Books

A Russian barber cuts off the beard of an Old Believer. In 1705, as part of his ruthless campaign of modernisation, Peter the Great imposed a tax on beards of up to 100 roubles

Why do men grow beards?

27 February 2016 9:00 am

The ocean that Christopher Oldstone-Moore has set out to chart is as broad as it is shallow: what it has…

Robert Lowell c. 1940

Love, Robert Lowell and poetic licence

27 February 2016 9:00 am

The conceit of this book — the author’s third on Robert Lowell — is strong, although its execution is less…

Groucho Marx (Photo: Getty)

When Groucho Marx lectured T.S. Eliot

27 February 2016 9:00 am

Groucho Marx was delighted when he heard that the script for one of his old Vaudeville routines was being reprinted…

Harpooning a Greenland whale. (Image: Getty)

High drama on the high seas

27 February 2016 9:00 am

Ian McGuire’s second novel is an exercise in extremes: extremes of suffering, violence, environment, language and character. It tells the…

Benjamin Franklin in London, with the bust of Isaac Newton on his desk

Benjamin Franklin: from man about town to man on the run

27 February 2016 9:00 am

Just who was Benjamin Franklin? Apart, that is, from journalist, statesman, diplomat, founding father of the United States, inventor of…

Phil Lynott performs with Thin Lizzy (Photo: Getty)

Phil Lynott, from Dublin teenager to rock'n'roll burnout

27 February 2016 9:00 am

It’s often said that there are only seven basic plots in literature. When it comes to biographies of rock stars…

Webb

The watchers and the watched: Patrick Flanery's I Am No One

27 February 2016 9:00 am

‘First and last I was, and always would be, an American,’ Jeremy O’Keefe, the professor narrator of Patrick Flanery’s new…

Happy early days: Erika and Klaus in 1927

Was Klaus Mann all Thomas Mann's fault?

27 February 2016 9:00 am

Thomas Mann, despite strong homosexual emotions, had six children. The two eldest, Erika and Klaus, born in 1905 and 1906…

The sacrifice of Iphigenia: Agamemnon’s crime was ‘impious’, according to Lucretius

What did the ancient Greeks believe?

27 February 2016 9:00 am

It is a curious fact that the modern Hebrew for ‘atheist’, Tim Whitmarsh notes in passing, is apikoros. The word…

Madness of war

How not to tell a soldier’s story

27 February 2016 9:00 am

Attempts by soldiers themselves to describe to us our 21st-century wars have come, so far, in a few recognisable varieties:…

‘The upper part of the cascade at Hafod’ by John ‘Warwick’ Smith, 1793

How to view the view

20 February 2016 9:00 am

It’s not all picnics and cowslips. You need sense as well as sensibility to appreciate a landscape, says Mary Keen

City Destroyed by Tsunami

All washed up: Birmingham after the apocalypse

20 February 2016 9:00 am

The dystopian novel in which a Ballardian deluge or viral illness transforms planet Earth has become something of a sub-genre,…

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Pretentiousness isn’t such a crime

20 February 2016 9:00 am

Aversion to pretentiousness was probably an English trait before Dr Johnson famously refuted Bishop Berkeley’s arguments for the immateriality of…

Jeremy Corbyn: authenticity in spades

What’s next for Comrade Corbyn?

20 February 2016 9:00 am

‘Ah, Jeremy,’ remarked Tony Blair at a smart dinner party in Islington not long before he became prime minister, ‘he…

The death of General Gordon by George W. Joy

Why the British make a virtue of defeat

20 February 2016 9:00 am

When Henry Worsley died last month attempting the first solo, unaided expedition across the Antarctic, he was 30 miles short…

Author Graham Swift (Photo: Getty)

A fairytale return for Graham Swift

20 February 2016 9:00 am

The opening of Graham Swift’s new novel clearly signals his intent. ‘Once upon a time’ tells us that this will…

Refugees return to Berlin after World War II (Photo: Getty)

Marlene Dietrich, George Orwell and the rebirth of a nation

20 February 2016 9:00 am

The purpose of Lara Feigel’s book is to describe the ‘political mission of reconciliation and restoration’ in the devastated cities…

Jhumpa Lahiri (Photo: Getty)

Jhumpa Lahiri's new tongue

20 February 2016 9:00 am

Imagine you’re an unknown young writer whose first collection of stories wins the Pulitzer prize. Your first novel is filmed,…

Man with dog at the sunrise

Coming of age in New York

20 February 2016 9:00 am

I read this, Meg Rosoff’s first novel for adults (though her previous fiction, aimed at teenagers, is widely enjoyed by…

An otter’s metabolism is so high that you’d have to eat 88 Big Macs a day to match it

Charles Foster: ‘I need to be more of a badger’

20 February 2016 9:00 am

Being a Beast is an impassioned and proselytising work of philosophy based on a spectacular approach to nature writing. That…

17th- and 18th-century buttons from John Taylor’s Birmingham workshop

In grandmother’s treasure-chest

13 February 2016 9:00 am

Juliet Nicolson examines women’s lives and changing fashions through a rich hoard of buttons for all occasions

Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) by William MacGillivray

Enraptured by raptors

13 February 2016 9:00 am

The fewer birds there are, the more books about them, particularly of the literary kind. Helen MacDonald’s H is for…

Joan Bakewell, 1966 (Photo: Getty)

Joan Bakewell: on socks, fridge magnets, teddy bears and such stuff

13 February 2016 9:00 am

I don’t know if this counts as name-dropping, but I recently interviewed a boyhood friend of Elvis Presley’s in Tupelo,…

Alone

Inside the mind of a molester

13 February 2016 9:00 am

This isn’t a book to read before lights out. It’s about a mentally ill man whose mother exiles him from…

Children in the bidonville du Chemin du Cornillon, Saint-Denis, 1963. (From Luc Sante’s The Other Paris)

Paris: a beautiful, damned city

13 February 2016 9:00 am

The much-lamented journalist and bon viveur Sam White, late of the rue du Bac, The Spectator and the Evening Standard,…