Book review

Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy, writer and aesthetic philosopher Photo: Getty

The book that Boris should give to all seniors, along with their Freedom Passes

7 December 2013
The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Confession Leo Tolstoy, translated by Peter Carson

W.W. Norton, pp.224, £16.99, ISBN: 9780871404268

The Death of Ivan Ilyich is a story for the older reader. One might go so far as to suggest that local authorities should give ‘seniors’ a copy free with… Read more

Margaret Drabble at the offices of publisher McLelland Stewart Photo: Toronto Star via Getty

Margaret Drabble tries to lose the plot

30 November 2013
The Pure Gold Baby Margaret Drabble

Canongate, pp.304, £16.99, ISBN: 9780956868389

Halfway through her new novel, Margaret Drabble tells us of Anna, the pure gold baby of the title, ‘There was no story to her life, no plot.’ That statement is… Read more

Ann Patchett Photo: The Washington Post via Getty Images

Ann Patchett's new book will win you over, in spite of yourself

30 November 2013
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage Ann Patchett

Bloomsbury, pp.300, £16.99, ISBN: 9781408842393

Ann Patchett’s novels revel in the tightly constructed ecosystems imagined for their characters: an opera singer besieged among diplomats in the Orange Prize-winning Bel Canto; State of Wonder’s pharmacologist in… Read more

Elizabeth Taylor (left) chats with Pamela Hansford Johnson, 1954 Photo: Getty

Angel, by Elizabeth Taylor - review

30 November 2013
Angel The talented and beautiful Elizabeth Taylor (no, not the actress)

Virago, pp.336, £12.99, ISBN: 9781844089345

‘She wrote fiction?’ Even today, with the admirable ladies at Virago nearly finished reissuing her dozen novels, Elizabeth Taylor remains mostly unknown except to fellow novelists, literary journalists, worthier publishing… Read more

Fans, 1924, by Georges Barbier

A book on Art Deco that's a work of art in itself — but where's the Savoy, Claridge's and the Oxo Tower? 

30 November 2013
Art Deco Norbert Wolf

Prestel, pp.288, £60, ISBN: 9783791347646

Over the past 45 years, there have been two distinct and divergent approaches to Art Deco. One of them — which was mine when I wrote the first little book… Read more

Letters of Note includes letters from Elvis Presley to President Nixon Photo: Mondadori via Getty

'God has given me a new Turkish colleague called Mustapha Kunt...'

30 November 2013
To the Letter: A Journey Through a Vanishing World Simon Garfield

Canongate, pp.464, £16.99, ISBN: 9780857868589

Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving a Wider Audience Shaun Usher

Canongate, pp.384, £30, ISBN: 9781782112235

Under normal circumstances, Simon Garfield’s chatty and informative excursion into the history of letter-writing would be a book to recommend. In recent years this author has produced eloquent and witty… Read more

Oil on board, 1950

When Francis Davison made me judge — and burn — his art

30 November 2013
Francis Davison Andrew Lambirth

Sansom & Co, pp.160, £25, ISBN: 9781908326447

In 1983, Damien Hirst saw an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery of the collages of Francis Davison which ‘blew him away’. He spent the next two years trying to emulate… Read more

Desmond Fitzgerald, the 29th Knight of Glin, alongside his French wife Louise de la Falaise, 1966 Photo: Getty

The Last Knight, by Robert O’Byrne - review

30 November 2013
The Last Knight: A Tribute to Desmond Fitzgerald, 29th Knight of Glin Robert O’Byrne

Lilliput Press, pp.224, £15, ISBN: 9781843514084

I have to declare an interest: for many years the Knight and I were the closest of friends until a sequence of his unpredictable and volcanic rages drove us apart.… Read more

Left to right: Eleanor Roosevelt, King George VI, Sara Roosevelt (the President’s mother), Queen Elizabeth and FDR at Hyde Park on Hudson

A book that's inspired by a movie (for a change)

30 November 2013
Hot Dogs and Cocktails: When FDR Met George VI at Hyde Park on Hudson Peter Conradi

Alma, pp.300, £20, ISBN: 9781846882944

Books become films every day of the week; more rarely does someone feel inspired to write a book after seeing a film. Peter Conradi’s Hot Dogs And Cocktails tells the… Read more

JFK at work at his desk in the Oval Office

The wounded Kennedy – and the people who gave him strength

23 November 2013
Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House Robert Dallek

HarperCollins, pp.492, £20, ISBN: 9780062065841

The Letters of John F. Kennedy Martin W. Sandler

Bloomsbury, pp.384, £20, ISBN: 9781408830451

Ten years ago, a determined historian transformed our picture of John F. Kennedy. Robert Dallek had finally got his hands on the president’s medical records and discovered just how big… Read more

The London terminus of the North Western Railyway in the 1860s, showing a busy scene in front of the Euston Arch, which was demolished a century later

The men who demolished Victorian Britain

23 November 2013
Anti-Ugly: Excursions in English Architecture and Design Gavin Stamp

Aurum, pp.260, £16.99, ISBN: 9781781311233

Lost Victorian Britain: How the 20th Century Destroyed the 19th Century’s Architectural Masterpieces Gavin Stamp

Aurum, pp.192, £12.99, ISBN: 9781781310182

Anyone with a passing interest in old British buildings must get angry at the horrors inflicted on our town centres over the last half-century or so. Gavin Stamp is wonderfully,… Read more

