Book review

In it together? Matthew d'Ancona's book on the coalition is a huge letdown, says Peter Oborne

5 October 2013
In It Together Matthew d’Ancona

Penguin, pp.432, £25, ISBN: 9780670919932

There are two ways of being a political journalist. One is to stay on the outside and try to avoid being compromised by too much contact with politicians. This approach… Read more

Robert Southey with his daughters was considered  the most responsible of the Lake Poets.

Anorexia, addiction, child-swapping — the Lake Poets would have alarmed social services

5 October 2013
The Poets’ Daughters: Dora Wordsworth and Sara Coleridge Katie Waldegrave

Hutchinson, pp.416, £25, ISBN: 9780091931124

The last time the general reader was inveigled into the domestic intensities of the Wordsworth circle was by Frances Wilson in The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth. She engaged delicately with… Read more

Stephen King isn't as scary as he used to be, but 'Doctor Sleep' is still a cracker

5 October 2013
Doctor Sleep Stephen King

Hodder, pp.485, £19.99, ISBN: 9781476727653

Though alcohol withdrawal is potentially fatal, booze has none of the media-confected glitz of heroin (imagine Will Self boasting of a Baileys Bristol Cream addiction). The 17th-century word for the… Read more

Licensed to feel: The new James Bond fusses over furnishings and sprinkles talc

5 October 2013
Solo Wiliam Boyd

Cape, pp.336, £18.99, ISBN: 9780224097475

First, an appalling admission: I have never read any of Ian Fleming’s Bond books. Nor have I read any of anybody else’s, the number of which seems to grow with… Read more

Making It Happen, by Iain Martin - review

5 October 2013
Making It Happen Iain Martin

Simon and Schuster, pp.344, £20, ISBN: 9781471113543

Fred Goodwin’s descent from golden boy of British banking to ‘pariah of the decade’ would be the stuff of tragedy if the former Royal Bank of Scotland chief were not… Read more

Ruin near Kelso, Mojave Desert, California

Walking in Ruins, by Geoff Nicholson - review

5 October 2013

Geoff Nicholson is the Maharajah of Melancholy. The quality was there in his novels, it was there in his non-fiction book The Lost Art of Walking, and it’s there in… Read more

Portrait of the author
 Colette’s ‘L’Entrave’ in her flat in Paris, by André Dignimont

Colette’s France, by Jane Gilmour - review

28 September 2013
Colette’s France: Her Lives and her Loves Jane Gilmour

Hardie Grant Books, pp.532, £20, ISBN: 9781742705354

Monstrous innocence’ was the ruling quality that Colette claimed in both her life and books. Protesting her artless authenticity, she was sly in devising her newspaper celebrity and ruthless in… Read more

Mary Evans picture library

Music at Midnight, by John Drury - review

28 September 2013
Music at Midnight John Drury

Allen Lane, pp.416, £25, ISBN: 9781846142482

When John Drury, himself an Anglican divine, told James Fenton (the son of a canon of Christ Church) that he was writing about George Herbert, Fenton replied with gnomic brio… Read more

Monsieur le Commandant, by Romain Slocombe - review

28 September 2013
Monsieur le Commandant: A Wartime Confession Romain Slocombe

Gallic Books, pp.208, £8.99, ISBN: 9781908313508

There can be few characters in modern fiction more unpleasant than Paul-Jean Husson, the narrator in Romain Slocombe’s Monsieur le Commandant. Indeed, he is at times too nasty. If this… Read more

Six Bad Poets, by Christopher Reid - review

28 September 2013
Six Bad Poets Christopher Reid

Faber, pp.87, £12.99, ISBN: 9780571304035

Is poetry in good enough health to be made fun of in this way? The irony is that this long, funny poem describing the incestuous peccadilloes of contemporary poetry’s social… Read more

Move Along, Please, by Mark Mason - review

28 September 2013
Move Along, Please Mark Mason

Random House, pp.311, £12.99, ISBN: 9781847947109

Mrs Thatcher was widely believed to have said that ‘any man over the age of 26 who finds himself on a bus can count himself a failure in life’. In… Read more

One Night in Winter, by Simon Sebag Montefiore - review

28 September 2013
One Night in Winter Simon Sebag Montefiore

Random House, pp.480, £16.99, ISBN: 9781780891088

Simon Sebag Montefiore’s One Night in Winter begins in the hours immediately following the solemn victory parade that marked the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany — probably the high… Read more

After their daring feat in Washington, the Royal Navy bombarded Fort McHenry
 at Baltimore in November 1812, but failed to take it

When Britain Burned the White House, by Peter Snow - review

28 September 2013
When Britain Burned the White House: The 1814 Invasion of Washington Peter Snow

John Murray, pp.320, £25, ISBN: 9781848546110

Peter Snow explains that he decided to look into this extraordinary story when he realised how few people knew about it, and was inspired to write a book by the… Read more

Derek Jacobi in the title role of Becket at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, 1991

As Luck Would Have It, by Derek Jacobi - review

28 September 2013
As Luck Would Have It Derek Jacobi as told to Garry O’Connor

HarperCollins, pp.320, £20, ISBN: 9780007458875

Alan Bennett once overheard an old lady say, ‘I think a knighthood was wasted on Derek Jacobi,’ and I know what she means. It’s strange how he has always been… Read more

Did the Spice Girls really know what they 'really, really' wanted? Image: Getty

Do women want what they say they want?

