Lead book review

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…

Texas: the myriad contradictions of the Lone Star state

21 April 2018 9:00 am

The subtitle of Lawrence Wright’s splendid God Save Texas (‘A Journey into the Future of America’) would be alarming if…

With Leonardo, improbable speculations are never-ending, The Da Vinci Code enthusiasts see the figure of St John (on the right in this detail of ‘The Last Supper’) as Mary Magdalene, hiding in plain sight

The codes and codswallop surrounding Leonardo da Vinci

14 April 2018 9:00 am

‘If you look at walls soiled with a variety of stains or at stones with variegated patterns,’ Leonardo da Vinci…

A barricade of paving stones in the Latin Quarter of Paris, May 1968

1968 and the summer of our discontent

7 April 2018 9:00 am

’68 will do as shorthand. Most of ’68, as it were, didn’t happen in 1968. It was, at most, the…

Detail from the Ghent altarpiece by Hubert Eyck, 1423

How Christianity saw off its rivals and became the universal church

31 March 2018 9:00 am

In the reign of Constantine, whose conversion to Christianity in AD 310 set the entire Roman world on a course…

Ragged spectres, half sunk in mud, half lost in shadow: Joseph Gray’s unnerving ‘A Ration Party’

The disappearing acts of Joseph Gray, master of military camouflage

24 March 2018 9:00 am

On a night in Paris in 1914, Gertrude Stein was walking with Picasso when the first camouflaged trucks passed by.…

The Bob Baker trails the Thunder through six-metre swells

Today’s pirate gold is the Patagonian toothfish

17 March 2018 9:00 am

Sea Shepherd is a radical protest group made famous — or notorious — by the American cable TV series Whale…

Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz by François Gérard

Napoleon’s dazzling victories invited a devastating backlash

10 March 2018 9:00 am

On 20 July 1805, just three months before the battle of Trafalgar destroyed a combined French and Spanish fleet, the…

Saul Bellow (centre): ‘He said he felt like Valjean, pursued by Inspector Javert through the sewers of Paris,’ says James Atlas. Above and left: Graham Greene and Anthony Powell were both better biographers than biographees

Biography is a thoroughly reprehensible genre

3 March 2018 9:00 am

I saw a biopic about Morecambe and Wise recently. The actors impersonating the comedians were not a patch on the…

Debussy appears to have had no real sympathy for, or interest in, other people

Debussy: the musical genius who erupted out of nowhere

24 February 2018 9:00 am

At the end of his study of Debussy, Stephen Walsh makes the startling, but probably accurate, claim that musical revolutionaries…

The Nazis had a genius for staging, inventing the procession of the Olympic torch from Athens to the host city

Hitler’s charm offensive at the Berlin Olympics was a sinister cover for his main offensive

17 February 2018 9:00 am

The British diplomat Robert Vansittart had been warning against Nazism for years, so it was a surprise when he and…

Aerial view of the ‘Salt Pit’, the CIA’s clandestine detention centre north of Kabul, which opened in September 2002. Detainees were kept chained in total darkness, with loud music playing constantly

Do the Americans know who they’re fighting in Afghanistan — or why?

3 February 2018 9:00 am

Early every morning through the spring of 2002, US troops at Bagram airfield on the Shomali plains north of Kabul…

The neglected house on Downshire Hill had been Allan Chappelow’s home from childhood

The murder of a harmless Hampstead eccentric remains shrouded in mystery

27 January 2018 9:00 am

‘True crime’ is a genre that claims superiority over imagination, speculation and fantasy. It makes a virtue of boredom and…

Eva Braun dieted obsessively, but didn’t hold back on the pilfered champagne

Culinary cold war at the White House

20 January 2018 9:00 am

‘Tell me what you eat and I shall tell you what you are.’ The best known adage in food literature,…

Bligh and crew are set adrift from the Bounty, in a painting by Robert Dodd

Australia was ruined the moment Europeans set foot there

13 January 2018 9:00 am

Many believed in Australia for 1,000 years before its discovery. There had to be a commensurate weight — somewhere Down…

Laura Ingalls Wilder, aged 20

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s little house of horrors on the prairies

6 January 2018 9:00 am

In 1932, the Daily Plainsman of Huron, South Dakota, ran a feature about a local woman convalescing in hospital. Grace…

Portrait of Ulysses Grant by Ole Peter Hansen Balling

It’s time to rehabilitate Ulysses S. Grant — scorned hero of the Civil War

16 December 2017 9:00 am

Last year, more than 6,000,000 people visited the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. By contrast, barely 80,000 went to General…

The making of a happy home: cold milk for tea. A 1930s advertisement for General Electric

How cool is your fridge?

9 December 2017 9:00 am

Mrs Thatcher once explained that she adored cleaning the fridge because, in a complicated life, it was one of the…

Reinventing Baku: one of the three Flame Towers, comprising apartments, offices and a hotel, which dominate the old town. The project, costing an estimated US$350 million, was completed in 2012

Reading Norman Davies’s global history is like wading through porridge

2 December 2017 9:00 am

For many of us, life has become global. Areas which were previously tranquil backwaters are now hives of international activity.…

The Marx Brothers owed their vaudeville success to sharp wits, slapstick and a willingness to trade on the pervasive humour of ethnic stereotypes

Is Jewish humour the greatest defence mechanism ever created?

25 November 2017 9:00 am

If you’re Jewish, or Jew-ish, or merely subscribe to the view that Jews should be trusted to recognise anti-Semitism rather…

More books of the year

18 November 2017 9:00 am

Daniel Swift I spent too much of this (and last) year reading anaemic updatings of Shakespeare plays: pale novels which…

Books of the year

11 November 2017 9:00 am

A.N. Wilson Elmet by Fiona Mozley (John Murray, £10.99). It is difficult to convey the full horror of this spellbinding…