The elephant boy and the princess: Elif Shafak’s latest saga, set in medieval Istanbul, is a real page-turner


A review of The Architect’s Apprentice by the prize-winning Turkish author promises an enthralling read from start to finish

An idealised view of a cotton plantation beside the Mississippi, c. 1880

Dark, satanic mills: when it comes to washing capitalism’s dirty laundry, nothing bloodies the water like cotton


A review of Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert reveals that while Britain abolished the slave trade in the early 19th century, 50 years later its cotton industry still depended on American slave-labour

Filippino Lippi’s fresco of St Peter being freed from prison by an angel

Unlocking Florence’s answer to the Sistine chapel


In a review of Painted Glories by Nicholas Eckstein, Honor Clerk finds Florence’s intimate Brancacci chapel more thrilling than any blockbuster exhibition

Lady Antonia Fraser, 1969 Photo: Getty

Dancing with T.S. Eliot — and other romances: the girlhood of Antonia Fraser


Cressida Connolly’s reckons that to be alone in a room reading Antonia Fraser’s My History is the perfect way to start the new year

Composer Franz Schubert Photo: Getty

This Winter Journey goes far beyond expectation


Ian Bostridge's guide to Schubert's Winterreise will open your eyes not only to the song cycle but to the age and place that produced it

Henry VIII, Edward VI, Charles I, George VI and George V

The good, the bad, the false and fanatical: five centuries of British monarchs

Books feature

It is a strange paradox of our egalitarian age that a progressive publisher like Penguin should commission — at considerable expense, since the series editor Simon Winder has netted some top academic authors — brief lives of all 44 English,… Read more


Fact, fiction or farce? The American comic novel is becoming increasingly hard to define


In a novel as convoluted as Ben Lerner’s 10:04 it’s difficult to know when to laugh, according to Ben Hamilton’s review

Author Kirsty Gunn Photo: Getty

Woman’s realm: the men in Kirsty Gunn’s short stories do not impress, either as husbands or fathers


For a marvellous unravelling of women’s minds read Infidelities by Kirsty Gunn, suggests Sophia Waugh in a review of this latest volume of short stories

Benjamin Robert Haydon’s portrait of William Wordsworth

The table talk of the poets: dining with Keats, Yeats, Blunt and Lamb, Flint, Pound and Moore


In a review of The Immortal Evening by Stanley Plumly and Poets and the Peacock Dinner by Lucy McDiarmid, Richard Davenport-Hines relives two feasts of literary legend

Author Mark Steyn

Mark Steyn: a hairy, successful version of myself, says Julie Burchill


In a review of The (Un)Documented Mark Steyn, Julie Burchill sympathises with the author’s profound distrust of Islamism and the risk it poses to peace, progress and piano bars

John Steinbeck at the time of writing Travels with Charley

Doing the Steinbeck trail: Geert Mak meets too many others who’ve had the same idea


A review of In America by Geert Mak suggests that John Steinbeck’s experiences during his famous journey across America were largely invented

Answers to ‘Spot the Booker Prize Winners’


1. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2002) 2. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (1998) 3. The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch (1978) 4. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (1992) 5. Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1975)… Read more

‘The Lion Queen’

Roll up, roll up! A history of the circus from Ancient Egypt to the present

Books feature

Linda Simon’s compact and colourful circus history is, in many ways, a jewel of a publication. It is hard to say anything new about the circus because almost impossible to uncover quotes and stories that cannot be found in other… Read more

Scenes from the garden of The Hope

The quirkiest garden book Roy Strong has read in years


Meet the eccentric aristocrat who gardens in diamonds, with a gin in one hand and a chainsaw in the other, in a review of Digging with the Duchess by Sam Llewellyn

Seamus Heaney in 1996

Seamus Heaney: no shuffling or cutting — just turning over aces


Craig Raine pays homage to the genius of Seamus Heaney in a review of his New Selected Poems

Richard Ford Photo: Getty

After the trilogy (and the hurricane): the likable return of Frank Bascombe


A review of Let Me be Frank With You by Richard Ford reveals the 68-year-old Frank Bascombe happy in his retirement despite the proximity of his ex-wife


The lie detector and the Lasso of Truth: a history of Wonder Woman


A review of The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore reveals that the creator of the cartoon heroine also invented the polygraph and maintained a curious ménage-à-trois

From ‘The Temptation of Eve’: detail of glass from Ely Cathedral designed by Pugin, 1858

Cambridge, showcase for modernism (and how costly it is to fix)


In a review of the new Pevsner Cambridgeshire, Simon Heffer admires the city at its heart that doubles as an ancient university and a showpiece of modern architecture

King Nebuchadnezzar leaving Tyre Photo: Getty

A treasure-trove of grisly Arab tales may appeal more to an Isis fighter than your average British reader


In a review of the medieval Arab Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange, one of the greatest marvels is that the manuscript survived at all

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