Books

Maggie Smith as Jocasta in Jean Cocteau’s ‘The Infernal Machine’, Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, 1986

Brian Aldiss unpicks the Jocasta complex

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A sassy retelling of two women’s stories from Greek mythology

Blikkiesdorp, the shack settlement where Asad lived for the two years during which he and Jonny Steinberg collaborated on the book

Refugees and resilience: a story of Africa

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Jonny Steinberg finds A Man of Good Hope in ‘the asshole of Cape Town’

Princess Bamba, Catherine and Sophia Duleep Singh at their debut at Buckingham Palace, 1894

Sophia Duleep Singh: from socialite to socialist

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Anita Anand tells the story of an unlikely suffragette

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A ghost story without the scary bits

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Scott Blackwood’s ultra-clever See How Small is a novel written to be studied, not read

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The best new crime novels (and a rule for enjoying them)

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Jeff Noon on Peter May’s Runaway, Dan Kavanagh’s Putting The Boot In, Ferdinand von Schirach’s The Girl Who Wasn’t There, Eric Lundgren’s The Facades

Peking, c. 1290 (private collection), from ‘The Book of Ser Marco Polo’, edited by Henry Yule, 1903

The real mystery is how it got published

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Benjamin B. Olshin’s The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps is an unconvincing speculation – but a reminder of a great story does not convince our reviewer

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Making physics history

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In The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time, Roberto Mangabeira Unger and Lee Smolin attempt to bring modesty to physics

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A major-general names the guilty men

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Christopher Elliott’s High Command is a study of what’s wrong at the MoD, and an excellent primer for the Chilcot report

Tolstoy with his secretary at Yasnaya Polyana, 1906

The prophet Tolstoy and his dodgy vicar

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In Tolstoy’s False Disciple, Alexandra asks many questions, but doesn’t always answer them

The Merchant (left) and the Physician from the Ellesmere manuscript of the Canterbury Tales

A window on Chaucer’s cramped, scary, smelly world

Books feature

Proust had his cork-lined bedroom; Emily Dickinson her Amherst hidey-hole; Mark Twain a gazebo with magnificent views of New York City. Where, then, did the father of English poetry do his work? From 1374 till 1386, while employed supervising the… Read more

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An ill-waged war against the war on drugs

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A review of Johann Hari’s Chasing the Scream finds there are still no clear answers over the benefits of prohibition or legalisation

Mary Anne Disraeli by James Godsell Middleton

Politics as costume drama: Mr and Mrs Disraeli may have been considered vulgar, but they never went unnoticed

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A review of Mr and Mrs Disraeli by Daisy Hay paints a glowing picture of the marriage of two political minds

English knight and Earl of Pembroke, William Marshall Photo: Getty

William Marshal: one of England’s great magnates

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A review of Thomas Asbridge’s The Greatest Knight suggests that the man considered the ‘power behind five English thrones’ remains a decidedly grey eminence

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The really shocking thing about Michel Houllebecq’s Soumission — he rather likes Islam

Secondary Feature

Michel Houellebecq’s sixth novel, imagining an Islamic government taking power in France in 2022, has been widely assumed to be an act of pure provocation. He is, after all, the author who faced legal trouble after having said in an… Read more

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Time-travel, smugglers, arsenic — what’s not to like in Sally Gardner’s novel for teenagers?

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A review of The Door that Led to Where promises adventures and a clever juxtaposition of 19th- and 21st-century worlds

‘Ash tree in Winter, 2010–13

Patrick George: painting in all weathers in his nineties

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Andrew Lambirth finds a stringent radicalism at the heart of one of our most unassuming and decorative artists

Edith Pearlman in 2012

Where have all the literary journals gone? The home of the short story in Britain has vanished

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I am not sure if it’s properly understood quite what a crisis the short story is now in. Superficial signs of success and publicity — such as Alice Munro winning the Nobel, or the establishment of another well-funded prize —… Read more

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Cowboys and Muslims: that’s the new global power struggle, according to the latest great American novel

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The Woman Who Lost Her Soul by Bob Shacochis is a furious, sprawling work of fiction exploring ‘the slippery algebra of enemies’

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The elephant boy and the princess: Elif Shafak’s latest saga, set in medieval Istanbul, is a real page-turner

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A review of The Architect’s Apprentice by the prize-winning Turkish author promises an enthralling read from start to finish

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An idealised view of a cotton plantation beside the Mississippi, c. 1880

Dark, satanic mills: when it comes to washing capitalism’s dirty laundry, nothing bloodies the water like cotton

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A review of Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert reveals that while Britain abolished the slave trade in the early 19th century, 50 years later its cotton industry still depended on American slave-labour

Filippino Lippi’s fresco of St Peter being freed from prison by an angel

Unlocking Florence’s answer to the Sistine chapel

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In a review of Painted Glories by Nicholas Eckstein, Honor Clerk finds Florence’s intimate Brancacci chapel more thrilling than any blockbuster exhibition

Lady Antonia Fraser, 1969 Photo: Getty

Dancing with T.S. Eliot — and other romances: the girlhood of Antonia Fraser

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Cressida Connolly’s reckons that to be alone in a room reading Antonia Fraser’s My History is the perfect way to start the new year

Composer Franz Schubert Photo: Getty

This Winter Journey goes far beyond expectation

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Ian Bostridge's guide to Schubert's Winterreise will open your eyes not only to the song cycle but to the age and place that produced it

Henry VIII, Edward VI, Charles I, George VI and George V

The good, the bad, the false and fanatical: five centuries of British monarchs

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It is a strange paradox of our egalitarian age that a progressive publisher like Penguin should commission — at considerable expense, since the series editor Simon Winder has netted some top academic authors — brief lives of all 44 English,… Read more

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Fact, fiction or farce? The American comic novel is becoming increasingly hard to define

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In a novel as convoluted as Ben Lerner’s 10:04 it’s difficult to know when to laugh, according to Ben Hamilton’s review

Author Kirsty Gunn Photo: Getty

Woman’s realm: the men in Kirsty Gunn’s short stories do not impress, either as husbands or fathers

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For a marvellous unravelling of women’s minds read Infidelities by Kirsty Gunn, suggests Sophia Waugh in a review of this latest volume of short stories