Lead book review

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…

Reza Aslan: personable, charismatic and a keen self-publicist. He could be wearing togas and flying around in a private jet in five years’ time

Reza Aslan doesn’t fear God. But should he fear his fellow Muslims?

4 November 2017 9:00 am

Eating human brains, burying one’s face in dead people’s ashes and publicly deriding the president of the United States as…

Romance and rejection

28 October 2017 9:00 am

‘Outsider’ ought to be an important word. To attach it to someone, particularly a writer, is to suggest that their…

How pleasant to know Mr Lear

14 October 2017 9:00 am

Edward Lear liked to tell the story of how he was once sitting in a railway carriage with two women…

Self-portrait, with his wife Margaret

A dazzling vision

12 August 2017 9:00 am

There are a number of reports by his contemporaries of Thomas Gainsborough at work. They make you realise what a…

The maestro could hear if a single player was doing something wrong, even in the most noisy tutti

The morality of conducting

5 August 2017 9:00 am

Now he is the greatest figure for me, in the world. [Toscanini is] the last proud, noble, unbending representative (with…

Timothy Leary — apostle of acid and, according to Richard Nixon, ‘the most dangerous man in America’

A strange vibration

22 July 2017 9:00 am

Among the many curiosities revealed in this book, few are more startling than the fact that at the height of…

Thoreau: the poet-naturalist and political radical

Taking the rough with the smooth

8 July 2017 9:00 am

In The Ambassadors, Henry James sends Lewis Lambert Strether from Boston to Paris to retrieve Chad Newsome, the wayward heir…

Hanna Reitsch — a committed Nazi and idol of German aviation.

High flyers

1 July 2017 9:00 am

It is conventional wisdom in the publishing industry that, despite the old adage, readers do indeed judge books by their…

Damage limitation

24 June 2017 9:00 am

One of the most pitiful sights in conflict areas is the local prosthetics store, with its rows of artificial limbs,…

Study of horses by Théodore Géricault

In praise of neigh-sayers

17 June 2017 9:00 am

Wallace Stevens gave us ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’. The German scholar Ulrich Raulff, in this meaty book…

In chains of gold: Minnie Stevens, the daughter of a Massachussetts chambermaid, married Arthur Paget in 1878. Portrait by Fernand Paillet

Gilded prostitution

10 June 2017 9:00 am

‘An English peer of very old title is desirous of marrying at once a very wealthy lady, her age and…

The city of ugly love

20 May 2017 9:00 am

Cuba’s gorgeous, crumbling capital has always been a testing ground for writers. That heady combination of revolution, cocktails, sex and…

In a notorious case of 1822, the Bishop of Clogher was discovered soliciting the soldier John Moverley in the White Lion public house, off the Haymarket. The bishop was deprived of his see, skipped bail, fled to France and ended up living incognito in Edinburgh until his death in 1843

Love under wraps

13 May 2017 9:00 am

It’s an important subject: the existence of a permanent and significant minority within London’s life. Gay men and lesbians have…