‘Study of a Velvet Crab’ c. 1870, presented by John Ruskin to the Ruskin School of Drawing (University of Oxford) in 1875

How seriously should we take Ruskin as an artist?


A review of John Ruskin: Artist and Observer, by Christopher Newall. This catalogue says Ruskin was ‘among the greatest of English painters and draftsman’; some of the comparisons it contains suggest otherwise


Who’s raiding the fridge?


There is a problem with describing what happens in Nagasaki: impossible to reveal much of the plot without flagging up serious spoiler alerts. The story demands an innocent eye; the gaining of knowledge should come page by page, and not… Read more


John Crace digested – twice


A review of The 21st Century Digested, by John Crace. If you think this is too much, try 131 of them in a row...

The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria (Le Petit Journal, 12 July 1914)

Gavrilo Princip – history's ultimate teenage tearaway


A review of The Trigger, by Tim Butcher. A triumphant and original account of the man who shot the Archduke

Bouillon in Belgium

Half-poetry, half-prose, half-Belgian – and not half bad


A review of Other People’s Countries: A Journey into Memory, by Patrick McGuinness. A dreamy excursion into the backstory of the writer’s family

John Gielgud as Hamlet:  the first young poet-prince

Bitchiness gets in the way of the Gielgoodies


A review of In Search of Gielgud: A Biographer’s Tale, by Jonathan Croall. Croall’s quarry is rival critic Sheridan Morley not the great thesp


What would Raymond Chandler do?


A review of The Kept Girl, A Mystery of 1929 Los Angeles, by Kim Cooper. Cooper goes in search of Marlowe and finds a Californian Maigret


It’s not nice being used and abused


A review of Thursday’s Children, by Nicci French. This promising psychological thriller ultimately cares too little about its characters – and its readers

PHOTO: Mitja Hinderks

A cult of inspired amateurishness that seized the 60s

Secondary Feature

The Exploding Galaxy flashed brightly in the black-and-white world that was just coming to an end as I was growing up. When I first met them, my opinion of art was fixed firmly against what I thought of as amateur.… Read more

Edward St Aubyn Photo: Getty

Shooting prize-dispensing fish in literary barrels


A review of Lost for Words, by Edward St Aubyn. This satire of the literary award scene recalls Tom Sharpe at his most extravagantly grotesque


To be topp at lat., throw your Cambridge Latin Course away


A review of Gwynne’s Latin, by N.M. Gwynne. A tutor that applies 1950s rigour to the learning of Latin

Rosie Lee anyone?

The book that brought out the Lady Bracknell in me


A review of Language!: 500 Years of the Vulgar Tongue, by Jonathon Green. Julie Burchill thinks you can have too much of a bad thing

No worries: John Updike in his late fifties, on the beach at Swampscott, Mass

Up close and personal

Books feature

What should a writer write about? The question, so conducive to writer’s block, is made more acute when the writer is evidently well-balanced, free of trauma and historically secure. It is made still more urgent when that writer is solipsistic… Read more

The Long Library at Blenheim Palace, converted into a dormitory for the boys of Malvern school in 1940

What most imperilled country houses in the 20th century was taxes and death duties, not requisition


A review of Requisitioned: The British Country House in the Second World War by John Martin Robinson


Recent crime fiction

Secondary Feature

Louise Welsh rarely repeats herself, a quality to celebrate in a crime novelist. Her latest novel, A Lovely Way to Burn (John Murray, £12.99, Spectator Bookshop, £10.99) is a dystopian thriller set in an all-too-plausible version of contemporary London. Three… Read more

Campbell’s Platform, a private unstaffed halt on the Welsh narrow guage Ffestiniog railway

The train stations that don’t really exist


A review of Tiny Stations, by Dixe Wills – a travelogue that takes in the 38 remaining request stops on the British railways


An escape from New South Wales


Shame and the Captives, by Thomas Keneally, is not a perfect novel, but this fictional account of escapee Japanese POWs is gripping nonetheless


The gambler’s daily grind


A review of The Ballad of a Small Player, by Lawrence Osborne. An insight into a gambler’s life of soulless grind

‘At the Cottage Door’, by Myles Birket Foster (1825–99)

Beauty in beastly surroundings


In The Gardens of the British Working Class, Margaret Willes follows the determined struggle of the poor to grow flowers

Churchill reading in his library at Chartwell

Churchill was as mad as a badger. We should all be thankful

Books feature

Land sakes! Another book about Winston Churchill? Really? Give us a break, the average reader may think. Actually though, as title and subtitle suggest, this isn’t just another biographical study. It’s at once odder and more conventional than that. More… Read more

Edgar Degas - Dancer slipping on her shoe (1874)

Ladies' hats were his waterlillies - the obsessive brilliance of Edgar Degas


A review of Edgar Degas: Drawings and Pastels, by Christopher Lloyd. Are great draughtsmen rarer than great painters? Here is one

(Photo: Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty)

A Mughal Disneyland and a ripping yarn


The Smoke is Rising, by Mahesh Rao, and The Strangler Vine, by M.J. Carter. A funny, angry view of contemporary India, and a Boy's Own picture of one of its past tipping points

Coco Chanel (Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty)

From Göring to Hemingway, via Coco Chanel – the dark glamour of the Paris Ritz at war


A review of The Hotel on Place Vendôme, by Tilar J. Mazzeo. A prism on the German occupation that gathers all of the old Paris icons under one roof

English explorers on expedition in the Sudan, 1860-63

Sudan was always an invented country. Maybe we should invent it again


A review of A Poisonous Thorn in Our Hearts, by James Copnall. This account of the secession of South Sudan makes good on its claim to portray one of the world's most interesting places

Marcus Berkmann

Roger Mortimer writes again


Dearest Jane..., by Jane Torday and Roger Mortimer, shows that there's still life in one of publishing's least expected success stories

Charlotte Moore 2

Start with a torpedo, and see where you go from there


A review of The Temporary Gentleman, by Sebastian Barry. The compulsive story of a lovable failure

Andrew Taylor

A thriller that breaks down the publishing office door


Writers' Block, by Judith Flanders, is a wicked insider satire as well as an enjoyable caper

Detail of St Christopher, 15th century, Church of St Botolph, Slapton, Northants

Wonders written on the wall


A review of Medieval Wall Paintings, by Roger Rosewell. An invaluable guide to the church art we've lost – and what survived