Melanie McDonagh rss

Melanie McDonagh is a leaderwriter for the Evening Standard and Spectator contributor. Irish, living in London.

This year Alice in Wonderland celebrates its 150th anniversary (Photo: Getty

Green djinns and a green boy: the best summer reading for children

1 August 2015

It’s the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland — cue an explosion of editions of the book, a new biography of Lewis Carroll, make-and-do books, jigsaw puzzles and general Alice… Read more

Kate Middleton sits alongside Professor Louise Richardson (Photo: Getty)

How come our cash-strapped universities can afford so many administrators?

6 June 2015

It took Oxford 40 years to catch up with Cambridge in appointing a woman vice-chancellor, but Louise Richardson — ex-St Andrews, Irish, Catholic, terrorism expert — is to take over… Read more

Matthew Crawford's 'World Beyond Your Head' looks at how we pay attention in a world of escalating distractions. (Photo: Toronto Star via Getty)

Technology — and that’s not just smartphones — is dangerously isolating us, says Melanie McDonagh

9 May 2015
The World Beyond Your Head: How to Flourish in an Age of Distraction Matthew Crawford

Viking, pp.320, £16.99, ISBN: 9780670921393

The Wandering Mind: What the Brain Does When You’re Not Looking Michael Corballis

University of Chicago Press, pp.184, £14, ISBN: 9780226238616

Bit of Kant, bit of Kierkegaard, bit of motorcycle maintenance. That’s one take on The World Beyond Your Head, Matthew Crawford’s philosophical polemic about how virtual reality is impinging on… Read more

The importance of illustration: Babar et le Professeur Grifaton by Laurent de Brunhoff

Under Harry Potter’s spell: most children’s books have become shamelessly derivative, says Melanie McDonagh

11 April 2015
The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature Daniel Hahn

OUP, pp.668, £30, ISBN: 9780199695140

Go to any bookshop — always supposing you’re fortunate enough to have any left in your neck of the woods — and chances are that lots of window space will… Read more

The Babies Castle, a branch of Dr Barnardo’s at Hawkhurst, Kent in 1934

Love child or bastard: the lottery of being born on the wrong side of the blanket

21 March 2015
In the Family Way: Illegitimacy between the Great War and the Swinging Sixties Jane Robinson

Viking, pp.336, £18.99, ISBN: 9780670922062

My father was handed over a shop counter when he was a day old. His aunt had tried to pass him off to a hospital and couldn’t find any takers… Read more

Illustration by Arthur Rackham from Grimm's Fairy Tale, Fitcher's Bird. Published late 19th Century Photo: Getty

Grimms’ fairy tales: the hardcore version

13 December 2014
The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, translated by Jack Zipes

Princeton, pp.568, £24.95, ISBN: 9780691160597

Child murder, domestic slavery, abusive families, cannibalism and intergenerational hatred — what could be better for the festive fireside than a new edition of Grimms’ fairy stories? There hasn’t been… Read more

The Parent Trap, familiar from various film versions, is a story by Eric Kastner, now republished with Walter Trier’s illustrations by Pushkin Books

The best children’s books of the year

29 November 2014

If it’s all right with you, I’d like to launch a campaign please. Right here. You may be wanting me to cut to the chase and just recommend some children’s… Read more


Mindfulness is something worse than just a smug middle-class trend

1 November 2014

The chances are that by now either you or someone you know well has begun to practise ‘mindfulness’ — a form of Buddhism lite, that focuses on meditation and ‘being… Read more

Shami Chakrabarti Photo: David Levenson/Getty

What Shami regards as right isn’t necessarily what is right

1 November 2014
On Liberty Shami Chakrabarti

Allen Lane, pp.189, £17.99, ISBN: 9781846148095

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil rights group Liberty and omnipresent media personality, is on the cover of her book. She’s wearing a blindfold bearing the legend ‘On Liberty’, which… Read more

The theatrical Constance Markewicz founded the military boy scouts, who would later staff the IRA

When Irish nationalism meant sexual adventure

18 October 2014
Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland,1890–1923 R.F. Foster

Allen Lane, pp.496, £20, ISBN: 9781846144639

One of the easiest mistakes to make about history is to assume that the past is like the recent past, only more so. It’s a natural human tendency to project… Read more

