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Books

Former Czech President Vaclav Have Photo: Getty

What went so wrong for Vaclav Havel?

Books

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

Books

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

Books

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

Books

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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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

Books

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

Books

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?

Books

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

Books

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

Books

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…

Books

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

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The deep Britishness of fish and chips

Books

Fish and Chips: A History, by Panikos Panayi, is frustratingly academic and lacking in vinegar, but still full of fascinating facts

Bob Marley Photo: Redferns /Getty

A Jamaican civil war, with cameos from Bob Marley

Books

A review of A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James. This novel breaks new ground in its language, which oscillates between various stations on the ‘creole continuum'

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Care for the dying needs more imagination – and less hospitalisation

Books

A review of Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End. This is that rare thing: a truly important book

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Outside Downing Street in June 1943. Ten years earlier, no one would have thought it remotely likely that Winston Churchill would be regarded as his country’s saviour

Does Boris Johnson really expect us to think he's Churchill?

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As you would expect, it’s impossible to read this book without drawing fairly direct comparisons between its author and its subject. In promotional exchanges, with the well-worn practice of self-deprecation, its author will of course insist that there is no… Read more

The charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo by the British-American artist Richard Caton Woodville. From A History of War in 100 Battles by Richard Overy (William Collins, £25)

Four ways to win Waterloo

Books

If you want Sharpe-like drama, go for Bernard Cornwell. For Eurocentric revisionism, go for Tim Clayton. If you’re short of time, there’s Brendan Simms’s 80 pager. But in a class of its own is former soldier Robert Kershaw making ‘order out of disorder’

Author Anthony Horowitz

While Holmes is away

Books

Anthony Horowitz's Moriarity makes an entertaining job of Sherlockian London without Sherlock or Watson – but it would be so much better to have them back

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Sweeping away evidence: where in those calm, tile-floored 17th-century rooms can we even glimpse a spittoon? ‘Dutch Interior’ by Pieter Janssens Elinga

The history of the home – with the spittoons put back in

Books

A review of The Making of the Home, by Judith Flanders, and Common People, by Alison Light. Both books are absorbing but it’s Light’s history of subsistence living that I’ll want to read twice

Author Michael Connelly arrives at the premiere of 'The Lincoln Lawyer'

The man who was mistaken for a deer

Books

A review of The Burning Room, by Michael Connelly. The 19th book for Connelly's obssessive detective Hieronymous Bosch is as strange and relentless as ever

Antiquity 2’, 2009–11

Jeff Koons's latest achievement: a new standard in prolix, complacent, solipsistic, muddled drivel

Books

A review of Jeff Koons: Conversations with Norman Rosenthal. Koons’s sub-adult work is not worth getting cross about – although it has nonetheless proved poisonous to younger artists

Norman Mailer and Dylan Thomas Photo: Getty

Lolita's secret revenge mission, and other daft theories of literary spite

Books

Literary Rivals: Feuds and Antagonisms in the World of Books, by Richard Bradford, is a compendium that never sees the roses for the thorns

Cat among the pigeons: Jennifer Fry, the exotic beauty who so disrupted life at Farringdon House in the 1940s

My mad gay grandfather and me

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Family history is all the rage at the moment — finding out about one’s ancestors, digging back into one’s roots. Sofka Zinovieff has written the strange, and strangely moving, tale of her family’s unorthodox relationships. By turns comical, tragicomical and… Read more

Chilean miner Jorge Galleguillos is brought to the surface following a 10 week ordeal in the collapsed San Jose mine Photo: Getty

From working-class heroes to Disney World mascots: the sad fate of the Chilean miners

Books

A review of Deep Down Dark, by Hector Tobar. The Chilean miners thought they were screwed trapped underground – but they were even more screwed when they got out