The Beefsteak club is one of London’s more exclusive. Concealed behind an anonymous door in the insalubrious vicinity of Leicester Square, it occupies one room up a flight of stairs, containing a single long table at which its members (there are only five hundred) lunch or dine. By convention, they do not choose their neighbors but are allocated a place at random by the waiters. Among their number are prime ministers (including the incumbent), academics, authors, diplomats, and a strictly controlled number of lawyers. The sole criterion for membership is an ability to talk and listen well.

Some time ago, the club published a volume, Beefsteak Lives, comprising short biographies of former members written by current ones. Many familiar twentieth-century names are included, as well as some whose lives the reader might be tempted to pass over with less interest....


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