Lead book review

Heroism in a hopeless cause: why the crusades remain fascinating

15 June 2019 9:00 am

The crusades are part of everyone’s mental image of the Middle Ages. They extended, in one form or another, from…

Hostility to Islam has disguised a host of other prejudices

8 June 2019 9:00 am

In 2011, when the editor of Charlie Hebdo put Muhammad on the cover, he did so as the heir to…

Toy theatres on the stage: the set designs of Maurice Sendak

1 June 2019 9:00 am

I must have seen hundreds of opera productions in my time. Out of these, hardly any made a lasting impression…

The flood-prone megacity of Wuhan on the Yangtze now has permeable pavements and artificial wetlands to soak up the water like a sponge

Towards a technological utopia

25 May 2019 9:00 am

The rebranding of John Browne has been a long and, to those of us living overseas, instructive affair. Readers will…

Letitia at the height of her fame in 1825. H.W. Pickersgill’s original portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy

The celebrated poet who’s been erased from English literature

18 May 2019 9:00 am

Biographers are a shady lot. For all their claims about immortalising someone in print, as if their ink were a…

Richard Holbrooke as US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan in New Delhi, April 2009, a year before his death

How to lose friends and alienate people: Richard Holbrooke was a past master

11 May 2019 9:00 am

You may ask yourself, is it worth one of the best American non-fiction writers producing a book of just under…

Not all British memsahibs were racist snobs

4 May 2019 9:00 am

Despite efforts to prevent them, British women formed a part of the Indian empire almost from the start. Although the…

Brutus’s betrayal is a tragic inevitability. The soothsayer warns Julius Caesar to ‘Beware the Ides of March’, in a 19th-century wood engraving by Sir John Gilbert

Has Shakespeare become the mascot of Brexit Britain?

27 April 2019 9:00 am

The deployment of Shakespeare to describe Brexit is by now a cliché. It might take the form of a quotation,…

A 15th-century manuscript depicting Saladin as King of Egypt

A new version of Saladin — as silver-tongued diplomat

20 April 2019 9:00 am

I can only remember one page of any of the dozens of Ladybird histories that I read avidly as a…

Michael Tippett at home at Parkside, Corsham, Wilts with the score of his second piano sonata

Time for a Tippett revival

13 April 2019 9:00 am

Running the entire course of the 20th century, Michael Tippett’s life (1905–1998) was devoted to innovation. He was an English…

The English model Jean Shrimpton’s appearance at the Melbourne Races in 1965 hatless, gloveless and bare-legged in a mini-dress caused a press furore in Australia

It was pretty good for me: Joan Bakewell on the Sixties

6 April 2019 9:00 am

For me this book evokes a Gigi duet moment: ‘You wore a gown of gold.’ ‘I was all in blue.’…

The creation of Adam and Eve, depicted in a 12th-century Byzantine mosaic from Monreale, Sicily

How much of the Bible are Christians expected to believe?

30 March 2019 9:00 am

In this careful study of the sacred texts of Judaism and Christianity, John Barton, former Oriel and Laing professor of…

The outcome of Diderot’s discussions with Catherine was that she largely ignored his advice. Engraving from François Guizot’s Histoire de la France

How Diderot’s pleas to end despotism fell on deaf ears in Russia

23 March 2019 9:00 am

Denis Diderot (1713–84) is the least commemorated of the philosophes. Calls for his remains to be moved to the Panthéon…

The seducer and the spy: left, a reproduction of Anatoly Gorpenko’s portrait of the ‘master spy’;above, a Soviet commemorative stamp to mark Sorge’s ‘rehabilitation’ in 1961

Richard Sorge: the Soviet Union’s master spy

16 March 2019 9:00 am

Interviewed on the Today programme on 7 March, a former executive of the gigantic Chinese tech firm Huawei admitted: ‘It…

‘Mother and Child’, c.1901, Pablo Picasso

Two big books on motherhood and childlessness: Catherine Mayer got emotional

9 March 2019 9:00 am

A single survey, elevated by news organisations to scientific certainty, suggests that air travellers may be more susceptible to tears…

A clear vision of Walter Gropius the man is hard to come by

2 March 2019 9:00 am

Walter Gropius (1883–1969) had the career that the 20th century inflicted on its architects. A master of the previous generation…

Discover your inner wolf: love your family, value your home, respect your elders, be altruistic, and have fun, says Elli Radinger

Discover your inner wolf and lead a better life

23 February 2019 9:00 am

For a practical at medical school on the subject of the nervous system, it was thought unwise to wire students…

Portrait of Ruskin dated 1870

John Ruskin: the making of a modern prophet

16 February 2019 9:00 am

At the time of his death in 1900, John Ruskin was, according to Andrew Hill, ‘perhaps the most famous living…

The catch from the Dogger Bank is landed on the beach at Schevingen from Dutch fishing vessels — or ‘doggers’

Fishing for meaning in vanished Doggerland

9 February 2019 9:00 am

Somewhere deep in the water-thick layers of Time Song, Julia Blackburn says, funnily, that in Danish, ‘the word for book…

Eric Hobsbawm, photographed in 1996. He admitted late in life that he had developed in youth ‘a facility for deleting unpleasant or unacceptable data’

How Eric Hobsbawm remained a lifelong communist — despite the ‘unpleasant data’

2 February 2019 9:00 am

Sir Richard Evans, retired regius professor of history at Cambridge, has always been a hefty historian. The densely compacted facts…

Map of West Africa, c.1547, depicting the trading fortress of São Jorge da Mina on the African Gold Coast.

The scramble for Africa goes back many centuries

26 January 2019 9:00 am

A thought kept recurring as I read Toby Green’s fascinating and occasionally frustrating book on the development of West Africa…

Ernst Jünger in Paris in 1941

Ernst Jünger — reluctant captain of the Wehrmacht

19 January 2019 9:00 am

Ernst Jünger, who died in 1998, aged 102, is now better known for his persona than his work. A deeply…

‘Arise Hungarians, your country calls you!’ The poet Sandor Petofi declaims the famous ‘Talpra Magyar’ on 15 March 1848. Lajos Kossuth stands to the right

Hungary is being led once again down a dangerous nationalistic path

12 January 2019 9:00 am

Norman Stone has already written, with a brilliant blend of humour, understanding and scepticism, histories of the Eastern Front, Turkey,…

‘The Break-up of the Ice’ by Claude Monet

How Calouste Gulbenkian became the richest man in the world

5 January 2019 9:00 am

Whenever I find myself visiting some great historic house, I always like to break off from gawping at tapestries to…

Theodore Roosevelt campaigning in the summer of 1912

Words to rally and inspire: stirring speeches from Elizabeth I to the present

15 December 2018 9:00 am

It was a surprise, on reading Speeches of Note, to find myself laughing and chuckling at the speech of a…