Captain Polina Osipenko (co-pilot and commander of the plane), deputy to the supreme soviet of the USSR Valentina Grizodubova (navigator), and senior lieutenant Marina Raskova Photo: Getty

As deadly as the male: female Russian pilots of the second world war were femmes fatales in every sense


In a review of Defending the Motherland by Lyuba Vinogradova, Charlotte Hobson celebrates the courage and stamina of Stalin’s ‘night witches’

The importance of illustration: Babar et le Professeur Grifaton by Laurent de Brunhoff

Under Harry Potter’s spell: most children’s books have become shamelessly derivative, says Melanie McDonagh


Melanie McDonagh enjoys browsing Daniel Hahn’s new Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature, but wishes it had pictures


Ebola personified: a cackling villain with a master plan of destruction


Anthony Cummins finds breezy irony in Amir Tag Elsir’s disturbing novel about the first outbreak of Ebola 40 years ago

King John at Runnymede: at odds with his barons, he came to rely on mercenaries whom he couldn’t afford

King John was not a good man: two distinguished historians echo A.A. Milne


Allan Massie finds that King John’s reputation goes from bad to worse - and that Richard III seems a paragon by comparison


Why is a fish like a bicycle? Pedro Friedeberg’s letters to Duncan Fallowell may provide a clue at last

Secondary Feature

The year 2015 has been designated one of Anglo-Mexican amity, with celebrations planned in both countries by both governments. But it looks as though one name will be missing from the list: Pedro Friedeberg’s. ‘Who?’ you may ask. Well, in… Read more

RAMC stretcher-bearers from the South Eastern Mounted Brigade enter the Field Ambulance dressing station at Y Ravine. Picture courtesy of Stephen Chambers

The other trenches: the Dardanelles, 100 years on

Books feature

In August 1915, in his tent at GHQ on the Aegean island of Imbros, General Sir Ian Hamilton, commander-in-chief of the Gallipoli expedition, woke from a dream in which someone was attempting to drown him in the Hellespont. ‘For hours… Read more

Rex Whistler’s portrait of Edith Olivier on a day bed at Daye House, Wilton, 1942

When Rex met Edith: a meeting of minds in interwar England


Anna Thomasson’s A Curious Friendship details the artist Rex Whistler’s shared fantasy land with the much older novelist Edith Olivier

Disturbed patients in a London lunatic asylum, 1838. From 'Sketches in London' by James Grant. Photo: Getty Images

Back to Bedlam: Patrick Skene Catling on the book that makes madness visible


It turns out that mental illness isn’t a new invention. Andrew Scull’s Madness in Civilization reviewed

Author DJ Taylor Photo: Getty

The secret life of the short story


They’re modest in scale, but can conceal a tendency to megalomania. Reviews of D.J. Taylor’s Wrote For Luck and The Boy Who Could See Death by Salley Vickers

Couple in heated argument

Melissa Kite comes out fighting. Again


Emily Rhodes reviews The Girl Who Couldn’t Stop Arguing, which our columnist assures us is not an autobiographical work

A John Craske painting from the Sylvia Townsend Warner Collection

The self-taught maritime artist who transcends ‘naïve’ cliché


Honor Clerk reviews Julia Blackburn’s delightful Threads: The Delicate Life of John Craske

‘Ass And The Angel’. A child kisses a donkey at the seaside, circa 1935. Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images

Brian Sewell does some donkey work: how Britain’s best-known art critic put his ass on the line


Ysenda Maxtone Graham reviews The White Umbrella, a charming tale of a man who adopts a mistreated donkey

Giotto’s ‘The Kiss of Judas’ in the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua

Justin Cartwright on redheads, anti-Semitism and the betrayal of Christ


Reviews of Judas by Peter Stanford and The True Herod by Geza Vermes, which turn an unflinching light on the villains of the Bible


