A Sikh member of the Indian Army Services Corps at Dunkirk, 1940

Britain didn’t fight the second world war — the British empire did


Yasmin Khan’s superlative The Raj at War finally does justice to the crucial contribution of the Indian army to Hitler’s defeat, says William Dalrymple

Anxious young mother — Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby

The opposite of a self-help book


Francis O’Gorman’s Worrying: A Literary and Cultural Guide finds not much hope for the human race — but at least worriers, being sensitive to others, apparently make good team mates


Helen Vendler is full of condescending waffle (and not just when she’s attacking me)


Daniel Swift takes ‘the Queen of Formalism’ to task over her scientific approach to poetry in her spiky new collected essays, The Ocean, the Bird and the Scholar


Bletchley Park was decades ahead of Silicon Valley. So what happened?


Two new books on intelligence — Intercept by Gordon Corera and Why Spy? by Brian Stewart and Samantha Newbery — find that had Britain been less hidebound by secrecy it could have led the world in computer science


Rory McEwen: man of many talents — and among the greatest of all flower painters


McEwen’s extraordinary botanical works, beautifully illustrated in this volume from Kew, glow with life and individuality that repay the closest scrutiny

Author Harry Mount

Harry’s Homer — a humorous history


Harry Mount scatters alpha anecdotes as he swelters up Mediterranean hillsides (in a slightly silly hat) on the track of his legendary hero, in Harry Mount’s Odyssey


A crime novel so incompetent it might have been written by a child


Nigel Williams’s editor should have returned R.I.P. with the words ‘do it again’

William Waldegrave (Photo: Getty)

William Waldegrave: too nice ever to have been PM


In his memoir A Different Kind of Weather, the gifted Tory politician and man of letters William Waldegrave comes across as a noble soul full of misplaced self-reproach

Atticus Finch (played by Gregory Peck) with his children Scout and Jem in the 1962 film version of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Go Set a Watchman should never have been hyped as a ‘landmark new novel’, says Philip Hensher

Books feature

This is an interesting document, and a pretty bad novel. I don’t know why anyone thought it would be otherwise. In 1960, Harper Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird. It was an important statement, as well as a very good… Read more

Harriet Howard, Duchess of Sutherland, by William Corden the Younger, after Franz Xavier Winterhalter. ‘What a hold the place has on one,’ she observed of Cliveden

Love nest or den of iniquity? Cliveden has always been shrouded in mystery and scandal


The Mistresses of Cliveden by Natalie Livingstone explores the great house’s exotic history, ending with Christine Keeler, the swimming pool and the Profumo Affair

War games

Welcome to the world of Big Byz


A searing satire set in a dystopic future,Victor Pelevin’s 2011 S.N.U.F.F. — now brilliantly translated into English — has been hailed as a prescient warning of Russia’s intentions in Ukraine


Rich, thin and selfish in Manhattan


Wednesday Martin’s Primates of Park Avenue mocks New York’s high-maintenance ‘mommies’ who worry sleeplessly over money, infidelity and dieting. But they are a much stranger breed than this memoir makes out

Israeli soldiers treat hostages after they were held for a week at Entebbe airport after the highjack of an Air France plane, 1976 (Photo: Getty)

Was Operation Thunderbolt the most daring mission in history?


Tension mounts in Saul David’s compulsive chronicle of hijacked Air France Flight 139 and the rush to save the hostages in Entebbe 40 years ago

Supporters pay tribute to Charlie Hebdo before a match at the Mayol stadium in Toulon (Photo: Getty)

France’s favourite bedtime story: a sanitised version of the French Revolution


The more inconvenient, bloodstained événements of French history are dismissed as ‘aberrations’, organised by ‘enemies of the fatherland’, according to Jonathan Fenby’s latest History of Modern France

Looking idiotic: Cathy Fechoz performs ski ballet at the Olympic Games, Albertville, 1992. The sport no longer exists

Anyone for eel-pulling?


In his survey of the world’s most ludicrous and best-forgotten sports, Edward Brooke-Hitching reveals the extraordinary cruelty and inventiveness of mankind at play

Sneer of cold command: Velázquez’s portrait of the Count-Duke of Olivares, Philip IV’s ‘Ozymandias-like vizier’ (detail)

Spain’s golden age — with a silver lining


Columbus’s discovery of America led to a glorious literary and artistic flowering in early modern Spain, according to Robert Goodwin’s Spain: The Centre of the World, 1519–1682

Mexican soldiers stand amidst poppy flowers and marijuana plants (Photo: Getty)

The war on drugs is stupid and counter-productive


According to Zero Zero Zero by Roberto Saviano and Dreamland by Sam Quinones, the flow of Class A drugs around the world is now unstoppable, and traffickers have grown increasingly violent. If only the trade were regulated, all this could change

Boccaccio and Petrach

The constant inconstancy that made Italians yearn for fascism

Books feature

This hefty volume is misleadingly titled. It is not an escapist sort of travel book, ushering the visitor around the homelands and houses of the Italian literati. It is a selection of the author’s previous literary articles, mostly book reviews… Read more

Author Ken Kalfus (Photo: Getty)

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and other characters to make you cry with laughter


In Coup de Foudre, the title novella of Ken Kalfus’s collection of stories, the ex-head of the IMF sends an email apologia to the chambermaid

Geoffrey Mutai leads the New York City marathon in November 2013

The harsh, lonely lives of Kenya’s astonishingly gifted runners


In Two Hours Ed Caesar tracks the footsteps of the remarkably athletic Kalenjin tribe

Kamal Daoud (Photo: Getty)

The Outsider — from the viewpoint of the victim’s family


The Mersault Investigation by Kamel Daoud revisits Camus’ masterpiece and provides a bitter commentary on the ongoing Franco-Algerian relationship

Jonathan Ames (Photo: Getty)

The best Jeeves and Wooster novel Saul Bellow never wrote


In Wake Up, Sir!, Jonathan Ames captures the Wodehouse idiom to perfection — and sets it on a strange new path

Athenian general Xenophon

Financial crises are nothing new in Greece — they go back at least to the Peloponnesian War


In The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece Josiah Ober finds that, for all their sophistication, the Ancient Greeks were useless economists

‘Working Boats from around the British Coast’: mural with mermaids and a dancing lobster by the visionary artist Alan Sorrell, commissioned for the Festival of Britain, 1951

Fishy women: the mermaid in folklore, art and literature


Sophia Kingshill’s complex cultural history includes sirens, selkies and some freakshow mermaid lookalikes

Has A.N. Wilson reached the last port of call on the tempestuous sea of faith?


Jonathan Aitken finds his guide to the Bible a noble endeavour and full of passion, despite a maddening mythical interlocutor

Dennis Potter, 1978 (Photo: Getty)

Dennis Potter: one of the last great masters of vituperation


Potter’s hardboiled, sarcastic wit was heroic — but beneath it lay a nostalgic yearning for an imaginary Eden, as revealed in The Art of Invective: Selected Non-fiction, 1953–94

‘Pleasures of a sea voyage’ from Three Men and a Bradshaw

Where are the green silk blinds of the once luxurious Metropolitan Line?


The Trains Now Departed by Michael Williams and Three Men and a Bradshaw by John George Freeman both recall a not-so-distant past when travelling in Britain was a positive pleasure

Robert Moses in 1952

The sadist who wrecked New York, and the last of the great biographers

Books feature

It is something of a mystery why the Bodley Head has decided to publish Robert Caro’s The Power Broker in Britain more than 40 years after the initial appearance in the US of this classic work — but better late… Read more