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Books

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Europe in 60 languages

Books

A review of Lingo, by Gaston Dorren. A series of quirky linguistic stories full etymological pleasures

John Gielgud prepares to play Prospero in the Old Vic’s production of The Tempest in 1930

A brown-noser's history of the Old Vic and National Theatre

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A review of The Old Vic: The Story of a Great Theatre from Kean to Olivier to Spacey, by Terry Coleman, and Closely Observed Theatre: From the National to the Old Vic, by Jonathan Croall. Where's the critical thinking?

The ossuary at Sedlec in Czechoslovakia, where garlands of skulls drape the vault. The chapel is thought to contain the skeletons of up to 70,000 people

In search of dead men's bones

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A review of A Tour of Bones, by Denise Inge. A wise, fresh and brutally frank tour of Europe's charnel-houses

French and Colonial prisoners of war captured by German soldiers Photo: Getty

Némirovsky's love letter to the France that spurned her and killed her

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A review of The Fires of Autumn, by Irène Némirovsky, translated by Sandra Smith. It's the last of Nemirovsky's wartime novels to be translated into English and is better read as a draft

Antonello da Messina’s ‘Condottiere’: the compelling face of a supremely confident man

Which great French novelist was also a crossword-setter?

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Answer: Georges Perec. And it shows in his writing. A review of Portrait of a Man, by Georges Perec, translated and with an introduction by David Bellos

Iceland, depicted in a World Atlas of 1553

The Edge of the World: deep subject, shallow history

Books feature

The Mediterranean glows in our conception of the Continent, the warm source of everything that is best in us, the seat of civilisation, from which one delicious wave after another has washed up on our shores. But what about the… Read more

Sidney Bechet in 1939

Blue Note's 75 years of hot jazz

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A review of Blue Note: An Uncompromising Expression, by Richard Havers. A birthday ode to the greatest jazz record label of all time

Gough Whitlam addresses reporters outside the Parliament building in Canberra after his dismissal by Australia's Governor General, 1975 Photo: Getty

A big literary beast's descent into incoherence

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A review of Amnesia, by Peter Carey. It comes across like a preliminary draft

The Marble Hall at Petworth House

Marble-mania: when England became a spiritual heir to the ancients

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A review of Owning the Past: Why the English Collected Antique Sculpture, 1640 - 1840, by Ruth Guilding. Treats include an illustration of a pair of cleaning ladies in the hall at Castle Howard

Chilean writer Roberto Bolano Photo: Getty

The writer who showed the West there was more to South America than magic realism

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A review of Bolano: A biography in Conversations. More of a whimsical detective novel than a real biography

Martha Graham and Bertram Ross in Graham’s most famous work ‘Appalachian Spring’ (1944), with a prize-winning score by Aaron Copeland

To call this offering a book is an abuse of language

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Still, the pictures are nice. A review of New York Mid-Century: Post War Capital of Culture, 1945 - 1965, with contributions by Annie Cohen-Solal, Paul Goldberger and Robert Gottlieb

Julie Burchill: "Working-class girl and gifted writer"

What Julie Burchill's ex-husband thinks of her new memoir

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A review of Unchosen: The Memoirs of a Philo-Semite, by Julie Burchill. You can sum up this memoir in a sentence: Jews are smarter than the rest of the world, so suck it up gentile losers!

Italian partisans who helped South African troops entering Pistoia in Italy to ferret out German snipers Photo: Getty

The woman who invented the Italian resistance

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A review of Partisan Diary: A Woman's Life in the Italian Resistance, by Ada Gobetti, translated and edited by Jomarie Alano. This vital historical document was revered by Italo Calvino

Castle Cottage in Near Sawrey, Cumbria, where Beatrix Potter lived after her marriage to William Heelis

Behind (almost) every great writer is a great garden

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A review of A Writer's Garden: How Gardens Inspired Our Best-Loved Authors, by Jackie Bennett, with photographs by Richard Hanson. This visually appealing book includes everything from John Clare's cottage garden to Robert Burns's farm

Former Czech President Vaclav Have Photo: Getty

What went so wrong for Vaclav Havel?