Wolves in the Lake District get everyone’s pheromones going


A review of The Wolf Border finds Sarah Hall’s wolves far sexier than her humans

Charles Dodgson

Stolen kisses and naked girls: there is much to wonder about in Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland

Books feature

‘A vision of innocence was not always the same as an innocent vision,’ remarks Robert Douglas-Fairhurst. He is referring to Alice’s discovery in Wonderland that ‘ “I say what I mean” is not the same as “I mean what I… Read more

From Tom Brown’s School Days, illustrated by Thomas Hughes

How the public schools survived


In a review of The Old Boys by David Turner, Eric Anderson reflects on how comprehensives created a golden age for Britain's independent schools


A lost American classic to rival anything by Faulkner


John Ehle's The Landbreakers contains one of the most frightening passages in American literature

Leonid Yakobson in Leningrad c. 1926

Leonid Yakobson: the greatest ballet genius you’ve never heard of


A review of Janice Ross’s Like a Bomb Going Off brings the neglected choreographer Leonid Yakobson firmly back centre stage

Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, Leslie Hore-Belisha , Secretary of State for War and Lord Hankey. Front Row, Lord Halifax, Foreign Secretary, Sir John Simon, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister, Sir Samuel Hoare, Home Secretary and Lord Chakfield, Co-ordination of Defence Photo: Getty

The war within: some of Churchill’s toughest challenges came from his own jealous colleagues


As if fighting the Nazis wasn’t enough, Winston Churchill faced fierce dissension in his own ranks, as a review of Jonathan Scheer’s Minister’s of War reminds us

'Warning! Someone is listening' Photo: Getty

How we double-crossed the Nazis in the Middle East is so ludicrous it must be true


Alan Judd recalls how an inventive MI6 agent continued  to bamboozle the Germans from prison in a review of Double Cross in Cairo by Nigel West

‘The Giantess’ by Leonora Carrington, currently on show at Tate Liverpool

A mad menage — and menagerie - in Mexico: the life of Leonora Carrington in fictional form


The crazy life of the rich young girl looking for a surrealist adventure makes for a sadly unexciting novel, says Cressida Connolly

Lesley Blanch in a bar in Menton in the south of France, in 1961Lesley Blanch in a bar in Menton in the south of France, in 1961

Lesley Blanch: like a gilded cupid trailing clouds of glory


Lesley Blanch was incapable of writing a bad or boring sentence, says Philip Ziegler, reviewing On the Wilder Shores of Love

Money making schemes in Sierra Leone

Things fall apart in Denis Johnson’s latest novel of madness and anarchy in Sierra Leone


Denis Johnson’s splendidly unreliable spy-narrator in The Laughing Monsters makes for an equally unpredictable, uproarious plot

Miranda July Photo: Getty

Miranda July may be a film director, performance artist, sculptor and designer — but she is no novelist


In a review of The First Bad Man by Miranda July Robert Collins enters a surreal world of sex and love and loneliness

Sir Michael Barber Photo: Getty
Although Keynes hated his appearance, he was much painted by the Bloomsbury Group, including by Roger Fry (above)

John Maynard Keyes: an abundance of talent that has aroused jealousy and suspicion ever since


In a review of Universal Man by Richard Davenport-Hines, Matthew Walther finds the great economist practically perfect in every way

William Hogarth’s ‘Night’, in his series ‘Four Times of the Day’ (1736), provides a glimpse of the anarchy and squalor of London’s nocturnal streets

Dickens’s dark side: walking at night helped ease his conscience at killing off characters

Books feature

In England, walking about at night was a crime for a very long time. William the Conqueror ordained that a bell should be rung at 8 p.m., at which point Londoners were supposed to put their fires and candles out… Read more

The Babies Castle, a branch of Dr Barnardo’s at Hawkhurst, Kent in 1934

Love child or bastard: the lottery of being born on the wrong side of the blanket


In the Family Way by Jane Robinson comprises over 100 heartbreaking personal accounts of illegitimacy in the 20th century