British troops go over the top on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme

The British army’s greatest catastrophe — and its most valuable lesson

Books feature

‘July 1st 1916 was the most interesting day of my life,’ Philip Howe recalled, with characteristic English dryness, half a century after taking part in the most catastrophic 24 hours in the history of the British army. Howe had been… Read more

Gore Vidal at his italian residence in Ravello on the Amalfi coast (Photo: Getty)

Gore Vidal, wannabe aristocrat and proud degenerate


Lewis Jones reviews Jay Parini’s Every Time a Friend Succeeds Something Inside Me Dies

Author Iain Pears (Photo: Getty)

This way to a parallel universe, via north Oxford


Andrew Taylor reviews Arcadia by Iain Pears, with a little help from the novel’s iPhone app

Statue of Augustus in Orange, southern France

Augustus: here was a Caesar! Or at least his great-nephew


Jochen Bleicken’s biography comes to praise the first emperor, not to bury him, finds Harry Mount

Author Andrew Miller (Photo: Getty)

Introducing the silent narrator


Alex Clark reviews Andrew Miller’s The Crossing, where lurks the most enigmatic heroine

Francis Bacon in Paris in 1984

Bacon on the side: the great painter’s drinking partner tells all


Jack Castle reviews Francis Bacon in Your Blood: A Memoir by Michael Peppiatt

A French illuminated manuscript shows supplies being loaded onto boats before departing for the Crusades

What it took to wage holy war, Medieval style


Jonathan Sumption reviews Christopher Tyerman’s How to Plan a Crusade

Members of the Maquis study the mechanism and maintenance of weapons dropped by parachute in the Haute-Loire

The facts behind France’s most potent modern myth

Books feature

In Marianne in Chains, his last book on Occupied France, Robert Gildea offered an original view of life in that country between 1940 and 1944, arguing that outside the cities it had not always been as bad, nor had the… Read more

The devastation left behind after the Blitz (Photo: Getty)

Ghosts of the past haunt Pat Barker’s bomb-strewn London


Concluding her latest trilogy, Noonday sees the few remaining Slade painters bearing up — and bearing stretchers — through the Blitz

‘La Ghirlandata’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The dangerous red-headed league


Jacky Colliss Harvey’s colourful history of the redhead includes sinners, temptresses, villains and feisty rebels from Boudicca to Thelma and Louise

Author Jonathan Franzen (Photo: Getty)

Another ‘big book’ — with big problems — from Jonathan Franzen


A complex drama of cultural politics and family life, Purity fulfils our great expectations of this prize-winning American author — in more ways than one

For France, the murder of John the Fearless was ‘a tragedy on an epic scale’

The drama of St Crispian’s Day: Shakespeare got it right


The battle of Agincourt — a high point of Cursed Kings, the penultimate volume of Jonathan Sumption’s history of the Hundred Years War — was a great English victory snatched from the jaws of defeat

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan  duet at the Newport Folk Festival, Rhode Island, 1963 (Photo: Getty)

The times really were a-changin’ — when Dylan electrified his fans


Elijah Wald explains how the music world changed forever on 25 July 1965 at Newport, Rhode Island

Chapter One

Mario Reading reviews four first-rate first novels


The trials of married life and the revenge of a spurned mistress are among the themes of promising debut novels from Michela Wrong, Natasha Pulley, Benjamin Johncock and Julia Pierpont

Jacob Zuma — a tribalist whose extended family and fellow Zulus have benefited hugely from his accession to power

R.W. Johnson: 40-odd years prophesying the end for South Africa


This updated version of How Long Will South Africa Survive? sees the country more crippled than ever by corruption, cronyism and greed

William Mars-Jones (right) attends the second day of the Moor Murders, 1966 (Photo: AP)

The trials of living with a High Court judge


In Kid Gloves, Adam Mars-Jones details the difficulties of caring for his cantankerous father — a distinguished judge who could never admit to being wrong


A Gothic horror story of quicksands, riptides and rituals


Andrew Michael Hurley makes the sinister too seductive in his debut novel The Loney — but this is a writer to watch, says Susan Hill

The Ant Nebula, located a mere 3,000–6,000 light years from Earth in the southern constellation Norma

Physicists have stranger ideas than the most preposterous Old Testament preacher

Books feature

Physicists have a nerve. I know one (I’ll call him Mark) who berates every religious person he meets, yet honestly thinks there exist parallel universes, exactly like our own, in which we all have two noses. He refuses to give… Read more

A paramilitary guard stands on Tiananmen Square before a portrait of chairman Mao Zedong (Photo: Getty)

Chairman Mao: monster of misrule


China’s economic miracle is deceptive: the country is still traumatised by the effects of the Cultural Revolution, according to Andrew G. Walder’s thought-provoking China Under Mao

Mao Zedong's crystal sarcophagus (Photo: Getty)

Matilda Bathurst chooses the best recent short story collections


Tales of the desperate and surreal include hungry comic-book characters who resort to eating their own speech bubbles

Jazz soloist Charlie Parker with his saxophone c. 1946

From ragtime to the X Factor: the epic story of popular music


If only Peter Doggett’s vast survey had been a little less scholarly, we might all have been talking about Electric Shock — rather than just trying to lift it

Author, critic and TV presenter Clive James (Photo: Getty)

‘Doorways to the unknown’: Clive James’s Latest Readings


In this wry reading diary, James revisits the books he has most loved — for poetry, history and swashbuckling adventure

Graffiti outside the American University of Cairo reads ‘Revolution’ (December 2011)

The revolution that went up in smoke


In Circling the Square, the foreign correspondent Wendell Steavenson traces — through lightening character-sketches of Cairo life — how the Egyptian revolution ‘see-sawed between joy and death’

Vladimir Nabokov, Ithaca, New York, 1958 (Photo: Getty)

The road to Lolita: why Nabokov’s literary talent finally blossomed in America


Among Robert Roper’s many surprising and original ideas in his account of Nabokov in America is that the novelist’s son Dmitri may have been the inspiration for Lolita

Eton, 1907 (Photo: Getty)

How to get a good education — from the former headmaster of Eton


Reading Tony Little’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Education — full of insight, erudition, sympathy and common sense — is a valuable education in itself

Portrait of Pepys, after John Hayls. The Diary for 17 March 1666 reads: ‘This day I begin to sit [for Hayls], and he will make me, I think, a very fine picture.... I sit to have it full of shadows, and do almost break my neck looking over my shoulder to make the posture for him to work by.’

Spend 116 hours with Samuel Pepys


Leighton Pugh’s extraordinary feat is to read aloud the entire Diary — all 116 hours of it — and bring 17th-century London magnificently to life

Christian Thielemann

The old-fashioned greatness of Christian Thielemann

Books feature

Christian Thielemann (born in 1959) is a self-consciously old-fashioned figure who makes rather a virtue out of his limitations. As a conductor, he stands out in a profession increasingly given to the eclectic, and to performances of music outside the… Read more


A remote island community is disrupted by the arrival of a troubled teenager


Benjamin Wood’s The Ecliptic — both mystery story and thoughtful enquiry into the nature of artistic inspiration — will delight fans of Donna Tartt, John Fowles and The Prisoner