Students at the Wartburg festival in October 1817, celebrating the tercentenary of the Reformation and the fourth anniversary of the Battle of Leipzig, cause panic in the courts of Europe

How a clumsy drummer started the 1848 revolutions


A review of Phantom Terror: The Threat of Revolution and the Repression of Liberty, 1789 – 1848, by Adam Zamoyski. This masterful history shows how secret policing arrested the development Europe

Philip Marsden gets close to the impenetrable secrets of Tintagel (left) and Bodmin Moor (right), among many other mysterious sites

The bonkers (and not-so-bonkers) theories of what the pre-historic people of Cornwall believed


A review of Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of the Place, by Philip Marsden. A fascinating book about the human endeavour to make meaning of life

'Jack' in his St John’s Wood studio, his portrait of Luisa Casati on the easel

The Etonian peer who became an assistant to a Mexican commie


A review of The Red Earl: The Extraordinary Life of the 16th Earl of Huntingdon, by Selina Hastings. A daughter's biography characterized by a beguiling mix of tenderness and puzzlement

English novelist Margaret Forster, 1964 Photo: Getty

A woman who wears her homes like garments


A review of My Life in Houses, by Margaret Forster. It’s a book that feels like it’s being told over a cup of tea

Director Nora Ephron Photo: Getty

Why everyone wants what Nora Ephron was having


A review of The Most of Nora Ephron, by Nora Ephron. A greatest hits album that includes several masterpieces of comic construction


Detective drama Dostoevsky-style


A review of The Buddha’s Return, by Gaito Gazdanov, translated by Bryan Karentnyk. The existentialist fiction of this 1920s Russian émigré speaks to our time

Grade II-listed Phoenix prefabs in Moseley, Birmingham

Why prefabs really were fab


A review of Prefab Homes, by Elisabeth Blanchet. In 1946 you had to be very posh to have a house with an inside toilet

The theatrical Constance Markewicz founded the military boy scouts, who would later staff the IRA

When Irish nationalism meant sexual adventure


A review of Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890 – 1923, by R.F. Foster. There will be many accounts of the Easter Rising but few will be as enjoyable as this

Ezra Pound in the early 1920s

Ezra Pound – the fascist years


A review of Ezra Pound: Poet, Volume II: The Epic Years, by A. David Moody. This was also the period in which the controversial poet talked himself into madness

A still from 'A Few Days in the Life of I, I, Oblomov', based on the novel Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov Photo: Getty

Tolstoy’s favourite novel is a guide to being idle


A review of Oblomov, by Ivan Goncharov, translated by Stephen Pearl. But like many apparent idlers, Oblomov isn’t really lazy – he just spends a lot of time in bed


Is it boring being the god of the sea?


Ces Nooteboom asks lots of presumptious questions like this in his Letters to Poseidon, translated by Laura Watkinson – but he’s more than a match for the trident-bearing earth-shaker

Two small children dying together in the gutter in the Chinese famine of 1946

How Hitler's dreams came true in 1946

Books feature

I should begin this review, in the spirit of full disclosure, by admitting that I know the author very slightly. Something close to 14 years ago, we were on the same press freebie: a slap-up lunch in Paris courtesy of… Read more

Sir Hugh Walpole

An epic performance that brings a lost novelist back to life


A review of The Herries Chronicles, by Hugh Walpole, narrated by Peter Joyce. Walpole’s dramatic chronicle of the Herries family is brilliantly recreated


To be astonished by nature, look no further than Claxton


A review of Claxton: Field Notes from a Small Planet, by Mark Cocker. This journal could do with some editing, though

Edwardian London

Imagine Eastenders directed by David Lynch


A review of Printer’s Devil Court, by Susan Hill. No gothic element is spared in this possible rival to The Woman in Black

Shackleton’s ship the Nimrod in the ice at McMurdo Sound

Flawed, unproductive and heroic: the real Ernest Shackleton


A review of Shackleton, by Michael Smith. It’s a classic story and Smith tells it with passion and commitment – especially when he tames his clauses

16th century French soldiers

A jaunty romp of rape and pillage through the 16th century


A review of The Brethren, by Robert Merle, translated by T. Jefferson Kline. Even when this hit French historical novel is boring, there’s a dividend

The young T.E. Lawrence in Arab dress

Secretive, arrogant and reckless: the young T.E. Lawrence began life as he meant to go on


A review of Young Lawrence: A Portrait of the Legend as a Young Man, by Anthony Sattin. But don't expect this book to make sense of this enigmatic figure


Wave goodbye to the weight-gaining, drunk-driving Inspector Wallander


A review of An event in Autumn, by Henning Mankell. The detective's become more famous than the creator, so the creator's killing him off


Hercule Poirot returns – and yes, he’s as irritating as ever


A review of The Monogram Murders: A new Hercule Poirot Mystery, by Sophie Hannah (as Agatha Christie). It’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job of resurrecting Poirot

The remains of the column of St Simeon Stylites at Qalat Sem’an, Syria.

The Guru of Late Antiquity speaks again


A review of The World of Late Antiquity AD 150-750, by Peter Brown. Brown called them essays but each chapter is in fact an inspired riff on a theme

Author James Ellroy Photo: Lisa Stafford

James Ellroy’s latest attempt to unseat the Great American Novel


A review of Perfidia, by James Ellroy. There are big moral questions and grand themes in Ellroy's new crime novel but ultimately it’s all too inflated

Burying the dead of Waterloo

Narrative history at its best – and bloodiest


A review of Waterloo: The Aftermath, by Paul O’Keeffe. This highly recommended history is a salutary reminder that most of the actual fighting was left to our allies


The five most depressing words in the English language? ‘And now, You and Yours’


A review of For the Love of Radio 4: An Unofficial Companion, by Caroline Hodgson. Bet you didn’t know Arthur Scargill and Cilla Black both chose the Mona Lisa as their Desert Island Discs luxury

What, in the end, was it all for? In a French caricature of 1814, Napoleon precariously spans Madrid and Moscow and begins to topple. Fontainebleau — scene of his abdication — is depicted centre-stage

If you want to admire Napoleon, it helps not to have met Gaddafi

Books feature

Forty-odd years ago, in the early phase of the Gaddafi regime, I had the slightly mixed fortune to attend the new Benghazi University’s first degree ceremony. The university had actually been closed for months and there were no degrees to… Read more

Patrick Leigh Fermor as a Major in the parachute regiment

Paddy Leigh Fermor: warrior, writer, lady-killer and Nazi-nabber


A review of Abducting a General, by Patrick Leigh Fermor, and Kidnap in Crete, by Rick Stroud. An exhilarating account of Paddy’s hair-raising kidnapping of a Nazi general that was ultimately of dubious strategic value