The undiscovered country: ‘Germany? Where is it?’, asked Goethe and Schiller in a collaborative poem. ‘I don’t know where to find such a place.’ Above: ‘Goethe in the Roman Campagna’, 1787, by Johann Tischbein, currently on show at the British Museum

German history is uniquely awful: that’s what makes it so engrossing


A review of Germany by Neil MacGregor suggests that Germans have always been federalists and that the Holy Roman Empire which lasted 1,000 years was a forerunner of today’s EU


This ex-priest’s history of the gospels could unsettle the most faithful churchgoer


Damian Thompson urges us all to read the fascinating and provocative Christ Actually: The Son of God for a Secular Age by James Carroll

Bridge on the 3,798-metre-high Baroghil Pass, leading from Badakhshan in Afghanistan to northern Pakistan

The powerful steppe empires of Central Asia were bound together by silken thread


A review of Christoph Baumer’s History of Central Asia explores some of the loneliest and loveliest places on earth

Jacques-Louis David, emboldened by Madame Vigée Le Brun, included a smiling display of teeth in his portrait of Madame de Sériziat (1795)

How the smile came to Paris (briefly)


A review of The Smile Revolution in 18th-century Paris by Colin Jones shows how advances in French dentistry spawned a whole new genre in portrait painting

Fair Maid Of Kent

All you’ll ever need to know about the history of England in one volume


A review of Robert Tombs’s history of the English salutes a stupendous achievement


Juliet Townsend (1941-2014)

Secondary Feature

A new literary editor looks among his acquaintance for potential reviewers. There was no one I approached more confidently in 1985 than Juliet Townsend (who died on 29 November). She had been a friend for 25 years and run a… Read more

Writer and illustrator, Tove Jansson with her popular Moomin Photo:Kenneth Jonasson/PA

Were the Moomins ruthlessly upper class? Fifties Finland thought so, according to a biography of Tove Jansson


A review of Tove Jansson: Work and Love by Tuula Karjalainen reveals that the Moomins’ creator dreamt of living with her mother like two bears in a den

Illustration by Arthur Rackham from Grimm's Fairy Tale, Fitcher's Bird. Published late 19th Century Photo: Getty

Grimms’ fairy tales: the hardcore version


A review of Grimms’ Original Folk and Fairy Tales suggests that the first version lacked the best bits

Enough, comrades, it’s time to give Transnistria a break

Transnistria: a breakaway republic of a breakaway republic


A review of Transnistria by Rory MacLean provides an insight into a country that is recognised by no other country

An unholy cross between Big Ben and Las Vegas, the Makkah Royal Clock Tower stands on an estimated 400 sites of cultural and historical importance

Mecca: the greatest paradox of the Islamic world

Books feature

Mecca is the greatest paradox of the Islamic world. Home to the Kaaba, a pagan-era cube of black granite said to have been built by Abraham and his son Ishmael, it is the lodestar to which 1.6 billion Muslims direct… Read more

Wine tasting in 19th-century Austria

Not a barrel of laughs: a history of hogsheads, kegs and puncheons


A review of Wood, Whiskey and Wine by Henry H. Work, shows how the humble barrel has transformed our lives


Your immune system’s war isn’t Saving Private Ryan — it’s Homeland


A review of Why Aren’t We Dead Yet? by Idan Ben-Barak describes the complicated germ warfare being conducted daily within us


What Hanif Kureishi learned from being robbed by his accountant


In A Theft: My Con Man, the author Hanif Kureishi describes how his trusted friend and accountant swindled him out of a fortune

Patrick Modiano after winning the Goncourt Literary Prize for "Rue des Boutiques obscures", 1978 Photo: Getty

The horrors of Occupation: Three novellas by Patrick Modiano


In a review of Suspended Sentences by this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Paris and the Occupation of France take centre-stage


Mapping the invisible: an unorthodox atlas of Great Britain


A review of Britannia Obscura by Joanna Parker reveals a Britain — mostly subterranean — we scarcely knew existed

Anne Frank Photo: Getty

What makes mankind behave so atrociously? Ian Buruma and Joanna Bourke investigate


Two books tackle the subject of violence in strikingly different ways

Deng Xiaoping Photo: Getty

Deng Xiaoping: Mao’s devoted follower


A review of Michael Dillon’s biography of Deng Xiaoping reveals the Chinese leader’s ruthlessness in the great famine and the Tiananmen Square massacre

Even Cilla’s biographer admits that critics were justified in knocking the ‘prurience ‘of Blind Date

The tat-world of dystopia that celebrities construct for themselves: five of the year’s top biographies


Cilla Black, Joey Essex, Roger Moore, Dermot O’Leary and Luis Suárez come under Christopher Howse’s scrutiny

Eugene O’Neill with his last wife, the actress Carlotta Monterey, who safeguarded him, and enabled him to write his later plays, though friends and family considered her his jailer

Eugene O’Neill: the dark genius of American theatre

Books feature

George Bernard Shaw called him a ‘Yankee Shakespeare peopling his isle with Calibans’. He was dubbed ‘a fighting Tolstoy’ and ‘the great American blues man of the theatre’. Before he was 35, Eugene O’Neill had emerged as the first real… Read more

Liverpool manager Bill Shankly (centre) with the Charity Shield after a penalty shoot out victory over Leeds United at Wembley Photo: Getty

How did English football get so ugly?


In a review of David Goldblatt’s The Game of Our Lives, television sponsorship, pampered star players and the vanity of oligarchs are blamed for the current sad state of English football

Rock 'n' Roll pianist Jerry Lee Lewis Photo: Getty

All guts and groin: how Jerry Lee Lewis rose, fell and carried on going


A review of Rick Bragg’s Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story reveals the bad boy of rock’n’roll feared he was destined for hell

The Parent Trap, familiar from various film versions, is a story by Eric Kastner, now republished with Walter Trier’s illustrations by Pushkin Books

The best children’s books of the year

Secondary Feature

If it’s all right with you, I’d like to launch a campaign please. Right here. You may be wanting me to cut to the chase and just recommend some children’s books, but bear with me. I’m on the case. My… Read more

Composer, conductor and pianist Leonard Bernstein Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty

Leonard Bernstein: a bad case of important-itis


A review of Allen Shawn’s life of this maverick reveals him as an object of both admiration and suspicion in the music world


A mouth-watering selection: 2014’s best eight cookery books


Rose Prince gives us a feast for the eye and the palate in her round-up of the year’s cookery books


A brief, witty look at the coming of the e-book


A review of Dear Reader explains how its author, Paul Fournel, has tried to future-proof his creation against the ravages of readers