Grade II-listed Phoenix prefabs in Moseley, Birmingham

Why prefabs really were fab


A review of Prefab Homes, by Elisabeth Blanchet. In 1946 you had to be very posh to have a house with an inside toilet

The theatrical Constance Markewicz founded the military boy scouts, who would later staff the IRA

When Irish nationalism meant sexual adventure


A review of Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890 – 1923, by R.F. Foster. There will be many accounts of the Easter Rising but few will be as enjoyable as this

Ezra Pound in the early 1920s

Ezra Pound – the fascist years


A review of Ezra Pound: Poet, Volume II: The Epic Years, by A. David Moody. This was also the period in which the controversial poet talked himself into madness

A still from 'A Few Days in the Life of I, I, Oblomov', based on the novel Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov Photo: Getty

Tolstoy’s favourite novel is a guide to being idle


A review of Oblomov, by Ivan Goncharov, translated by Stephen Pearl. But like many apparent idlers, Oblomov isn’t really lazy – he just spends a lot of time in bed


Is it boring being the god of the sea?


Ces Nooteboom asks lots of presumptious questions like this in his Letters to Poseidon, translated by Laura Watkinson – but he’s more than a match for the trident-bearing earth-shaker

Two small children dying together in the gutter in the Chinese famine of 1946

How Hitler's dreams came true in 1946

Books feature

I should begin this review, in the spirit of full disclosure, by admitting that I know the author very slightly. Something close to 14 years ago, we were on the same press freebie: a slap-up lunch in Paris courtesy of… Read more

Sir Hugh Walpole

An epic performance that brings a lost novelist back to life


A review of The Herries Chronicles, by Hugh Walpole, narrated by Peter Joyce. Walpole’s dramatic chronicle of the Herries family is brilliantly recreated


To be astonished by nature, look no further than Claxton


A review of Claxton: Field Notes from a Small Planet, by Mark Cocker. This journal could do with some editing, though

Edwardian London

Imagine Eastenders directed by David Lynch


A review of Printer’s Devil Court, by Susan Hill. No gothic element is spared in this possible rival to The Woman in Black

Shackleton’s ship the Nimrod in the ice at McMurdo Sound

Flawed, unproductive and heroic: the real Ernest Shackleton


A review of Shackleton, by Michael Smith. It’s a classic story and Smith tells it with passion and commitment – especially when he tames his clauses

16th century French soldiers

A jaunty romp of rape and pillage through the 16th century


A review of The Brethren, by Robert Merle, translated by T. Jefferson Kline. Even when this hit French historical novel is boring, there’s a dividend

The young T.E. Lawrence in Arab dress

Secretive, arrogant and reckless: the young T.E. Lawrence began life as he meant to go on


A review of Young Lawrence: A Portrait of the Legend as a Young Man, by Anthony Sattin. But don't expect this book to make sense of this enigmatic figure


Wave goodbye to the weight-gaining, drunk-driving Inspector Wallander


A review of An event in Autumn, by Henning Mankell. The detective's become more famous than the creator, so the creator's killing him off


Hercule Poirot returns – and yes, he’s as irritating as ever


A review of The Monogram Murders: A new Hercule Poirot Mystery, by Sophie Hannah (as Agatha Christie). It’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job of resurrecting Poirot

The remains of the column of St Simeon Stylites at Qalat Sem’an, Syria.

The Guru of Late Antiquity speaks again


A review of The World of Late Antiquity AD 150-750, by Peter Brown. Brown called them essays but each chapter is in fact an inspired riff on a theme

Author James Ellroy Photo: Lisa Stafford

James Ellroy’s latest attempt to unseat the Great American Novel


A review of Perfidia, by James Ellroy. There are big moral questions and grand themes in Ellroy's new crime novel but ultimately it’s all too inflated

Burying the dead of Waterloo

Narrative history at its best – and bloodiest


A review of Waterloo: The Aftermath, by Paul O’Keeffe. This highly recommended history is a salutary reminder that most of the actual fighting was left to our allies


The five most depressing words in the English language? ‘And now, You and Yours’


A review of For the Love of Radio 4: An Unofficial Companion, by Caroline Hodgson. Bet you didn’t know Arthur Scargill and Cilla Black both chose the Mona Lisa as their Desert Island Discs luxury

What, in the end, was it all for? In a French caricature of 1814, Napoleon precariously spans Madrid and Moscow and begins to topple. Fontainebleau — scene of his abdication — is depicted centre-stage

If you want to admire Napoleon, it helps not to have met Gaddafi

Books feature

Forty-odd years ago, in the early phase of the Gaddafi regime, I had the slightly mixed fortune to attend the new Benghazi University’s first degree ceremony. The university had actually been closed for months and there were no degrees to… Read more

Patrick Leigh Fermor as a Major in the parachute regiment

Paddy Leigh Fermor: warrior, writer, lady-killer and Nazi-nabber


A review of Abducting a General, by Patrick Leigh Fermor, and Kidnap in Crete, by Rick Stroud. An exhilarating account of Paddy’s hair-raising kidnapping of a Nazi general that was ultimately of dubious strategic value

Corin Redgrave, playing the contrarian William Roper, husband of Thomas More’s favourite child, Margaret, in A Man for All Seasons

From Trot to Thatcher: the life of Kika Markham


A review of Our Time of Day: My Life with Corin Redgrave, by Kika Markham. An autobiography stamped by an unflinching and humane candour


An unorthodox detective novel about Waitrose-country paedos


A review of The Soul of Discretion, by Susan Hill. There is little pure detection in the latest in Hill’s Serraillier series; the focus lies elsewhere

Author Colm Toibin Photo: Getty

Colm Toibin’s restraint – like his characters' – is quietly overwhelming


A review of Nora Webster, by Colm Toibin. Anyone who expects a novel about a bereaved wife with four small kids to emote wildly has obviously never read any Toibin before

‘Conversation Piece’, 1997, by Andrew Festing, Marylebone Cricket Club, featuring: Geoffrey Boycott (Yorkshire), A.P.E. Knott and D.L. Underwood (Kent); middle row, F.J. Titmus (Middlesex), R. Illingworth (Yorkshire and Leicestershire), D.L. Amiss and M.J.K. Smith (Warwickshire), front row, J.H. Edrich (Surrey) and D.B. Close (Yorkshire and Somerset); the first conversation piece is in the background

Geoffrey Boycott, the Arthur Scargill of cricket


A review of The Corridor of Certainty: My Life beyond Cricket, by Geoffrey Boycott. An egotistical look at the life and times of the greatest living Yorkshireman

Signs of the times: the shrivelled leaves and lesion on the trunk of infected ash trees

First ash dieback, then the world's scariest beetle


A review of The Ash Tree, by Oliver Rackham. A certain understandable I-told-you-so huffiness drives this analysis of the death of one of our prettiest common trees