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A review of Havel: A Life, by Michael Zantovsky. He was one of three key players in the death of communism. But he outstayed his welcome disastrously

Nick Hornby Photo: Getty

The greatest sitcom that never was

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A review of Funny Girl, by Nick Hornby. Subtle but unashamedly populist, Hornby's latest is a fan letter to the great 70s comedy writers

Author Rose Tremain Photo: Ulf Andersen/Getty

The problem when novelists write short stories

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There's a risk you'll just be left with scraps, even by the wonderful Rose Tremain. That said, several of the short stories in The American Lover, mostly re-imaginings of other writers' work, are fantastic

Joan Littlewood, 1968 Photo: Getty

A Stratford Stalin: the nasty, aggressive and stupid world of Joan Littlewood

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A review of Joan Littlewood: Dreams and Realities, by Peter Rankin. Shakespeare was too politically middle-of-the-road to make the grade and the second world war was 'boring'

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MVW AOB Cover

Business books aren't meant to cheer you up. But this one will

Books

A review of Any Other Business, by Martin Vander Weyer. An ode to the latest in a fine line of Spectator City correspondents

‘There was great danger of being kidnapped by licensed thugs and turned into a not-so-jolly Jack Tar’ George Morland’s ‘The Press Gang’ (1790s)

Terror plots, threats to liberties, banks in crisis: welcome to Britain during the Napoleonic Wars

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In our own troubled times it is useful and comforting to recollect that ’twas ever thus.  Violent threats against prominent politicians? Jenny Uglow reminds us that in 1802 Colonel Edward Despard, a British officer turned radical agitator, was the last… Read more

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Michael Frayn’s new book is the most highbrow TV sketch show ever

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A review of Matchbox Theatre: Thirty Short Entertainments, by Michael Frayn. Other loo books may sell more come Christmas but none will bring more joy than this collection of ingenious playlets

Catherine Parr, whose dangerously reformist ‘Lamentation’ Shardlake must recover, comes over as a sympathetic and attractive figure

The Tudor sleuth who's cracked the secret of suspense

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A review of Lamentation, by C.J. Sansom. This latest instalment of the Matthew Shardlake series maintains momentum over 600 pages

A Little Bill of Fare.
As he journeyed through Europe in the 1870s writing his travelogue A Tramp Abroad, Mark Twain grew increasingly tired of the cuisine — which he described as ‘a monotonous variety of unstriking dishes’. Towards the end of his trip he compiled a list of the foods he longed for most, which were to be prepared and eaten immediately on his return

Things to do: read this book

Books

A review of Lists of Note, compiled by Shaun Usher. This engrossing compendium includes entries by everyone from Leonardo da Vinci to Sid Vicious

John Cleese Book Signing

Was John Cleese ever funny?

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A review of So, Anyway…, by John Cleese. This biography is a dull, dreary compendium of pompous self-congratulation and tetchy sarcasm

Perhaps the most formative years in our history were when ‘every second person suddenly died in agony — and no one knew why.’ Above, plague victims are blessed by a priest in the 14th-century ‘Omne Bonum’ by James le Palmer

Why the most important years in history were from 1347 to 1352

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A review of Centuries of Change, by Ian Mortimer. It’s a book that is at its best offering counter-intuitive thoughts on the medieval period

Shami Chakrabarti Photo: David Levenson/Getty

What Shami regards as right isn’t necessarily what is right

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When you compare Shami Chakrabarti's On Liberty with John Stuart Mill's, Mill leaves Chakrabarti standing

Director, and author David Cronenberg Photo: Getty

Cronenberg attempts a teleportation from cinema to fiction. Cover your eyes…

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A review of Consumed, by David Cronenberg. The Canadian director-turned-author has arrived in his new medium with a number of unfortunate mutations