Lead book review

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…

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…