The Assassin’s Cloak: An Anthology of the World’s Greatest Diarists, edited by Irene and Alan Taylor (Canongate Books), makes excellent bedtime reading for those who have difficulty limiting themselves to just a few pages a night. For each day of the year there are two or three pages of diary entries, in chronological order. They are taken from journals written between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries, by writers ranging from Samuel Pepys to Brian Eno, Dorothy Wordsworth to Albert Camus. Many of them have been chosen for their humour, but some are sombre, and the juxtaposition has been carefully managed for effect: on the menu for January 13 is turnip soup at Bergen-Belsen, followed by a luncheon with Jack Kennedy a decade later. This anthology is not quite as international as the title suggests: among the 170 excellent mini-biographies at the back of the book, only a handful describe non-Europeans, and the only Canadians represented are Elizabeth Smart and Charles Ritchie, both of whom spent most of their adult lives outside of Canada. Still, there are many delights in these 700 pages: Andy Warhol’s Valentine’s Day tour of a Düsseldorf sausage factory; the words of Beatrix Potter side by side with those of Che Guevara; Alma Mahler-Werfel’s description of a music lesson: “When I play Beethoven, I always feel as if my soul were at the dry cleaners.” Many of the contributors are famous, but a few are “ordinary” people, like Nella Last, a housewife from Barrow, England, who began keeping a diary in 1939 for the “Mass Observation,” a British anthropological project to “record the voice of the people.” Two small complaints: the title, and the layout. William Soutar called a diary “an assassin’s cloak which we wear when we stab a comrade in the back with a pen.” But bitchy betrayals constitute only a small percentage of the entries. Surely the Taylors could have found a more relevant and less obscure title in the ten years they spent on this book. And it was rather inconsiderate to put the name of the writer at the end of each entry—many of the entries run over the end of a page, leaving one in terrible suspense, wondering who has just been threatened with a pistol (Queen Victoria) or has contracted pubic lice (Kenneth Williams). These minor matters aside, the gems in this book may inspire you to read the full diaries of some of these writers. Try not to stay up all night.