American beat poet Allen Ginsberg Photo: Getty

American Smoke, by Iain Sinclair - review

23 November 2013
American Smoke Iain Sinclair

Hamish Hamilton, pp.309, £20, ISBN: 9780241145272

If you have read Iain Sinclair’s books you will know that he is a stylist with a love of language. You will also know that he has opinions to express… Read more


The best cookery books of 2013

23 November 2013

Nigel Slater’s books lead the field in cookery book design, but his latest, Eat: The Little Book of Fast Food (Fourth Estate, £26, Spectator Bookshop, £20), is the most beautiful… Read more


The vengeance of Alex Ferguson

23 November 2013
My Autobiography Alex Ferguson

Hodder & Stoughton, pp.402, £25, ISBN: 9780340919392

For a quarter of a century Sir Alex Ferguson bestrode football’s narrow world like a colossus. Like his predecessor knight-manager, Sir Matt Busby, he ensured that it was England’s third… Read more

Top of the happiness scale: Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims (English School, 15th century)

Look! Shakespeare! Wow! George Eliot! Criminy! Jane Austen!

16 November 2013
A Little History of Literature John Sutherland

Yale, pp.275, £14.99, ISBN: 9780300186857

Among the precursors to this breezy little book are, in form, the likes of The Story of Art, Our Island Story and A Brief History of Time and, in content,… Read more

Leonard Bernstein in 1945

Did Leonard Bernstein do too much to be a great artist?

16 November 2013
The Leonard Bernstein Letters Nigel Simeone

Yale, pp.606, £25, ISBN: 9780300179095

Nigel Simeone’s title for his edition of Leonard Bernstein’s correspondence rings compellingly, novellistically, through the force of the definite article, as in The Aspern Papers, or The Scarlet Letter. The… Read more

Thirty Years on2

Rebus is good, but not as sharp as he once was

16 November 2013
Saints of the Shadow Bible Ian Rankin

Orion, pp.427, £18.99, ISBN: 9781409144755

Cig 1 Auld Reekie . . . Edinburgh . . . brewers’ town, stinking of beer, whisky, tweeness, gentility, hypocrisy, corruption . . . DS Rebus awoke with a start,… Read more

The Menin Gate Memorial at 
Ypres lists 54,389 missing. 
Ware was determined that every individual casualty should be honoured

The Briton whose achievement equals that of the Pharaohs'

16 November 2013
Empires of the Dead: How One Man’s Vision led to the Creation of WWI’s War Graves David Crane

Collins, pp.304, £16.99, ISBN: 9780007456659

We constantly need to be reminded that the consequence of war is death. In the case of the first world war it led to death and destruction on an inconceivably… Read more

Strenght in numbers

How many positions are there in the Kamasutra?

16 November 2013
Rogerson’s Book of Numbers Barnaby Rogerson

Profile, pp.277, £9.99, ISBN: 97811781250990

Numbers, as every mathematician knows, do odd things. But they’re never odder than in the human context. Ever since we crept out of the swamps, we’ve been making numbers lucky,… Read more

(Photo: Hal Jeayes)

Through It All I’ve Always Laughed, by Count Arthur Strong - review

16 November 2013
Through It All I’ve Always Laughed Count Arthur Strong

Faber, pp.328, £16.99, ISBN: 9780571303380

Fans of Count Arthur Strong (and yes I know he’s so Marmite you could spread him on a cheese sandwich) love the failed performer because he does what we all… Read more


Blonde, beautiful — and desperate to survive in Nazi France

16 November 2013
Priscilla: The Hidden Life of an Englishwoman in Occupied France Nicholas Shakespeare

Harvill Secker, pp.425, £18.99, ISBN: 9781846554834

Around 200 Englishwomen lived through the German Occupation of Paris. Nicholas Shakespeare’s aunt Priscilla was one. Men in the street stopped to gaze at this blonde with the careless allure… Read more

David Bowie with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in 1973 (Photo: Keystone/Getty)

One Leg Too Few may be one biography too many

16 November 2013
One Leg Too Few William Cook

Preface, pp.704, £25, ISBN: 978184809333

It’s no joke, writing about comedians. Their work is funny, their lives are not. Rightly honouring the former while accurately relaying the disasters of the latter is a challenge few… Read more

Two girls

Why do the British love cryptic crosswords?

16 November 2013

Everyone loves an anniversary and the crossword world — if there is such a thing — has been waiting a long time for this one. December is the 100th anniversary… Read more

The Milad Tower in Tehran

A place of paranoia, secrecy, corruption, hypocrisy and guilt

16 November 2013
The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay: An American Family in Iran Hooman Majd

Allen Lane, pp.272, £20, ISBN: 9781846144905

‘Is he a good writer? Is he pro-regime?’ an Iranian journalist in London once asked me of Hooman Majd. Majd is an Iranian-American journalist who was born in Tehran in… Read more

The cover of a popular late-19th-century edition of Mary Shelley’s novel. Frankenstein confronts the monster he has created

How the Romantics ruined lives

16 November 2013
The Vampyre Family: A Tale of Passion, Envy and the Curse of Byron Andrew McConnell Stott

Canongate, pp.434, £25, ISBN: 9781847678713

It is perhaps the most celebrated house-party in the history of literary tittle-tattle: a two-house-party to be precise. Byron and his doctor/companion/whipping-boy John Polidori in the grand Villa Diodati overlooking… Read more