Ottolenghi’s tomato and pomegranate salad

Yotam Ottolenghi: the Saatchi brothers of vegetable PR

27 September 2014
Plenty More Yotam Ottolenghi

Ebury Press, pp.352, £24, ISBN: 9780091957155

It would be a mistake to treat Plenty More, the new cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi, merely as a collection of recipes. It is a collection of recipes, as it happens,… Read more

Grape preparation: the preferred method in north London

Politically correct wines worth drinking

28 June 2014

When the editor of this special suggested I might try some wine for him (did he need to ask twice? No!) it’s fair to say that New World wines weren’t… Read more


Churchgoing is good for you (even if you don’t believe in God)

21 June 2014

Few people, don’t you find, are as irritating as those who define themselves as Spiritual But Not Religious? There was a riveting  piece in the Sunday Times ‘Style’ magazine last… Read more

‘Religieuses’ (from William and Suzue Curley’s Patisserie)

Recipe for a modern baker: first, move to Hoxton

21 June 2014

If I were the kind of person who invited people to come and have a bite to eat that very evening — and you’ve got to watch it in London,… Read more


The best new children's books

7 June 2014

A children’s author and illustrator, Jonathan Emmet, created a stir recently by saying that women are effectively gatekeepers of children’s books — chiefly picture books. They constitute the majority of… Read more


Did most women want the vote?

10 May 2014

One way or another, we’re going to be seeing quite a lot of Helena Bonham Carter and Carey Mulligan in ankle-length coats with pale faces this season. They’re in the… Read more

Paris in the springtime: the Jardin des Plantes


15 March 2014

No city really multitasks like Paris, shorthand for romance, culture, fashion, gastronomy and the kind of street life you find on Robert Doisneau calendars. The £69 Eurostar return opens up… Read more


Secrets of Candleford: the real Flora Thompson

1 March 2014
Dreams of the Good Life Richard Mabey

Allen Lane, pp.208, £16.99, ISBN: 9781846142789

When Richard Mabey was researching this biography of Flora Thompson, author of Lark Rise to Candleford, he happened to stay at a farmhouse B&B near Bath. Ambling around, he found… Read more

A little girl climbing into the confessi

Forgive me, Father

8 February 2014

For non-Catholics, the most luridly fascinating aspect of Catholicism is confession. Telling your inmost sins — and we know what they are — to a male cleric, eh? In a… Read more

Segolene Royal, Valerie Trierweiler and  Julie Gayet Photo: AFP/Getty

François Hollande - all the president's women

18 January 2014

Obviously, the whole Hollande business is utterly compelling from a prurient point of view, though journalists did brilliantly in coming up with spurious public interest reasons for talking about it… Read more

Irwin Piper takes his sheep to slaughter

How we lost the seasons

4 January 2014
The Seasons: An Elegy for the Passing of the Year Nick Groom

Atlantic Books, pp.400, £22, ISBN: 9781848871618

So, what are you doing with your Christmas decorations? Still up? Did the tree get put out on 2 January? Maybe you’re holding out until the Twelfth Day, on the… Read more

From The Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

The best children's books for Christmas

30 November 2013

Animal stories for children are always tricky; as J.R.R. Tolkien observed in his essay on fairy stories, you can end up, as in The Wind in the Willows, with an… Read more


The man who made it OK to talk about immigration

16 November 2013

It takes a lot to make the subject of immigration respectable for liberals, at least if you’re pointing out its problematic aspects. But Paul Collier, an Oxford economist specialising in… Read more

Bridget has become unrecognisable (Image: The Kobal Collection/ Sparham Laurie)

Helen Fielding has lost her touch

19 October 2013
Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy Helen Fielding

Cape, pp.400, £18.99, ISBN: 9780385350860

To understand quite how disgruntled the reviews of the latest Bridget Jones diaries have been, you have to recall quite what she meant to her readers first time round. It… Read more


Less sex please, we're British

12 October 2013

Jeer if you will, but I was shocked by the latest Bridget Jones book, Mad About the Boy. I was shocked by the sex. No, honestly. Compared with its predecessors,… Read more