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History

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

Portrait of Modest Musorgsky by Ilya Yefimovich Repin

Why do we pounce on Wagner's anti-Semitism, and ignore that of the Russian composers?

9 November 2013
Musorgsky and His Circle Stephen Walsh

Faber, pp.469, £30, ISBN: 9780571245628

Before ‘nationalism’ became a dirty word, it was the inspiration for all sorts of idealistic and reform-minded people. This was never more true than in the history of music. Clearly,… Read more

A fearless horsewoman: Christabel Russell and her son Geoffrey  with the West Kent hounds at Otford 
for the Christmas meet, 1928

Can virgins have babies?

9 November 2013
The Virgin’s Baby: The Battle of the Ampthill Succession Bevis Hillier

Hopcyn Press, pp.282, £25, ISBN: 9780939297760

Mrs Christabel Russell, the heroine of Bevis Hillier’s sparkling book, was a very modern young woman. She had short blonde hair which she wore in two large curls on the… Read more

Joanne Spencer, who sold salad and rabbits from a basket in Portobello, c. 1904

Portobello's market mustn't be allowed to close

9 November 2013
Portobello Voices Blanche Girouard

The History Press, pp.256, £14.99, ISBN: 9780752499369

After reading Portobello Voices, I feel more strongly than ever that the unique Portobello market mustn’t be allowed to close. It gets over a million visitors a year and is… Read more

Greta Garbo (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Bill Bryson's 'long extraordinary' summer is too long

9 November 2013
One Summer: America 1927 Bill Bryson

Doubleday, pp.557, £20, ISBN: 9780385608282

Hands up Spectator readers who can remember the American celebrities Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Al Capone, Jack Dempsey, Zane Grey, Edgar Rice Burroughs and the  adulteress and husband-killer Ruth Snyder … Read more

The Duke of Wellington 
at the Battle of Salamanca, 
22 July 1812

How we beat Napoleon

2 November 2013
Britain Against Napoleon: The Organisation of Victory, 1793-1815 Roger Knight

Allen Lane, pp.677, £30, ISBN: 9781846141775

Wellington: The Path to Victory, 1769-1814 Rory Muir

Yale, pp.672, £30, ISBN: 9780300186659

It feels the height of ingratitude to blame Jane Austen for anything, but it probably is her fault that most people seem to think that the only impact that the… Read more

Communal, comforting and calming: tobacco in a war zone has always been important, says Kate Adie

Why Jeremy Paxman's Great War deserves a place on your bookshelf

2 November 2013
Great Britain’s Great War Jeremy Paxman

Viking, pp.368, £25, ISBN: 9780670919611

Fighting on the Home Front Kate Adie

Hodder, pp.416, £20, ISBN: 9781444759679

The Great War involved the civilian population like no previous conflict. ‘Men, women and children, factory, workshop and army — are organised in one complete unity of social resistance, to… Read more

Underneath the arches: Cruikshank’s illustration of ‘one of those afflicting occurences in the life of London: 
TOM, JERRY and LOGIC are arrested in their progress home by the melancholy discovery of Corinthian KATE 
in the last stage of a Consumption, disease & inebriety’

Hogarth and the harlots of Covent Garden were many things, but they weren't 'bohemians'

2 November 2013
The First Bohemians Vic Gatrell

Allen Lane, pp.484, £25, ISBN: 9781846146770

It was Hazlitt who said of Hogarth that his pictures ‘breathe a certain close, greasy, tavern air’, and the same could be said of this book. It describes the fermenting… Read more

The ruins of Hamburg after Allied bombing,  July 1943

Hitler didn't start indiscriminate bombings — Churchill did 

26 October 2013
The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945 Richard Overy

Allen Lane, pp.821, £30, ISBN: 9780713995619

‘I cannot describe to you what a curious note of brutality a bomb has,’ said one woman who lived through the initial German raids on London during the second world… Read more

Prince Albert (Photo: John Jabez Edwin Mayall/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Clash of the titans

26 October 2013
High Minds Simon Heffer

Random House, pp.837, £30, ISBN: 9781847946771

This is an odd book: interesting, informative, intelligent, but still decidedly odd. It is a history of the Victorian era which almost entirely eschews wars and imperial adventures and concentrates… Read more

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron a

Tristram Hunt

19 October 2013

ONE OF THE MINOR sociological treats of being appointed shadow education secretary is a frontbench view of David Cameron’s crimson tide — that half hour journey, every Question Time, during… Read more

The Florentine banking aristocracy worship the Christ-child in Botticelli’s ‘Adoration of the Magi’. 
On either side the scene is stacked with Medici sons, grandsons and associates

How to avoid bankers in your nativity scene

19 October 2013
The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Disease and Excess in an Age of Beauty Alexander Lee

Hutchinson, pp.592, £25, ISBN: 9780091944346

In the vast Benedictine monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore between Siena and Rome, the cycle of frescoes depicting the life of St Benedict by Giovanni Anionio Bazzi includes a charming… Read more

Cat fight: tension mounts between the Great Powers in 1905 as Edward VII, Kaiser Wilhelm II and the French foreign minister, Théophile Delcassé, squabble over Morocco

What caused the first world war?

12 October 2013
The War that Ended Peace:How Europe Abandoned Peace for the First World War Margaret MacMillan

Profile Books, pp.656, £25, ISBN: 9781846682728

The centenary of August 1914 is still almost a year away, but the tsunami of first-world-war books has already begun. The government tells us that 1914 must be commemorated, not… Read more

Landseer’s portrait of Queen Victoria riding in Windsor Home Park four years after the death of Prince Albert

Queen Victoria, by Matthew Dennison - review

12 October 2013
Queen Victoria: A Life of Contradictions Matthew Dennison

Collins, pp.189, £16.99, ISBN: 9780007504572

When Prince Albert died in 1861, aged 42, Queen Victoria, after briefly losing the use of her legs, ordered that every room and corridor in Windsor Castle should be draped… Read more

A youthful portrait of the Dowager Empress

The Empress Dowager was a moderniser, not a minx. But does China care?

12 October 2013
Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China Jung Chang

Cape, pp.436, £20, ISBN: 9780224087438

For susceptible Englishmen of a certain inclination — like Sir Edmund Backhouse or George Macdonald Fraser — the Empress Dowager Cixi was the ultimate oriental sex kitten, an insatiable, manipulating… Read more

Christmas Day truce of 1914

Meeting the Enemy, by Richard Van Emden; 1914, by Allan Mallinson - review

5 October 2013
Meeting the Enemy: The Human Face of the Great War Richard van Emden

Bloomsbury, pp.384, £20, ISBN: 9781408821640

1914: Fight the Good Fight Allan Mallinson

Bantam, pp.503, £25, ISBN: 9780593067604

The Great War was an obscene and futile conflict laying waste a generation and toppling emperors. Yet here are two books that situate the horrors of trench warfare within a… Read more

(Image: Getty)

Guido Fawkes to Damian McBride: Who's spinning now?

5 October 2013
Power Trip Damian McBride

Biteback, pp.320, £20, ISBN: 9781849545969

When Gordon Brown eventually became aware that his Downing Street was about to be engulfed in the Smeargate scandal, he called Damian McBride to try to get to the bottom… 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

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

The harrowing of hell from the 14th-century ‘Bologna Cope’

English embroidery: the forgotten wonder of the medieval world

28 September 2013

Think of an art at which the English have excelled and I doubt you would come up with the word ‘embroidery’. As I muttered when my agent asked whether I… 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

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