Ginger Baker plays the drums at Cream’s first live performance at the Windsor Festival, 31 July 1966

The poor drummer is music’s goalkeeper — you only notice him if he screws up


No wonder drummers seem to bang on a bit sometimes, says Andrew Petrie: it’s the only way they can register their existence

'Love, Sex and Other Foreign Policy Goals' author Jesse  Armstrong (Photo: Getty)

A choice of first novels: the war in Bosnia, a modern Irish council estate and the private life of Friedrich Engels


First novels usually turn out to be fourth or fifth attempts, says Mario Reading. But this latest batch is a cut above average


Another bloody Sunday: when Kent blew up in 1916

Books feature

The story is an interesting one. Gunpowder had to be manufactured. In 1916 one of the places dedicated to the dangerous and difficult task was remote Kent. A fire broke out and led to a series of huge explosions. Deaths… Read more

Hitler with the Goebbels family in the late 1930s

Ménage-à-trois with Hitler: the Goebbels’ marriage was a bit crowded


According to Peter Longerich’s biography, the Nazi party’s propaganda minister and evil genius only once fell out with his Führer — over a woman

Matthew Crawford's 'World Beyond Your Head' looks at how we pay attention in a world of escalating distractions. (Photo: Toronto Star via Getty)

Technology — and that’s not just smartphones — is dangerously isolating us, says Melanie McDonagh


Divorced from other people and the real world, we are all becoming increasingly dehumanising, according to Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head


A sombre Irish family saga — that glows in the dark


Anne Enright’s The Green Road, a novel about escaping, returning and death, is beautifully executed says Ruth Scurr

The romance of cycling is suggested in this advertisement for Columbia Bicycles, with its quotation from ‘Lochinvar’

Bicycling is more than a means of transport: it’s a religion — that I peddle, says Harry Mount


Harry Mount is exhilarated by cycling — but finds Paul Smethurst’s history of the bicycle disappointingly stodgy

Alan Turing (Photo: Getty)

Turing, Snow White and the poisoned apple


Another gloomy rendering of his life (and death) might disappoint Alan Turing’s shade, says Sinclair McKay

Moura Budberg with two of her lovers, H.G. Wells and Maxim Gorky

The spy who loved (a lot): Moura Budberg’s life reads like a thriller — and may have been more interesting than she was herself


Elusive in life, the capricious Moura Budberg has eluded her latest biographers too, says Clare Mulley

Oscar Wilde (Photo: Getty)

Oscar Wilde and the marvellous boy


Oscar Wilde had a fixation with Thomas Chatterton’s early promise and lonely death — which eerily mirrored his own, says Richard Davenport-Hines

Family photo of Saul Bellow

How Saul Bellow made his life the stuff of great fiction

Books feature

Saul Bellow died in 2005. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976. The first installment of Zachary Leader’s exemplary, scrupulous, dispassionate, detailed, well-read, enthralling biography runs to over 800 pages and takes us only as far as 1964.… Read more

British officers in a modern motor car drive against the current of horsemen of the Arab army entering Damascus on 1 October 1918. Anglo-Arab policies were equally at cross purposes following the fall of the city

The Ottoman empire: the last great casualty of the first world war


According to Eugene Rogan’s The Fall of the Ottomans, the collapse of the millennium-old empire triggered most of the problems that plague the Middle East today


Racism, paedophilia and an inverted Snow White


Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child offers disappointingly flimsy answers to some seriously important questions, says Sarah Churchwell

American teenagers in the 1940s: part of the Silent Generation — so called for conforming to the norm and focusing on careers rather than activism

It isn’t cool to be adult now: the twenties are the new teens


We can stop worrying about all those twentysomethings still living with their parents, according to Steven Mintz’s The Prime of Life. In an age of profound generational turmoil, they’ll probably do best in the end

'The Cuckoo Crying before Dawn’ (1943) is Edward’s largest known watercolour.

