Books

Maneki-neko at the Gotokuji Temple in Tokyo. A common Japanese talisman thought to bring good luck to its owner, the ‘welcoming cat’ is often displayed in shops, restaurants and other businesses

What makes Kim Jong-il cute — and Barack Obama not?

30 March 2019 9:00 am

Ordinarily, I love books that answer questions I’ve never asked, but Simon May’s baffling book has blown my mind. The…

Philip Kerr, photographed in Paris in 2012. Credit: Getty Images

Farewell Bernie Gunther: Metropolis, by Philip Kerr, reviewed

30 March 2019 9:00 am

Philip Kerr’s first Bernie Gunther novel, March Violets, was published 30 years ago. From the start, the format was a…

The cruise of a lifetime: Proleterka, by Fleur Jaeggy, reviewed

30 March 2019 9:00 am

Near the start of Fleur Jaeggy’s extraordinary novel Proleterka, the unnamed narrator reflects: ‘Children lose interest in their parents when…

Robert A. Heinlein: the ‘giant of SF’ was sexist, racist — and certainly no stylist

30 March 2019 9:00 am

Like someone who has bought a first computer, then reads the manual from front to back but never actually gets…

By September 1942, Hall was being hunted as one of the Allies’ ‘most dangerous’ agents

The Lady with the Limp: homage to the one-legged Virginia Hall, SOE’s ‘most dangerous’ agent

30 March 2019 9:00 am

‘This seems to be in your rough area. I mean, it contains wooden legs and everything…’ my commissioning editor at…

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…

A plague of locusts in North Africa. Colin Everard himself describes driving on desert roads in a race against a 35-square-mile swarm

Days of the locust: our continuing battle with an ancient plague

23 March 2019 9:00 am

Carried on monsoon winds across the Red Sea, vast swarms of desert locusts have posed a deadly threat to the…

Writing as revenge: Memories of the Future, by Siri Hustvedt, reviewed

23 March 2019 9:00 am

Why are people interested in their past? One possible reason is that you can interact with it, recruiting it as…

Laila Lalami

A Mojave desert mystery: The Other Americans, by Laila Lalami, reviewed

23 March 2019 9:00 am

Late one night, on a dimly lit stretch of highway in a small town in the Californian Mojave desert, an…

A fallen woman in a vicious world: Jack the Ripper’s last victim, depicted in Le Petit Parisien

Why are we so obsessed with Jack the Ripper, but care so little for his victims?

23 March 2019 9:00 am

Before she was the subject of true-crime mythologising, Catherine Eddowes made her living from it, selling ballads based on real-life…

The short, happy life of the long playing record

23 March 2019 9:00 am

On 19 June 1948, the modern LP was unveiled at a press conference by the Columbia Records president Ted Wallerstein,…

Brexit can be surprisingly thrilling, as Alan Judd’s latest spy novel demonstrates

23 March 2019 9:00 am

The long gestation period of Brexit has allowed authors to plan and write and publish novels in time for the…

The Englishman who saved Japan’s cherry blossoms

23 March 2019 9:00 am

Between 1639 and 1853, seeds and scions of flowering cherry trees travelled across Japan to Edo (present-day Tokyo). Each came…

How Polynesia came to be inhabited is still one of the world’s great mysteries

23 March 2019 9:00 am

Later this month, a boat builder from Lake Titicaca in Bolivia will fly to the Russian city of Sochi to…

Nina Stibbe. Credit: Alecsandra Raluca Dragoi

Further adventures of a dysfunctional family: Reasons to be Cheerful, by Nina Stibbe, reviewed

23 March 2019 9:00 am

My ex-dentist resembled a potato wearing a Patek Phillipe. In those precious moments between the golf course and the cruise…

The empress who was just too imperious: portrait of Matilda from the Golden Book of St Albans, 1380

The queen of England who never was: the life of the Empress Matilda

23 March 2019 9:00 am

The Empress Matilda, mother of the Plantagenet dynasty, is the earliest queen of England who never was; by rights she…

Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Credit: Rex Features

Missive from a living fossil: Little Boy, by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, reviewed

23 March 2019 9:00 am

In his adopted city of San Francisco, the poet, publisher and painter Lawrence Ferlinghetti is venerated to levels nearing those…

In the pavilion of fun: Bowlaway, by Elizabeth McCracken, reviewed

23 March 2019 9:00 am

Bowlaway, Elizabeth McCracken’s first novel in 18 years, is a great American candy-colour Buddenbrooks, a multi-generational epic spanning almost 100…

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…

Saint Patrick, apostle of Ireland

Who was the real St Patrick: an evangelist or a tax dodger?

16 March 2019 9:00 am

St Patrick’s Day, on 17 March, is now regarded as a prime opportunity for Irish politicians to travel abroad on…

A late developer, like her central character: Tessa Hadley at the Edinburgh International Literary Festival

The subversive, Austenesque wit of ‘Late in the Day’, by Tessa Hadley

16 March 2019 9:00 am

Tessa Hadley is not the sort of writer to land the Booker Prize, which tends to reward writers from ‘anywhere’…

Few knew the full extent of the hostilities in the Teebee/Geebee camps

The uphill task of judging whether Tony Blair was a villain or hero

16 March 2019 9:00 am

On the day that Tony Blair left the Commons chamber for the last time (to a standing ovation led by…

Novel number 8: has Dave Eggers finally found his voice?

Has Dave Eggers finally found his voice?

16 March 2019 9:00 am

The Parade, Dave Eggers’s eighth novel, is a slim, strange book, another unpredictable chapter in the career of this hard-to-pin-down…

The cheerful manifesto of anti-ageism activist Ashton Applewhite

16 March 2019 9:00 am

Ashton Applewhite is a leading American ‘inspirer’ on how to make the most of being over the hill. She has…

‘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…