Lead book review

Magic lantern slides from the mid-19th century

The importance of being frivolous

18 February 2017 9:00 am

Sam Leith is delighted by the idea that having fun is the key to human progress

Rod Taylor works his invention in a film version of HG. Wells’s The Time Machine

Cheating death by time travel

11 February 2017 9:00 am

The concept of time travel is surprisingly recent, says Jenny Colgan. Before H.G. Wells, it barely existed

Maipure Indians, inhabitants of the Upper Orinoco, grill the limbs of a dead enemy (Italian engraving, 1781)

Eating people is rare (and very unhealthy)

4 February 2017 9:00 am

The subject has been popularised from Homer to the Brothers Grimm, but, mercifully, human cannibalism has always been rare, says Philip Hensher

An inmate of Auschwitz in the early 1940s

A singular horror

28 January 2017 9:00 am

How did the Holocaust happen? What lessons can be learned from it? Philippe Sands wonders whether anything similar could happen again

Why is the world crumbling in anger and terror?

21 January 2017 9:00 am

America’s global hegemony from 1944 onwards has led to a world now riven by hatred and terror, says Jonathan Steinberg

A chain of Harvard Observatory employees, photographed in 1918

The Harvard housewives who measured the heavens

14 January 2017 9:00 am

Marek Kukula tells how, in the late 19th century, Harvard Observatory began to rely on a number of women – ranging from graduates to housemaids – to analyse an explosion of scientific data

Dinah Craik, author of John Halifax, Gentleman, and a genuinely enjoyable writer

Women writers who deserve to be forgotten

7 January 2017 9:00 am

When resurrecting forgotten writers of the past, make sure they’re not neglected for good reason, says Philip Hensher

Günter Grass, who died last year, photographed in 1981

Günter Grass: from enfant terrible to Grand Old Man

31 December 2016 9:00 am

Günter Grass was a mischief-maker, who set out to eclipse his equally brilliant fellow writers, says Rachel Seiffert. But his early novels – The Tin Drum, especially – fully deserved the limelight

There is life out there, insists the astrobiologist Jon Willis — though it won’t be turning up in flying saucers. There’ll be a meeting of microbes rather than a meeting of minds

Why are astronomers so desperate to believe in aliens?

10 December 2016 9:00 am

Why are astronomers so keen to believe in extraterrestrial life? Is it just a story they want to hear, wonders Tom Holland

Happy days: Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in the late 1970s, photographed in the garden of Tversky’s house in Stanford, California

The great intellectual bromance of the last century — between Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky

3 December 2016 9:00 am

Two brilliant psychologists in the 1970s changed our understanding about the way we think and the choices we make – with momentous consequences, says Steven Poole

‘The Griffin’ by Martin Schongauer (15th-century engraving)

The map-maker’s task may never be done

26 November 2016 9:00 am

The map-maker’s task may never be done, says Alex Burghart. Seven new islands have appeared in the past decade alone

A further selection of the best and most overrated books of 2016, chosen by some of our regular reviewers

19 November 2016 9:00 am

A further selection of the best and most overrated books of 2016,  chosen by some of our regular contributors

The best and worst books of 2016, chosen by some of our regular contributors

12 November 2016 9:00 am

A selection of the best and most overrated books of 2016, chosen by some of our regular contributors

Zadie Smith’s latest dance to the music of time

5 November 2016 9:00 am

Zadie Smith explores themes of identity, freedom, rhythm and time with much skill and grace, says Ruth Scurr

Portrait of Jonathan Swift by Charles Jervas

Fierce indignation

29 October 2016 9:00 am

Dean Swift’s biting satire is as necessary today as it was 300 years ago, according to Daniel Swift (no relation)

Flaubert — the writer’s writer par excellence — is a real challenge to write about

22 October 2016 9:00 am

If only Flaubert had spent less time writing — and sitting in his summerhouse fuming at man’s stupidity — his life wouldn’t seem such a trudge, says Graham Robb

Being adored by Middle England as cosy and harmless drives Alan Bennett mad

Alan Bennett: one of the sharpest, funniest writers in the English language

15 October 2016 9:00 am

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst reveals that, far from being a cuddly, mild-mannered teddy bear, our national treasure has sharp claws — and a gimlet eye

Angela Carter: a seminal novelist who changed writing and the world

8 October 2016 9:00 am

Philip Hensher celebrates the breathtaking imagination — and dottiness — of the seminal writer Angela Carter and deeply mourns her early death

Portrait of a youthful Patrick Leigh Fermor in Cretan costume, by Adrian Daintrey (oil on canvas), Chatsworth House, Derbyshire

Dashing for the book: A lifetime of letters from Paddy Leigh Fermor

1 October 2016 9:00 am

Justin Marozzi says the letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor are a 20th-century treasure-trove and a feast for admirers of the great man

More than just a pretty face: Elizabeth Jane Howard in 1968 with husband Kingsley Amis – the biggest leech of all

Elizabeth Jane Howard and the men who let her down

24 September 2016 9:00 am

D.J. Taylor welcomes a sympathetic and comprehensive new biography of the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard

Will there be free will in a brave new bioengineered world?

3 September 2016 9:00 am

The idea that death may prove a mere ‘technical problem’ in the future just makes me want to hole up in front of Netflix and eat crisps, says Steven Poole

Conceptual image of Lactobacillus acidolphus that occurs naturally in the gastrointestinal tract and mouth

Want to feel better? Be kind to your bugs

27 August 2016 9:00 am

There are more bacteria in your gut than there are stars in our galaxy. Ed Yong’s book explaining their possibilities is as wondrous as a sacred text, says Kate Womersley

Illuminated manuscript c.1335 depicting seven fiery red seraphim, the highest order of angelic beings

The power and glory of red

20 August 2016 9:00 am

The colour contains the greatest contradictions, the richest play on nuances and goes further back than any other. Paul Keegan follows the red thread through history

‘I met more kindness in Trieste than I ever met anywhere else’, said James Joyce (left), referring to his friend — and lookalike — Italo Svevo

The fairy-tale friendship of James Joyce and Italo Svevo

13 August 2016 9:00 am

Philip Hensher celebrates one of the happiest, if most surprising, of literary friendships — the one between James Joyce and Italo Svevo that began in Trieste before the first world war

George Plimpton training with the Detroit Lions at Cranbrook Academy, Bloomfield Hills, MI (March 1963)

A gentleman of letters competes with the players

6 August 2016 9:00 am

George Plimpton threw himself into the game and turned sports journalism into an art. Ben Markovits welcomes the reissue of six of his classics