Books

HMS Agamemnon lays the first Atlantic telegraph cable between Trinity Bay and Valentia Island

The 1850s: a dizzying decade of boom and bust

26 March 2016 9:00 am

We can all identify decades in which the world moved forward. Wars are not entirely negative experiences: the social and…

On the road to Woodstock. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Big names and broken souls: storm clouds gather over Woodstock’s summer of love

26 March 2016 9:00 am

In 1963, when the bloom was still on the rose, Bob Dylan described Woodstock as a place where ‘we stop…

Rubens’ Medusa. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Hot Milk’s heroine has snaky curls and a basilisk stare

26 March 2016 9:00 am

With ‘both arms stretched out like a starfish, her long hair floating like seaweed at the sides of her body’,…

Barbed wire

Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen reminds me of Nabokov

26 March 2016 9:00 am

Eileen is an accomplished, disturbing and creepily funny first novel by Ottessa Moshfegh, the latest darling of the Paris Review,…

Self-portrait at the spinet by Lavinia Fontana, 1578 and ‘Birthday’ by Dorothea Tanning, 1942

Sexy selfies through the ages

26 March 2016 9:00 am

At nearly eight foot high and five foot wide, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard’s portrait of herself with two of her students is…

Marina Litvinenko: a tireless campaigner for justice for her late husband

The Litvinenko case: Mayfair murder most foul

26 March 2016 9:00 am

On 1 November 2006 Alexander Litvinenko, ex-KGB officer and by then a British citizen, met two of his former colleagues,…

Parma in fog.

Modern Italy’s heart of darkness

26 March 2016 9:00 am

Valerio Varesi, the Turin-born crime writer, displays a typically Italian interest (I would say) in conspiracy theory. The Italian term…

A filament erupting from the surface of the sun. Image: NASA/SDO/AIA, NASA/STEREO, SOHO (ESA & NASA)

New light on the Sun

26 March 2016 9:00 am

The Sun is a star that many astronomers assume is only worth studying because of its averageness; it’s middle-aged and…

segrave

How to Measure a Cow — and escape the shadows of the past

26 March 2016 9:00 am

Margaret Forster, who died on 8 February, excelled at writing about complex relationships between women. Even old friends, she demonstrated,…

The death mask of Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha hanging on display at the National Museum of History in Tirana. Photo: GENT SHKULLAKU/AFP/Getty Images

A Girl in Exile: Ismail Kadare’s novel is full of absence

26 March 2016 9:00 am

My last review for The Spectator was of Julian Barnes’s biographical novel about Shostakovitch. A Girl in Exile also depicts…

St Paul (detail) by the Byzantine Master,St Sophia Cathedral, Kiev

Following Jesus’s followers

26 March 2016 9:00 am

In his new book Apostle Tom Bissell has an advantage over writers who go looking for Jesus: he can start…

Aeneas and the shade of Dido by Bartolomeo Pinelli.

Gifts from beyond the grave — from Virgil and Seamus Heaney

19 March 2016 9:00 am

Andrew Motion finds a touching parallel between Virgil’s unfinished Aeneid and Seamus Heaney’s barely finished translation of Book VI

‘Lumps of speculation cast down from the computer of a time-starved architect’

The social cleansing of London — and other capital crimes

19 March 2016 9:00 am

You have to get nearly halfway through this book before it starts to show some life. Until that point, as…

Republican troops surrender during the Spanish Civil War (Photo: Getty)

Franco’s bloody finale

19 March 2016 9:00 am

One afternoon in the early 1990s, an elderly gentleman from Alicante told me of the tragedy that had occurred at…

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Love like Salt: a memoir of music, motherhood and magical thinking

19 March 2016 9:00 am

Helen Stevenson’s daughter Clara has cystic fibrosis. Love Like Salt is an account of living with the disease, but it…

EdL-yet-again!

What makes the white working class angry? Twits like Hsiao-Hung Pai

19 March 2016 9:00 am

This is a quite remarkable book. Badly written, devoid of anything even vaguely approaching a methodology, patronising, hideously mistaken on…

The coronation of Henry IV by the Master of the Harley Froissart

Henry IV: unsightly usurper and megalomaniac

19 March 2016 9:00 am

Poor old Henry IV: labelled (probably unfairly) as a leper, but accurately as a usurper, he has been one of…

Heroin or cocaine drug line

Hitting rock bottom in LA

19 March 2016 9:00 am

The title of this book tells you a lot. Jack Sutherland, who grew up in London and Los Angeles, worked…

(Photo: Getty)

A senile Putin becomes a parody of his own parody

19 March 2016 9:00 am

The decrepitude of old age is a piteous sight and subject. In his second book Michael Honig — a doctor-turned-novelist…

Did criticism kill John Keats? Sketch by Joseph Severn of the poet in his last illness

Aphorisms and the arts: from Aristotle to Oscar Wilde

19 March 2016 9:00 am

The author of this jam-packed treasure trove has been a film critic at the New York Times since 2000 and…

Ford Madox Brown celebrates 17th-century advances in science in his painting ‘William Crabtree watches the Transit of Venus in 1639’

A.C. Grayling reduces history to a game of quidditch

12 March 2016 9:00 am

The 17th century scores highly  — especially England’s part in it — in A.C. Grayling’s ‘points system’ of history. If only the study of the past were that simple, says Ruth Scurr

Author Karl Ove Knausgaard (Photo: Getty)

Karl Ove Knausgaard describes nothing happening — wonderfully

12 March 2016 9:00 am

It is hard to explain the contents of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s vast series My Struggle because not much happens. Or…

Chapter 1 written on old typewriter.

First novel choice: the American connection

12 March 2016 9:00 am

At the beginning of this year I underwent a complete literary detox: an absolute, cold-turkey abstention from cutting-edge fiction of…

The Green Man on a roof boss in Norwich cathedral

The Green Man's journey from Nazi to sweetcorn salesman

12 March 2016 9:00 am

The other day I visited a psychic medium in Croydon, south-east London. Mavis Grimstick (not quite her real name) boasted…

Author China Mieville (Photo: Getty)

Is China Miéville becoming a bit too inscrutable?

12 March 2016 9:00 am

China Miéville’s work is invariably clever, inevitably dense and usually interwoven with hard-left political and social concerns, but its author…