Ursula, photographed by Cecil Beaton on the eve of the second world war

From Edwardian idyll to meetings with Nehru: the life of Lady Ursula D’Asbo


A review of The Girl with the Widow’s Peak, by Lady Ursula d’Abo, with a foreword by John Julius Norwich. A very English tale of 20th-century upper-class comings and goings

China's President Xi Jinping and Zambia's President Michael Sata

What are the Chinese up to in Africa?


A review of China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa, by Howard French. A revealing and colourful set of first-hand essays that seek to understand the Chinese takeover

Portrait of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, with his pet monkey, attributed to Jacob Huysmans

Thug, rapist, poetic visionary: the contradictory Earl of Rochester

Books feature

Despite being an earl, Rochester is very nearly a major poet. His poems and letters were torn up by a zealous mother after his death, bent on destroying anything obscene or scandalous. A good deal was lost, but a lot… Read more

Slaves planting cane cuttings in Antigua, 1823, by William Clark

Only tourists think of the Caribbean as a ‘paradise’


A review of Empire’s Crossroads: A History of the Caribbean from Columbus to the Present Day, by Carrie Gibson. A vivid and thought-provoking synthesis of the disparate histories of the islands of the West Indies

A meeting between the Vichy and Nazi chiefs, 1941 Photo: Popperfoto/Getty

The cold, remote plateau of Vichy France where good was done


A review of Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France, by Caroline Moorehead. Parallel to the squalid map of Vichy was a map of decency


Maigret's new clothes – this month's best new crime novel, published 1931


Plus: The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair? It's not a Great American Novel. But it is a decent thriller

Portrait of Dante by Domenico di Michelino

A divine guide to Dante


A review of Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity, by Prue Shaw. This companion to the life and work of the Italian genius will make you blink in wonder

Photo: Artpuppy/Getty

Having a moral compass just gets in the way of being smart


A review of Think Like a Freak: How to Think Smarter About Almost Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. The authors of Freakonomics want to teach you to think less like the kind of people who read books

‘He thought he could have made it as a visual artist — if only more people had liked his work.’ Above: John Arlott reading (1977) and Kathy and Jessy (1963)

The gentle intoxications of Laurie Lee

Secondary Feature

He was always lucky, and he knew it: lucky in the secure rural intimacy of the upbringing described in Cider with Rosie; in the love of some passionate, clever women, whose guidance and support get rather less than their due… Read more

J.K. Rowling Photo: Getty

J.K. Rowling is just too nice – and too lucky – to satirise publishing


As a result, Robert Galbraith's The Silkworm is a toothless and inept novel

The headquarters of Britain's MI6, London

You know something’s up when MI6 moves its head office to Croydon


A review of Inside Enemy, by Alan Judd. A thriller that is plausible, curiously old-fashioned and deceptively calm in its build-up – and one of Judd’s best


The Australian literary icon who fooled her family


A review of The House of Fiction: Leonard, Susan and Elizabeth Jolley: A Memoir, by Susan Swingler, ‘a story of sex, love, family secrets and deception’

Portrait of a young woman with a bible in her hand by Johannes Thopas, 1680–85

No special pleading needed for this disabled Dutch master


A review of Deaf, Dumb and Brilliant: Johannes Thopas, Master Draughtsman, by Rudi Ekkart. Thopas was an equal of his peers - his disability shouldn’t even come into it

Viv Albertine (left) on stage with The Slits Photo: Redferns

The punk who inspired a generation of British woman to pick up a guitar


A review of Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys, by Viv Albertine. A funny, rude, tender, and superbly written memoir

‘The Final Advance of the Guard’ by Nicolas Toussaint Charlet

An old soldier sees through the smoke of Waterloo

Books feature

There is a very nice story of a dinner for Waterloo veterans at which Alexandre Dumas — ‘Dum-ass,’ as the Antarctic explorer Taff Evans would have him — was for some reason present. I can’t remember now the exact wording… Read more


Hillary Clinton’s autobiography seems destined to join her husband’s - in a bin marked ‘Free’


A review of Hard Choices: A Memoir, by Hillary Rodham Clinton. The endless clichés and pseudo-details make her sound more reptilian than she probably is


Stephen King – return of the great storyteller


A review of Mr Mercedes, by Stephen King. We know to expect the unexpected; but when the unexpected happens, it’s not the unexpected we were expecting


The man who loathed emoticons - especially :)) as it reminded him of his double chin


A review of To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, by Joshua Ferris, a novel as engrossing as it is uproarious

Robert Capa in Picture Post, featuring his Spanish civil war photo-journalism, December 1938

The Spanish Civil War hotel that Capa, Hemingway and Gelhorn called home


A review of Hotel Florida, by Amanda Vaill. This sanctuary for war tourists, opportunists, dreamers, buccaneers and writers kept Republican hopes alive

‘Religieuses’ (from William and Suzue Curley’s Patisserie)

Recipe for a modern baker: first, move to Hoxton


But some of these books, blessedly, still have ideas you can whip up at short notice

Portrait of Jeanne Duval by Edouard Manet

The breasts that launched Les Fleurs du Mal


A review of Black Venus, by James MacManus. A cinematic take on Baudelaire’s relationship with his voluptuous Haitian mistress

Frank Keating with cricketer Ian Botham Photo: Getty

When Geoff Boycott was a DJ in a Sydney nightclub


A review of The Highlights, by Frank Keating. Keating's tales of what sports legends got up to off the field of play are priceless – and beautifully written

Linda Grant

Those weren't the days


A review of Upstairs at the Party, by Linda Grant, a story about the long-lost world of 1970s student life that doesn’t ever quite cohere

Aimé Tschiffely with Mancha and Gato. The strongest emotional bonds he formed on his epic journey were with his horses

A horse ride from Buenos Aires to New York? No problem!

Books feature

Aimé Tschiffely was what I have seen in other contexts called a ‘doublehard bastard’. In the middle of the 1920s, this Swiss-born schoolteacher at the age of 30 feared that he was getting stuck in a groove and that he… Read more

‘Jeanne arranged for a Marie Antoniette lookalike to linger coyly in the undergrowth in the park at Versailles’

The queen, the cardinal and the greatest con France ever saw


A review of How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette, the Stolen Diamonds and the Scandal that Shook the French Throne, by Jonathan Beckman. There’s verve and swagger a-plenty in this fascinating story

Passionate Reunion

Not quite romantic fiction, or literary fiction, or commercial fiction – but still quite good


A review of From a Distance, by Raffaella Barker. Falling in love and flying the nest in Cornwall and Norfolk

English economist John Maynard Keynes attends the United Nations International Monetary and Financial Conference at the Mount Washington Hotel in New Hampshire, 1944 Photo: Getty

The opéra bouffe that was the Bretton Woods conference


A review of The Summit, by Ed Conway. Despite the tantrums, logistical absurdities and interminable procedural wrangling, the conference that invented the IMF and World Bank included many moments of human greatness

‘Lorna Doone’s bower’. An illustration from R.D. Blackmore’s ‘Romance of Exmoor’, 1869

A pork-pie and Capri-Sun fuelled hike around England’s moors


A review of The Moor: Lives, Landscape, Literature, by William Atkins. English moorlands are not as bleak, isolated and unforgiving as you might think