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Book review

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

bizzare_cars

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

PetronellaCastro

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

Hanns and Rudolf, by Thomas Harding - review

21 September 2013
Hanns and Rudolf: The German Jew and the Hunt for the Kommandant of Auschwitz Thomas Harding

Heinemann, pp.348, £20, ISBN: 9780434022366

Confronted by this lavishly endorsed book — ‘compelling’ (David Lodge), ‘gripping’(John le Carré),‘thrilling’ (Jonathan Freedland) — I felt depressed. Two weeks ago, the New York Times’s savvy London correspondent accused… Read more

An Appetite for Wonder, by Richard Dawkins - review

21 September 2013
An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist Richard Dawkins

Bantam, pp.320, £20, ISBN: 9780593070895

It is peculiarly apt that the author of this autobiography should be the man who coined that now fashionable term ‘meme’ — so long as it is written ‘me me’.… Read more

Expo 58, by Jonathan Coe - review

21 September 2013
Expo 58 Jonathan Coe

Viking, pp.263, £16.99, ISBN: 9780670923724

In 1958 a vast international trade fair was held just outside Brussels. As well as being a showcase for industry, Expo 58 gave each country the chance to present something… Read more

The British experience at Mons was just one of many examples of defeat dressed up as moral victory, according to Max Hastings

Why does Max Hastings have such a hatred for the British military?

14 September 2013
Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War, 1914 Max Hastings

Collins, pp.628, £30, ISBN: 9780307597052

One of the great problems for any historian writing of 1914 and the slide into conflict is that everyone knows the causes of the first world war and those of… Read more

A 14th-century French edition of Galen illlustrates the proper bedside manner

The Prince of medicine, by Susan P. Mattern - review

14 September 2013
The Prince of Medicine: Galen in the Roman Empire Susan P. Mattern

OUP, pp.334, £20, ISBN: 9780199605453

In the first draft of the screenplay for the film Gladiator, the character to be played by Russell Crowe (‘father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife’, etc)… Read more

The Windsor Faction, by D.J. Taylor - review

14 September 2013
The Windsor Faction D.J. Taylor

Chatto and Windus, pp.373, £14,99, ISBN: 9780701187873

In both his novels and non-fiction, D. J. Taylor has long been fascinated by the period between the wars. Now in The Windsor Faction, he brings us a counterfactual version.… Read more

Narcoland, by Anabel Hernandez - review

14 September 2013
Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and their Godfathers Anabel Hernández

Verso, pp.304, £16.99, ISBN: 9781781680735

It is by now surely beyond doubt that those governments committed to fighting the war on drugs — and on paper that’s all of them — face a total rout.… Read more

The Tragedy of Liberation, by Frank Dikötter - review

14 September 2013
The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution, 1945-1957 Frank Dikötter

Bloomsbury, pp.400, £25, ISBN: 978408837573

The historian of China Frank Dikötter has taken a sledgehammer to demolish perhaps the last remaining shibboleth of modern Chinese history. This is the notion, propagated in countless books and… Read more

Multiples, edited by Adam Thirlwell - review

14 September 2013
Multiples Adam Thirlwell

Portobello Books, pp.380, £20, ISBN: 9781846275371

There is a hoary Cold War joke about a newly invented translating machine. On a test run, the CIA scientists feed in ‘The spirit is willing, but the flesh is… Read more