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Books

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Matthew Parris on Owen Jones, Alan Johnson on hawks, David Crane on Noah’s Flood: Spectator books of the year

Books feature

Jane Ridley 2014 has been the year of 1914. In the same way that Christmas puddings appear in supermarkets in October, many of the contestants in the publishing race for 2014 defied starter’s orders and came out pre-maturely in 2013.… Read more

‘Exquisitely dressed and groomed, Stefan Zweig looks simply terrified’

Stefan Zweig: the tragedy of a great bad writer

Books

A review of The Impossible Exile by George Prochnik. Contemporaries sniped at his success, but for a Jewish novelist in Austria in the 1930s, the possibilities of remaining a comic figure were few

Retreat of the Highlanders from Perth after the Jacobite Rising, C. 1745

Scotland’s miraculous century (it started with the Union)

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A review of Michael Fry’s A Higher World examines the long 18th century, in which the Union of England and Scotland was consolidated

The divine mask slips: Queen Elizabeth I in old age, weary after a lifetime of inaction (English school)

Elizabeth I, queen of the waiting game

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A review of Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince by Lisa Hilton argues that the queen’s true greatness lay in her inactivity and stalling tactics

From Stephen Collins’s Some Comics

The 10 best loo books of 2014: why we sing so much better in the shower and what became of Queen Victoria’s children’s milk teeth

Secondary Feature

Nancy Mitford would not call them ‘toilet books’, that’s for certain. Loo books? Lavatory books? One or two people I know favour ‘bog books’. And having written one or two books myself that teeter on the edge of frivolity, I… Read more

Neil Young and Billy Idol Photo: Getty

Songs for the road: through his music and his classic car collection Neil Young hopes to escape his childhood traumas

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In a review of Special Deluxe, not much is given away about Neil Young — except that he toured with his band in a souped-up hearse named ‘Mort’

Bing and Bob on the Road to Singapore. One had talent; the other tried harder

Did anyone ever really love Bob Hope?

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A review of Hope by Richard Zoglin suggests that the ‘entertainer’, who lived to be 100, was a mean womaniser and neglectful father, who was never even very funny

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The Anonymous ghost in the machine

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A review of Hacker, Hoaxer Whistleblower, Spy by Gabriella Coleman penetrates the chaotic world of the mysterious non- collective that hacked the Pentagon and the government of Tunisia for starters

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Limonov

Emmanuel Carrère: a poet and psychopath doing his best to further destabilise Ukraine

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In a review of Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère, a one-time poet, now full-blown psychopath, emerges as one of the most controversial characters of contemporary Russia

Vita as ‘Lady with a Red Hat’ by William Strang

Vita in her ivory tower: a portrait of a lonely, lovelorn aristocrat who yearned to be mistress of her own ancestral home

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A review of Behind the Mask by Matthew Dennison reveals that in Vita Sackville-West’s copious writings, she generally cast herself as a man

‘Harvesting’ by Adrian Allinson. 1939 From Of Cabbages and Kings by Caroline Foley

Is there anything new left in gardening books?

Books

A round up of the year’s best gardening books takes in Madison Cox’s The Gardener’s Garden, George Plumptre’s The English Country-House Garden, Roy Strong’s The Laskett, Sarah Raven’s Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst, Ursula Buchan’s The Garden Anthology, Charles Dowding’s Gardening Myths and Misconceptions, Thomas J. Mickey’s America’s Romance with the English Garden and Caroline Foley’s Of Cabbages and Kings

French journalist Eric Zemmour Photo: Getty

Is France now the sick man of Europe? It is if it’s taking Eric Zemmour seriously

Secondary Feature

For the Figaro journalist and TV commentator Eric Zemmour, whose Le Suicide français has been topping the bestseller lists in France, France is ‘the sick man of Europe’. The land of liberty was once admired by the whole world. Then… Read more

The Rose (IV), by Cy Twombly

The Duke of Wellington also invades Christmas art books

Books

Apart from Charles Wellesley’s study of the Iron Duke’s victorious portraits, a round-up of the year’s art books inlcudes Judith Zilczer’s A Way of Living, Nicola del Roscio’s The Essential Cy Twombly, David Dawson’s A Painter’s Progress, Jan Verwoert’s Wolfgang Tillmans, Joanna Cannon’s Religious Poverty, Visual Riches, Judith Collins’s Sculpture Today,  Michael W. Cole’s Donatello, Michelangelo, Cellini, Emily Braun’s Cubism, Sheila R. Canby’s The Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp and The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Toronto

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God, aliens and a novel with a mission

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In a review of Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange Things the inhabitants of the planet Oasis embrace the King James Bible and begin numbering themselves Jesus Lover One, Two and Three ...

