Books

Nautilus

The toughest, smartest, strangest creatures ever to evolve are nearing the end of their continental shelf life

Books feature

The oceans cover seven-tenths of our planet, and although it may not seem like it above the surface, they are very busy. Helen Scales and Christian Sardet are marine biologists: Sardet is apparently known as Uncle Plankton, and those multitudes… Read more

Make up: Setting us apart from other mammals?

Terror Management Studies is a brand new area of research — and it’s not about IS or Boko Haram

Books

The Worm at the Core is too excited about overcoming the fear of death to bother with the enjoyment of life

Lankily elegant and exquisitely dressed: Peter Watson (right) with Oliver Messel

Peter Watson: exquisite taste in art, if not in men

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Peter Watson, the 1930s playboy who wafts in and out of other biographies, at last takes centre stage

Primula auricula

How 18th-century gardeners ordered their plants after a great storm, a terrible drought and ‘a little ice age’

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The enchanting illustrations alone are worth the price of this hefty book — which is more for the coffee table than the bedside

Irish-born soldier and adventurer Colonel Thomas Blood (Photo: Getty)

Colonel Blood: thief turned spy and Royal pensioner

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Robert Hutchinson glamorises the ‘mapcap, harum-scarum escapades’ of Thomas Blood, but this 17th-century rogue was no Scarlet Pimpernel

Barbara Pym (Photo: Getty)

Barbara Pym: a woman scorned

Books

All hell broke loose when the editors at Cape turned down Barbara Pym’s seventh novel (even though it wasn’t much good)

Edward Thomas (Photo: Getty)

Edward Thomas: the prolific hack (who wrote a book review every three days for 14 years) turned to poetry just in time

Books

The first world war, as well as inspiring some wonderful poetry, provided Edward Thomas with an elegant end to a messy life

‘We will achieve abundance’ promises a propaganda poster of 1949. But by 1952 most free Soviet citizens shared the same diet as the inhabitants of the Gulag

Stalin understood the power of terror so well because he constantly feared for his own life

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Stalin’s latest biographer dispenses with the myths and gives us all the facts — which far surpass any fabricated horror

Portrait thought to be of Francis Barber by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Francis Barber: reluctant member of Dr Johnson’s mad ménage

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Dr Johnson’s Jamaican man-servant remains Gough Square’s invisible man, despite Michael Bundock’s years of research

Author Amitav Ghosh (Photo: Getty)

An epic journey (in Hobson-Jobsonese) through the first Opium War to the British seizure of Hong Kong

Books

Amitav Ghosh’s Opium Wars trilogy reaches a deafening finale with Flood of Fire

Out of the woods: American forces attack a German machine gun post, December 1944. The grim determination of the Allies, whose heroism kept the Germans at bay, helped pave the way for the final Russian advance on Berlin

Monty’s arrogance nearly lost us the war: an alarming angle on the Ardennes offensive

Books feature

Christmas Eve 1944 found thousands of Allied — mostly American — troops dug into trenches and foxholes along the Belgian front, where they sucked at frozen rations and, in some places, listened to their enemies singing ‘Stille Nacht’. Their more… Read more

Incline your upper body slightly forward and place your feet on a low foot rest. Then all the angles are correct

Digestion may be disgusting, but it makes for fascinating — and apparently now fashionable — reading

Books

Three studies of the gut give a whole new meaning to toilet books, says William Cook. They’re actually worth reading

Charlotte and Susan Cushman as Romeo and Juliet c. 1849. Now comparatively obscure,Charlotte was widely considered the most powerful actress on the 19th-century stage

Shakespeare’s stagecraft — and his greatest players

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Henry Hitchings enjoys two new books on Shakespeare (to add to the 12,554) — and especially a description of Edmund Kean’s electrifying, drunk Hamlet in 1814

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How to Skin a Lion is full of ingenious solutions to unusual problems — but give me Dear Mary any day

Books

Claire Cock-Starkey’s collection of outmoded advice from volumes in the British Library is published too early in the year — it would have made a great Christmas loo book

