Lead book review

Pamela Hansford Johnson (right) and Elizabeth Taylor at a Book Society party in Knightsbridge in 1954

Lonely hearts and guilty minds: the world of Pamela Hansford Johnson

13 October 2018 9:00 am

The revival of interest in mid-20th century novelists is one of the most positive and valuable developments of our time.…

Giving the famous V-sign at the opening of RAAF headquarters, Croydon, 1948 [Getty]

Andrew Roberts’s generous new biography of the man who saved us in our darkest hour, Churchill reviewed

6 October 2018 9:00 am

Churchill must be the most written-about figure in public life since Napoleon Bonaparte (a subject, incidentally, to which Andrew Roberts…

‘Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche’, Edvard Munch, c. 1906

Nietzsche’s intense friendship with Wagner forms the core of Sue Prideaux’s excellent new biography

29 September 2018 9:00 am

In 1945, with the second world war won bar the shouting, Bertrand Russell polished off his brief examination of Friedrich…

Mount Longdon, Falkland Islands, where members of the 3rd Parachute Regiment died in fighting on 11–12 June 1982

Helen Parr’s intimate portrait of the Parachute Regiment – Our Boys – captures the essence of modern Britain

22 September 2018 9:00 am

On the night of 13 June 1982, Dave Parr was hit by shellfire on Wireless Ridge. He was 19, a…

Handel is rowed in a gondola on the Thames, in an illustration for ‘The Water Music’

Handel’s greatest hits — the glorious London decades

15 September 2018 9:00 am

England has been home to three great composer-entrepreneurs since 1700: Benjamin Britten in the 20th century; Arthur Sullivan in the…

Engraving of John Law in 1720, at the height of his power: adviser to the king of France and controller-general of finance

John Law: the Scottish gambler who rescued France from bankruptcy

8 September 2018 9:00 am

John Law was by any standards a quite remarkable man. At the apogee of his power in 1720, he was…

Joshua Reynolds’s portrait of Tysoe Saul Hancock, his wife Philadelphia (née Austen) and daughter Eliza (rumoured to have been the child of Warren Hastings) with their Indian maid Clarinda, c. 1764–5. Eliza was Jane Austen’s cousin and later sister-in-law, and is said to have inspired several of Austen’s characters, including the playful Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park

The scourge of Christian missionaries in British-Indian history

1 September 2018 9:00 am

Objectivity seems to be difficult for historians writing about Britain’s long and complicated relationship with India, and this makes the…

A woman churns butter while her customer and children wait. Below, her husband milks a cow with a calf tied to it

How scary is dairy?

25 August 2018 9:00 am

For tens of thousands of years, humans have been domesticating other mammals — cows, buffaloes, sheep, goats, camels, llamas, donkeys,…

When Graves was wounded at High Wood on the Somme he was listed as dead. The sense of being a revenant probably affected him for the rest of his life. [Mary Evans Picture Library}

Ménage à quatre with Robert Graves

18 August 2018 9:00 am

‘I have a very poor opinion of other people’s opinion of me — though I am fairly happy in my…

Portrait of Dante by Luca Signorelli

The perfect guide to a book everyone should read

11 August 2018 9:00 am

‘The Divine Comedy is a book that everyone ought to read,’ according to Jorge Luis Borges, and every Italian has…

Photograph of an almshouse waif by Lewis W. Hine, entitled ‘Little Orphan Annie in a Pittsburg Institution’ (1909) [Bridgeman Art Library]

‘I am not a number’: the callous treatment of orphans

4 August 2018 9:00 am

Orphans are everywhere in literature — Jane Eyre, Heathcliff, Oliver Twist, Daniel Deronda, and onwards to the present day. They…

Theseus kills the Minotaur at the centre of the labyrinth. On the left, Ariadne gives him a ball of thread so that he can find his way out.