Naked except for a blindfold: how Edward and Stephani spent the second world war in Oxfordshire


Chris Fletcher wonders whether the couple who took over Kelmscott Manor during the 1940s noticed there was a war going on at all: they were too blitzed on sex, booze and Benzedrine to care

John Knox (Photo: Getty)

John Knox: alive, well and running the Scottish TV debates


Jane Dawson’s biography of John Knox suggests that the strident leader of the Scottish Reformation may have had a sensitive side after all, says Eric Anderson

Battle of Waterloo (Photo: Getty)

Matthew Hervey rests his horse before the next cavalry charge


It’s peacetime and it’s snowing in the 12th instalment of Allan Mallinson’s tales of a cavalry officer: time for our hero to pause and review his career

Self-portrait as Falstaff. Sher finds drawing a form of therapy and infinitely preferable to acting

Antony Sher: a surprisingly reluctant actor


According to Antony Sher’s Year of the Fat Knight — his account of playing Falstaff with the RSC — acting is a conveyor-belt job and not half as much fun as drawing or writing

Left to right: Piers Paul Read, Derek Marlowe, Peter Bergman and Tom Stoppard, members of Literarisches Colloquium

Before we were famous: Tom Stoppard describes sharing a bedsit in Sixties London with Derek Marlowe


Derek was straight out of Scott Fitzgerald, recalls Tom Stoppard, and his idea for a thriller about a double agent ordered to kill himself was absolutely brilliant

Dublin’s docks were shelled from the Liffey by the British admiralty gunboat, the Helga, during the Easter Rising

Ireland’s getting ready to forget the real Easter Rising

Books feature

As Lytton Strachey remarked of the Victorian era, writing the history of the Irish revolution is inhibited by the fact that we know too much about it. As the centenary of the 1916 Rising approaches, an avalanche of books, articles and… Read more

St George as depicted in The Golden Legend

St George: patron saint of England, patronised by all


Not much is known about St George, says Christopher Howse, reviewing Samantha Riches’s biography, except that he had many lookalikes (including Islamic) — and his dragon was a bit of an afterthought

Snooker World Champion Steve Davis (Photo: Getty)

What did Steve Davis do to succeed at snooker? Everything his dad told him


Steve Davis was so boring Spitting Image nicknamed him Interesting — giving him the title for his third autobiography to date

Fatal attraction: a four-year-old picks her favourite handgun at the NRA’s annual meeting in Milwaukee, 2006

An inalienable right to bear arms in the States: the enduring mystique of the Second Amendment


Americans have an almost mystical belief that guns are synonymous with freedom, says Michael Moorcock, reviewing Gun Baby Gun. Every time there’s a call for stricter arms control, the sales of guns rocket

(Photo: Getty)

Monopoly is fascinating – as long as you don’t try to play it


I lose the will to live if forced to play Monopoly. But the story of the game’s invention, as related in Mary Pillon’s The Monopolists — now there’s a thing...

Bigger mouths and longer legs—all the better to bite you with, and run away

Bigger, better bedbugs bite back with a vengeance


However hard we try to eradicate bedbugs, they constantly outwit us, according to Brooke Borel’s Infested — and from Horace to Henry Miller they infest literature too

Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas (Photo: Getty)

Social comedy Peruvian-style


Two innocent men face kidnapping, death threats and haunting by the devil — and The Discreet Hero is Llosa-lite — a mere jeu d’esprit

Gore Vidal (Photo: Getty)

Brothels, hashish, a poisonous scorpion, a cursed necklace: all excuses for macho antics in the Valley of the Kings


Gore Vidal’s deservedly forgotten pulp thriller, now resurrected after 60 years, is so bad it’s good

Charity Storeroom

Working is good for you — even if it’s unpaid, in a charity shop — or writing book reviews for The Spectator


You don’t want to end up like those sour-faced children of the idle rich who invariably go to the bad, says Julie Burchill, reviewing All Day Long, by Joanna Biggs