15 NOVEMBER 1997, Page 36

James Lees-Milne

If I were more learned in theology I would probably choose A. N. Wilson's Paul, the Mind of the Apostle (Sinclair-Stevenson, £17.99) as my first book of the year. It is certainly the most brilliant I have read. His knowledge of the first century AD is prodigious.

Albert, Uncrowned King by Stanley Wein- traub (John Murray, £25) not merely dissi- pates .once and for all the lingering suspicions and xenophobic contempt of the British public for the Prince Consort's achievements but establishes him as the most intellectual and high-minded royal prince in our history. The good he did for his adopted country is here firmly record- ed.

Jeremy Lewis is a sort of conjurer of words and humour. What he is — a man of deep understanding of human diversities and sympathy for foibles — belies his looks, which are those of, say, a jovial scoutmaster until you take in his deter- mined jaw and very mischievous smile. His Cyril Connolly (Cape, £25) is an honest portrait of the most poetical prose writer of our century, vastly entertaining and com- pelling.

Nigel Nicolson's Long Life (Weidenfeld, £20) delights me. It is candid, as one would expect from a Bloomsbury fledgling, coura- geous and unpartisan. Besides, he is a writ- er of impeccable prose which grips the reader. You know too that he must be the most decent man alive.