Supporters pay tribute to Charlie Hebdo before a match at the Mayol stadium in Toulon (Photo: Getty)

France’s favourite bedtime story: a sanitised version of the French Revolution


The more inconvenient, bloodstained événements of French history are dismissed as ‘aberrations’, organised by ‘enemies of the fatherland’, according to Jonathan Fenby’s latest History of Modern France

Looking idiotic: Cathy Fechoz performs ski ballet at the Olympic Games, Albertville, 1992. The sport no longer exists

Anyone for eel-pulling?


In his survey of the world’s most ludicrous and best-forgotten sports, Edward Brooke-Hitching reveals the extraordinary cruelty and inventiveness of mankind at play

Sneer of cold command: Velázquez’s portrait of the Count-Duke of Olivares, Philip IV’s ‘Ozymandias-like vizier’ (detail)

Spain’s golden age — with a silver lining


Columbus’s discovery of America led to a glorious literary and artistic flowering in early modern Spain, according to Robert Goodwin’s Spain: The Centre of the World, 1519–1682

Mexican soldiers stand amidst poppy flowers and marijuana plants (Photo: Getty)

The war on drugs is stupid and counter-productive


According to Zero Zero Zero by Roberto Saviano and Dreamland by Sam Quinones, the flow of Class A drugs around the world is now unstoppable, and traffickers have grown increasingly violent. If only the trade were regulated, all this could change

Boccaccio and Petrach

The constant inconstancy that made Italians yearn for fascism

Books feature

This hefty volume is misleadingly titled. It is not an escapist sort of travel book, ushering the visitor around the homelands and houses of the Italian literati. It is a selection of the author’s previous literary articles, mostly book reviews… Read more

Author Ken Kalfus (Photo: Getty)

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and other characters to make you cry with laughter


In Coup de Foudre, the title novella of Ken Kalfus’s collection of stories, the ex-head of the IMF sends an email apologia to the chambermaid

Geoffrey Mutai leads the New York City marathon in November 2013

The harsh, lonely lives of Kenya’s astonishingly gifted runners


In Two Hours Ed Caesar tracks the footsteps of the remarkably athletic Kalenjin tribe

Kamal Daoud (Photo: Getty)

The Outsider — from the viewpoint of the victim’s family


The Mersault Investigation by Kamel Daoud revisits Camus’ masterpiece and provides a bitter commentary on the ongoing Franco-Algerian relationship

Jonathan Ames (Photo: Getty)

The best Jeeves and Wooster novel Saul Bellow never wrote


In Wake Up, Sir!, Jonathan Ames captures the Wodehouse idiom to perfection — and sets it on a strange new path

Athenian general Xenophon

Financial crises are nothing new in Greece — they go back at least to the Peloponnesian War


In The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece Josiah Ober finds that, for all their sophistication, the Ancient Greeks were useless economists

‘Working Boats from around the British Coast’: mural with mermaids and a dancing lobster by the visionary artist Alan Sorrell, commissioned for the Festival of Britain, 1951

Fishy women: the mermaid in folklore, art and literature


Sophia Kingshill’s complex cultural history includes sirens, selkies and some freakshow mermaid lookalikes

Has A.N. Wilson reached the last port of call on the tempestuous sea of faith?


Jonathan Aitken finds his guide to the Bible a noble endeavour and full of passion, despite a maddening mythical interlocutor

Dennis Potter, 1978 (Photo: Getty)

Dennis Potter: one of the last great masters of vituperation


Potter’s hardboiled, sarcastic wit was heroic — but beneath it lay a nostalgic yearning for an imaginary Eden, as revealed in The Art of Invective: Selected Non-fiction, 1953–94

‘Pleasures of a sea voyage’ from Three Men and a Bradshaw

Where are the green silk blinds of the once luxurious Metropolitan Line?


The Trains Now Departed by Michael Williams and Three Men and a Bradshaw by John George Freeman both recall a not-so-distant past when travelling in Britain was a positive pleasure

Robert Moses in 1952

The sadist who wrecked New York, and the last of the great biographers

Books feature

It is something of a mystery why the Bodley Head has decided to publish Robert Caro’s The Power Broker in Britain more than 40 years after the initial appearance in the US of this classic work — but better late… Read more


The boy who rebuilt the sun on earth


In The Boy Who Played with Fusion, Tom Clynes tells the extraordinary story of Taylor Wilson, the science genius who built a working nuclear fusion reactor aged 14

The Sex Pistols stole the introduction to ‘Pretty Vacant’ from Abba’s ‘SOS’ (Photo: Getty)

Copyright: the great rock’n’roll swindle


In One for the Money, Clinton Heylin reveals how musicians are constantly stealing songs from each other — and then suing for ownership

‘The Number of the Beast is 666’ by William Blake

The end of the world: an illustrated guide


In Picturing the Apocalypse, Anthony and Natasha O’Hear examine the magnificent art that the Book of Revelation has inspired over the centuries

American marines coming ashore at Guadalcanal, 1942 (Photo: Getty)

Hirohito, MacArthur and other villains


Francis Pike’s magnificent Hirohito’s War argues that misguided American policy in 1941 continues to reshape the Pacific theatre today

Derelict Detroit: You don’t have to live like this (Photo: Getty)

Wrangles over the Rust Belt


Benjamin Markovits’s novel You Don’t Have to Live Like This shows how a scheme to reclaim decayed Detroit unravels in kidnappings and vigilantism

Ecclestone and Mosley at Brands Hatch in 1978 — a double-act worthy of Ealing Studios

The fast, furious life of Max Mosley


Mosley’s autobiography ranges through Formula One, the Nazis, Labour politics, and an S&M orgy — to accusing a former Archbishop of Canterbury of ‘living off immoral earnings’

Henry Coxwell and James Glaisher in their balloon car, studying the moisture content of the atmosphere

The weather: a very British obsession


Brave Victorian eccentrics risked their lives and fortunes pioneering a reliable storm-warning system, as Peter Moore reveals in his gripping The Weather Experiment

Renata Adler, 1987 (Photo: Getty)

Pricking the pomp of American society


The wonderfully funny, acute Renata Adler is almost as good an essayist as a novelist, as her collected non-fiction After the Tall Timber reveals


The definitive literary guide to mixed martial arts


Kerry Handley’s riotously entertaining and perceptive Thrown makes something marvellous from the triumphs and disasters of fighters Sean Huffman and Erik Koch

Henrietta Bingham holds the whip hand with Stephen Tomlin at Ham Spray, home of Lytton Strachey and Dora Carrington

Good stories of bad Bloomsbury behaviour

Books feature

In March 1923 a large birthday party was held in a studio in Bloomsbury. It is often assumed that the eponymous Group was habitually glum or intense; but there were a lot of parties. The artists were Vanessa Bell and… Read more

Portrait generally thought to be of Ghenghis Khan

Was Genghis Khan the cruellest man who ever lived?


Frank McLynn’s latest biography is too lenient to the ‘Ruler of the Universe’, whose reign of terror was responsible for nearly 40 million deaths


From conspiracy to childhood secrets: a choice of recent crime fiction


A troubled marriage, global conspiracy, Swedish noir and the Mau-Mau in Kenya — from Renée Knight, David Shafer, Christoffer Carlsson and William Shaw

‘Jeddah from the sea’— sketch by Thomas Machell in one of his journals

A Victorian sailor is the new love of my life


In Deeper than Indigo, Jenny Balfour Paul confesses to having an out-of body experience with the 19th-century adventurer and indigo hand, Thomas Machell