God, aliens and a novel with a mission


In a review of Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange Things the inhabitants of the planet Oasis embrace the King James Bible and begin numbering themselves Jesus Lover One, Two and Three ...

Chilean writer Roberto Ampuero Photo: Getty

Forget Poirot, Holmes or Marlowe: there is nothing urgent or even logical about Chilean detective work


In a review of The Neruda Case by Roberto Ampuero, Cayetano Brulé takes his time digging deep into his client’s past

A dressing room in London designed by Nicky Haslam, inspired by Dorothy Draper’s lobby at the Carlyle Hotel in New York

An armchair voyeur gets a glimpse into Nicky Haslam’s vast address book


As well as nose-diving into the tasselled damask of Nicky Haslam’s A Designer’s Life, a round-up of the year’s design books delves into Room by Nach Alegre, Rock Covers by Julius Weidemann, Studio, by Tom kelley,  and 100 Buildings - 100 Years by Gavin Stamp


Paul Johnson on Henry Kissinger, Susan Hill on David Walliams, Julie Burchill on Julie Burchill: Spectator books of the year

Books feature

Mark Amory Being a slow reader, I first try the shortest, or anyway shorter, works of famous novelists unknown to me. This year, with many misgivings, I read The Confusions of Young Törless by Robert Musil (Penguin, £8.99) and was… Read more

Simon Barnes’s final chapters converge not at mammals, even less at primates, but at fish

From water-dwelling sponges to face-eating hyenas: the whole of life is in this book


A review of Ten Million Aliens: A Journey Through the Entire Animal Kingdom, by Simon Barnes. Avoiding all anthropocentrism, the book proceeds by interlocking the most sophisticated life-forms with the most simple

Poet Wendy Cope Photo: Getty

Wendy Cope on hating school, meeting Billy Graham and enduring Freudian analysis


It all ends well though. A review of Life, Love and the Archers; Recollections, Reviews and Other Prose, by Wendy Cope


This autumn's crime fiction visits the Isle of Man and enters the Big Brother house


A roundup of recent crime fiction takes in Phil Rockman's Night After Night, Chris Ewan's Dark Tides, Andrew Williams's The Suicide Club and Peter James's A Twist of the Knife

King Philip II of Spain

The king who blamed everything that went wrong on God


A review of Imprudent King: A New Life of Philip II, by Geoffrey Parker. This is a masterpiece of historical biography

Elsa Schiaparelli in an apartment in the Place Vendôme, in the shadow of Napoleon

Nicky Haslam on sharing a lover with Elsa Schiaparelli and the endearing punk of Vivienne Westwood


A review of Elsa Schiaparelli, by Meryle Secrest, and Vivienne Westwood, by Vivienne Westwood and Ian Kelly. There's some trendy guff in Westwood's autobiography. But Haslam finds more to love in the caring Westwood than in the cruel Schiap

Author Jane Smiley Photo: Getty

A book about the ordinary nothings that, in the end, are everything


A review of Some Luck, by Jane Smiley. The Pulitzer-prize winner captures the strange beauty of mortal life

Britain's top military chief, General David Richards Photo: Getty

I guarded Rudolf Hess


A review of Taking Command, by General David Richards, with a foreword by Max Hastings. A model four-star general takes us through his 40 years in the British army

Alan Cumming Photo: Getty

A misery memoir from Alan Cumming that's surprisingly thoughtful


A review of Not My Father's Son, by Alan Cumming. It's an autobiography that pits a kindly grandfather against a cruel father

Têtes coupées by Théodore Géricault, 1818

From head-shrinking to skull-seeking: a history of the severed head


A review of Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found, by Frances Lanson. A grimly amusing and possibly definitive survey of a disquieting subject  


Europe in 60 languages


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


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


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


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?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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