Chilean writer Roberto Ampuero Photo: Getty

Forget Poirot, Holmes or Marlowe: there is nothing urgent or even logical about Chilean detective work

Books

In a review of The Neruda Case by Roberto Ampuero, Cayetano Brulé takes his time digging deep into his client’s past

A dressing room in London designed by Nicky Haslam, inspired by Dorothy Draper’s lobby at the Carlyle Hotel in New York

An armchair voyeur gets a glimpse into Nicky Haslam’s vast address book

Books

As well as nose-diving into the tasselled damask of Nicky Haslam’s A Designer’s Life, a round-up of the year’s design books delves into Room by Nach Alegre, Rock Covers by Julius Weidemann, Studio, by Tom kelley,  and 100 Buildings - 100 Years by Gavin Stamp

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Paul Johnson on Henry Kissinger, Susan Hill on David Walliams, Julie Burchill on Julie Burchill: Spectator books of the year

Books feature

Mark Amory Being a slow reader, I first try the shortest, or anyway shorter, works of famous novelists unknown to me. This year, with many misgivings, I read The Confusions of Young Törless by Robert Musil (Penguin, £8.99) and was… Read more

Simon Barnes’s final chapters converge not at mammals, even less at primates, but at fish

From water-dwelling sponges to face-eating hyenas: the whole of life is in this book

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A review of Ten Million Aliens: A Journey Through the Entire Animal Kingdom, by Simon Barnes. Avoiding all anthropocentrism, the book proceeds by interlocking the most sophisticated life-forms with the most simple

Poet Wendy Cope Photo: Getty

Wendy Cope on hating school, meeting Billy Graham and enduring Freudian analysis

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It all ends well though. A review of Life, Love and the Archers; Recollections, Reviews and Other Prose, by Wendy Cope

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This autumn's crime fiction visits the Isle of Man and enters the Big Brother house

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A roundup of recent crime fiction takes in Phil Rockman's Night After Night, Chris Ewan's Dark Tides, Andrew Williams's The Suicide Club and Peter James's A Twist of the Knife

King Philip II of Spain

The king who blamed everything that went wrong on God

Books

A review of Imprudent King: A New Life of Philip II, by Geoffrey Parker. This is a masterpiece of historical biography

Elsa Schiaparelli in an apartment in the Place Vendôme, in the shadow of Napoleon

Nicky Haslam on sharing a lover with Elsa Schiaparelli and the endearing punk of Vivienne Westwood

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A review of Elsa Schiaparelli, by Meryle Secrest, and Vivienne Westwood, by Vivienne Westwood and Ian Kelly. There's some trendy guff in Westwood's autobiography. But Haslam finds more to love in the caring Westwood than in the cruel Schiap

Author Jane Smiley Photo: Getty

A book about the ordinary nothings that, in the end, are everything

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A review of Some Luck, by Jane Smiley. The Pulitzer-prize winner captures the strange beauty of mortal life

Britain's top military chief, General David Richards Photo: Getty

I guarded Rudolf Hess

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A review of Taking Command, by General David Richards, with a foreword by Max Hastings. A model four-star general takes us through his 40 years in the British army

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Alan Cumming Photo: Getty

A misery memoir from Alan Cumming that's surprisingly thoughtful

Books

A review of Not My Father's Son, by Alan Cumming. It's an autobiography that pits a kindly grandfather against a cruel father

Têtes coupées by Théodore Géricault, 1818

From head-shrinking to skull-seeking: a history of the severed head

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A review of Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found, by Frances Lanson. A grimly amusing and possibly definitive survey of a disquieting subject