Amazing mazes: the pleasures of getting lost in the labyrinth

28 July 2018 9:00 am

When Boris Johnson resigned recently he automatically gave up his right to use Chevening House in Kent, bequeathed by the…

Adam Smith circa 1775; medallion by Tassie

Adam Smith analysed human behaviour, not economics, says Simon Heffer

21 July 2018 9:00 am

Jesse Norman is one of only three or four genuine intellectuals on the Tory benches in the House of Commons.…

‘Departure from Lisbon for Brazil, the East Indies and America’, by Theodore de Bry, 16th century

Portugal’s entrancing capital has always looked to the sea

14 July 2018 9:00 am

Paris, Venice, Montevideo, Cape Town, Hobart. There are cities, like fado, that pluck at the gut. In my personal half…

Sunset on the Clyde, 1984. The massive cranes used to build the Lusitania, HMS Hood, the Queen Mary and the QE2 are relics of the once great maritime industry of Port Glasgow

Historian David Edgerton says the ‘British nation’ lasted from 1945 to 1979, the miner’s strike its death knell

7 July 2018 9:00 am

It seems somehow symptomatic of David Edgerton’s style as a historian, of a certain wilful singularity, that even his book’s…

Now you see him, now you don’t: Nikolai Yezhov, nicknamed ‘the poison dwarf’, who as head of the NKVD presided over mass arrests and executions at the height of the Great Purge, was airbrushed from Soviet history after his own execution in 1940

The spying game: when has espionage changed the course of history?

30 June 2018 9:00 am

Espionage, Christopher Andrew reminds us, is the second oldest profession. The two converged when Moses’s successor Joshua sent a couple…

View of a drawing room, c. 1780 by Philip Reinagle

The short step from good manners to lofty imperialism

23 June 2018 9:00 am

In the gap between what we feel ourselves to be and what we imagine we might in different circumstances become,…

Greatness thrust upon him: General de Gaulle in 1940

It took a long time for de Gaulle to become ‘de Gaulle’

16 June 2018 9:00 am

When General de Gaulle published the first volume of his war memoirs in 1954, he signed only four presentation copies:…

A 19th-century engraving by Alfred Edmund Brehm of Indian snake-charmers

Was the Indian Rope Trick a myth?

9 June 2018 9:00 am

The Paul Daniels Magic Show, on a Saturday afternoon in the early 1980s, was a straightforward enough proposition. A wand,…

Bactrian camels in the Khongoryn Els sand dunes of the Gobi Desert

The Empty Quarter is a great refuge for lonely hearts

2 June 2018 9:00 am

Here’s a treat for desert lovers. William Atkins, author of the widely admired book The Moor, has wisely exchanged the…

Detail of a fresco from the House of the Golden Bracelet, Pompeii

The sacred chickens that ruled the roost in ancient Rome

26 May 2018 9:00 am

Even the most cursory glance at the classical period reveals the central place that birds played in the religious and…

William Trevor, photographed in 1993

The wilder shores of excess in William Trevor’s fiction

19 May 2018 9:00 am

A very prolific and long-standing writer of short stories reveals himself. William Trevor, who died in 2016, owned up to…

The Psychedelic Guide to Preparation of the Eucharist was a book produced in 1968 by the Neo-American Church, explaining how to manufacture and cultivate marijuana, peyote, mushrooms, morning glory, LSD and STP ‘for religious purposes’. Taken from Altered States: The Library of Julio Santo Domingo by Peter Watts (Anthology Editions, available at www.anthology.net)

Might LSD be good for you?

12 May 2018 9:00 am

When Peregrine Worsthorne was on Desert Island Discs in 1992, he chose as his luxury item a lifetime supply of…

Rao Pingru and his siblings make a lion lantern with their mother

Enduring life under Chairman Mao

5 May 2018 9:00 am

Rao Pingru is 94, and a born storyteller. His gripping graphic narrative weaves in and out of the violent, disruptive…

Above: The Spangled Cotinga of the Amazon Rainforest is one of the seven species known to fly-tiers as the Blue Chatterer. Left: The Resplendent Quetzal, found from Chipias, Mexico to Western Panama

The most bizarre museum heist ever

28 April 2018 9:00 am

They don’t look like a natural pair. First there’s the author, Kirk Wallace Johnson, a hero of America’s war in…