28 September 2013
What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire Daniel Bergner

Canongate, pp.224, £10.99, ISBN: 9781782112563

What do women want? You might have thought the Wife of Bath had got this one sorted, but Daniel Bergner has brought science to bear on the perennial question. And… Read more

Britney Spears doesn't have time to sit down and write songs (Picture: Getty)

Britain's best one-liners, from Oxford's 2013 edition

21 September 2013

Modest about our national pride — and inordinately proud of our national modesty. —Ian Hislop I always invest in companies an idiot could run, because one day one will. —Warren… Read more

Don Bachardy poses beside his portrait of Christopher Isherwood, Santa Monica, 2010

To 'Flufftail' from 'Pinkpaws': The Animals is only good for celebrity-spotting

21 September 2013
The Animals: Love Letters Between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy Katherine Bucknell

Chatto, pp.481, £25, ISBN: 97870571241378

There is a fine old tradition of distinguished literary men addressing their loved ones by animal-world pet names. Evelyn Waugh saluted Laura Herbert, the woman who became his second wife,… Read more

A Punch caricature of Wilkie Collins, emphasising his sensationalism

Wilkie Collins by Andrew Lycett - review

21 September 2013
Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation Andrew Lycett

Hutchinson, pp.522, £20, ISBN: 9780091937096

In the outrageous 2010 press hounding of the innocent schoolteacher Christopher Jefferies over the murder of his young female tenant (of which a neighbour, Vincent Tabak, was later convicted and… Read more

The Tribes of Israel reunite round the Ark of the Covenant in the Sinai desert after the exodus from Egypt

(German School, 
17th century)

The Story of the Jews, by Simon Schama - review

21 September 2013
The Story of the Jews, Volume I: Finding the Words, 1000 BCE-1492 CE Simon Schama

Bodley Head, pp.496, £25, ISBN: 9781847921321

The recorder of early Jewish history has two sources of evidence. One is the Bible. Its centrality was brought home to me by David Ben-Gurion when I went to see… Read more

Isaiah Berlin (left) and Isaac Deutscher

Isaac & Isaiah, by David Caute - review

21 September 2013
Isaac & Isaiah David Caute

Yale, pp.335, £25, ISBN: 9780300192094

The scene is the common room of All Souls College, Oxford, in the first week of March 1963. It is the idle half-hour after lunch when fellows slump into armchairs… Read more

What’s in a Surname, by David McKie - review

21 September 2013
What’s in a Surname? A Journey from Abercrombie to Zwicker David McKie

Random House, pp.294, £14.99, ISBN: 9781847496942

In South Korea, some 20 million people share just five surnames. Every one of Denmark’s top 20 surnames ends in ‘-sen’, meaning ‘son of’, a pattern that is replicated across… Read more


Bizarre Cars, by Keith Ray - review

21 September 2013
Bizarre Cars Keith Ray

The History Press, pp.176, £9.99, ISBN: 9780752487717

My various Oxford dictionaries define bizarre as eccentric, whimsical, odd, grotesque, fantastic, mixed in style and half-barbaric. By so many tokens, and with the casuistry of both Calvinist and Jesuit,… Read more


Royal Marriage Secrets, by John Ashdown-Hill - review

21 September 2013
Royal Marriage Secrets: Consorts and Concubines, Bigamists and Bastards John Ashdown-Hill

The History Press, pp.224, £12.99, ISBN: 9780752487267

My brother Pericles Wyatt, as my father liked to say, is by blood the rightful king of England, the nephew of Richard III in the 18th generation, and as such… Read more

Stage Blood, by Michael Blakemore - review

21 September 2013
Stage Blood: Five Tempestuous Years in the Early Life of the National Theatre Michael Blakemore

Faber, pp.359, £20, ISBN: 9780571241378

Stage Blood, as its title suggests, is as full of vitriol, back-stabbing and conspiracy as any Jacobean tragedy. In this sequel to Arguments with England, his superb first volume of… Read more

Highly valued for its decorative qualities, the lily is the earliest known cultivated flower, dating from 1550 BC

Pine by Laura Mason; Lily, by Marcia Reiss - review

21 September 2013
Pine Laura Mason

Reaktion Books, pp.224, £16, ISBN: 9781780231013

Lily Marcia Reiss

Reaktion Books, pp.224, £16, ISBN: 9781780230931

After the success of their animal series of monographs, Reaktion Books have had the clever idea of doing something similar for plants. Writers are commissioned to investigate the botanical, historical,… Read more