Curator Richard Cork looks up at Jacob Epstein's sculpture 'Rock Drill' (Photo: Getty)

The shallow vanity of modern artists — not a pretty picture

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Artists are so dull and self-important these days — witness Richard Cork’s and Hans Ulrich Obrist’s turgid, witless interviews with them, says Stephen Bayley

Poirot won’t be drawn

The sad demise of the amateur sleuth: it’s all the fault of better policing

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The Golden Age of crime writing is over and all the great fictional detectives are gone. Call it Inspector Lestrade’s revenge, says John Sutherland

James Gillray’s ‘Maniac Ravings or Little Boney in a Strong Fit’ (published 24 May 1803). From Bonaparte and the British: Prints and Propaganda in the Age of Napoleon by Tim Clayton and Sheila O’Connell (The British Museum, £25, pp. 246, ISBN 9780714126937). The book accompanies an exhibition at the British Museum until 16 August

Man of destiny: Napoleon was always convinced he was the chosen one

Books

Patrice Gueniffey’s 1,000-page biography of Napoleon may exhaust even the most ardent enthusiast, says Conrad Black —who counts himself as one. And there are another three volumes to come.

Tracey Thorn (Photo: Getty)

My advice to Tracey Thorn: take up busking

Books

Tracey Thorn voices her anxieties in Naked at the Albert Hall,  a haunting memoir of singing and stage-fright

The unentertaining fact is that resurrecting animals that died out 65 million years ago is likely to remain far beyond the bounds of possibility for a very long time to come

If we recreate the mammoth, it will be 99.999 per cent white elephant

Books

Even if we could bring back the woolly mammoth (for one), where would it live?, asks Caspar Henderson. And do we really want it anyway?

Leonardo da Vinci: ‘La Belle Ferronière’ 1495–1499 (Musée de Louvre, Paris) and (left) Follower of Leonardo da Vinci: ‘La Belle Ferronière’ c. before 1750 (Private Collection)

The great dilemma of the art forger: how to fool the public and be recognised as Leonardo’s equal

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The duped party in a forgery is not all that duped, says Jonathan Meades. He is mutely complicit with the swindler

A sign common in Johannesburg in 1956 (Photo: Getty)

Pink, tan or honey-coloured? Whatever Christopher Hope’s hero is, he’s ‘not the right sort of white’ for South Africa

Books

Jimfish, Christopher Hope’s caustic new satire on South Africa, has a surprisingly upbeat finale — but Patrick Flanery is unconvinced

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The New Yorker’s grammar rules (and how to break them)

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Mary Norris’s Between You and Me takes a charmingly pragmatic approach to its own eccentric advice

Ginger Baker plays the drums at Cream’s first live performance at the Windsor Festival, 31 July 1966

The poor drummer is music’s goalkeeper — you only notice him if he screws up

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No wonder drummers seem to bang on a bit sometimes, says Andrew Petrie: it’s the only way they can register their existence

'Love, Sex and Other Foreign Policy Goals' author Jesse  Armstrong (Photo: Getty)

A choice of first novels: the war in Bosnia, a modern Irish council estate and the private life of Friedrich Engels

Books

First novels usually turn out to be fourth or fifth attempts, says Mario Reading. But this latest batch is a cut above average

Explosion-I

Another bloody Sunday: when Kent blew up in 1916

Books feature

The story is an interesting one. Gunpowder had to be manufactured. In 1916 one of the places dedicated to the dangerous and difficult task was remote Kent. A fire broke out and led to a series of huge explosions. Deaths… Read more

Hitler with the Goebbels family in the late 1930s

Ménage-à-trois with Hitler: the Goebbels’ marriage was a bit crowded

Books

According to Peter Longerich’s biography, the Nazi party’s propaganda minister and evil genius only once fell out with his Führer — over a woman

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

Books

Divorced from other people and the real world, we are all becoming increasingly dehumanising, according to Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head

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A sombre Irish family saga — that glows in the dark

Books

Anne Enright’s The Green Road, a novel about escaping, returning and death, is beautifully executed says Ruth Scurr