And as always, the movement is from east to west, because only traitors (think Kim Philby and Edward Snowdon) or religious fanatics (i.e. volunteers for jihad) ever flee in the opposite direction.
How long does it take for a dream to die? Five years? Ten? Fifteen? Well, I have had a certain dream for 25 years now, and you know what? After a long quarter-century of disappointments, I think I might have to let it go. Which is a real shame, because it's a wonderful dream.
Four decades ago I read a snippet in a British newspaper which so impressed me that I cut it out and pasted it into my cherished notebook of thought-provoking quotes. It came from a Professor Andre Brousson, whose claim to distinction has unfortunately been obscured by the passage of time.
His SS Nazi Party identification card, dated 1936, shows a sombre-looking young man with short-cropped hair and round-rimmed spectacles. His rather protruding ears add to the air of 1930s dorkiness. Just another quasi-intellectual Nazi bureaucrat, you might think.
I’ve been thinking more and more about how great it would be to emigrate to Israel. Make Aliyah. See, I even know the right expression. Okay, I’m not Jewish, but is that really such a problem? I mean, my heart is in the right place. And I’ve been writing for the JC for decades. That should count for something.
Heaven save us from the post-feminist, feminist novel. At least I think that's what American writer Elisa Albert's book is. It's hard to tell, because Albert is a "literary stylist", so she experiments with new forms and isn't always coherent.
We are told that our life expectancy is increasing all the time, but broadcaster Giles Coren, who is also restaurant critic of The Times, has been pondering a disquieting fact: in his family, the trend has been in reverse. His great-grandfather lived to a ripe old 93, his grandfather passed away at 76, and his father Alan Coren, the celebrated humorist, died at 69.