The BBC’s first director general, Lord Reith (Photo: Getty)

The story of the BBC


Book review: Guardian journalist Charlotte Higgins considers the history of our national broadcaster

William Blake’s depiction of Urizen, creator and lawgiver

Is truth really beauty after all?


Book review: physicist Frank Wilczek seeks the ultimate truth of a rational universe

Robert Mugabe attends the funeral of Solomon Mujuru (Photo: Getty)

A murder mystery in Zimbabwe


Book review: a novel about the intersecting of five troubled marriages in a morally bankrupt police state

Michael Moorcock (Photo: Ulf Andersen/Getty)

Michael Moorcock’s ‘autobiography’


Book review: The Whispering Swarm — his first major work for ten years

Mark Sanford and George W. Bush in 2002

The best American political memoir in a generation


In The Speechwriter, Barton Swaim recounts his struggles to write badly enough to satisfy Governor Mark Sanford

‘Thetis giving Achilles his arms’ (fresco), Giulio Romano, 1492–1546

A new translation of the Iliad


Book review: Peter Green’s effort is not entirely successful

The refrigerator takes centre stage at a 1920s luncheon party

Cooling is as important to civilisation as making fire — only much harder


Chilled, Tom Jackson’s enthralling history of how refrigeration changed the world, takes us from Mesopotamian ice-houses to the Large Hadron Collider

The Clouded Yellow, especially vulnerable to cold, wet weather, is rare in Britain and usually confined to the South Downs and south coast

We all love butterflies — so why are we wiping them out?


Two new books — Rainbow Dust by Peter Marren and In Pursuit of Butterflies by Matthew Oates — celebrate the powerful myths surrounding these ravishing ephemera


A novel to cure fear of missing out


Left of the Bang, Claire Lowden’s sparky fictional debut, is a comic exposé of the non-glamour of London life, where no one’s having fun

A shopping centre is engulfed in flames during the Los Angeles riots, 1992 (Photo: Getty)

The gangs of LA are caught in an unending bloody vendetta


All Involved, Ryan Gattis’s buzzing thriller about riots and racial tension in 1992, might just as well have been set yesterday

Riots occur in Uighur, the muslim capital of Xinjiang (Photo: Getty)

China’s repressive policy towards its Islamic fringe has badly backfired


There was no Islamic extremism in China until Beijing inadvertently created it, according to Nick Holdstock’s measured history of the Uighurs of Xinjiang

Illusions of grandeur: Roy Strong as a Stuart king (Charles I, after Sir Anthony Van Dyck)

Camp carnival: Roy Strong’s 80th birthday pageant


Sir Roy poses as Henry VIII, Rasputin, Tennyson and other assorted princes, priests and poets in a series of mock masterpieces by the photographer John Swannell

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

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


Melanie McDonagh’s selections include adventures in Wonderland and in space

Rabdentse, near Pelling, the ruined former capital of Sikkim, with Mount Kanchenjunga in the distance

The story of Sikkim’s last king and queen reads like a fairy tale gone wrong


Glamour, romance and a deposed monarch are vividly evoked in Andrew Duff’s nostalgic history of the beleaguered Himalayan former kingdom

Author Paul Murray (Photo: Getty)

A broad farce about banking’s dirty secrets in post-Celtic-Tiger Dublin


The Mark and the Void, Paul Murray’s follow-up to the much acclaimed Skippy Dies, is sharp, satirical and utterly of the moment

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