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


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

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

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

Victoria and Albert spoke German together when alone

Noble Endeavours, by Miranda Seymour - review

14 September 2013
Noble Endeavours: The Life of Two Countries, England and Germany, in Many Stories Miranda Seymour

Simon and Schuster, pp.502, £20, ISBN: 9781847378255

Like Miranda Seymour, the author of this considerable work on Anglo-German relations, I was raised in a Germanophile home. I spent summer holidays on the Bodensee and, after graduating from… 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

‘Uncle Bill’ as the troops remembered him

Uncle Bill, by Russell Miller - review

14 September 2013
Uncle Bill: The Authorised Biography of Field Marshal Viscount Slim Russell Miller

Weidenfeld, pp.466, £25, ISBN: 9780297865841

Given the outcome of recent military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is pertinent to look for one particular quality in our senior commander: honesty. In other words, after blaming… Read more

Christoph Amberger’s portrait of the Emperor Charles V, whose jaw was so prominent he could not eat in public

Danubia, by Simon Winder - review

7 September 2013
Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe Simon Winder

Picador, pp.530, £18.99, ISBN: 9780330522786

Why do we know so little about the Habsburg empire, given that it is the prime formative influence on modern Europe? Its pomp gave us the art, music, literature and… Read more

It was cheaper to paper a room with banknotes in Weimar Germany than to buy wallpaper

The Downfall of Money, by Frederick Taylor - review

7 September 2013
The Downfall of Money: Germany’s Hyperinflation and the Destruction of the Middle Class Frederick Taylor

Bloomsbury, pp.432, £25, ISBN: 9781408839911

In Germany in 1923 money was losing its value so fast that the state printing works could not keep up. The work had to be contracted out to 130 different… Read more

Dot Wordsworth: We've been self-whipping since 1672

7 September 2013

Isabel Hardman of this parish explained after last week’s government defeat that a deluded theory among the party leadership had held that Tory backbenchers were now self-whipping. When she aired… Read more

Is there geological evidence for Noah’s Flood — and if so, was it a local or  world-wide catastrophe?

The Rocks Don’t Lie, by David R. Montgomery - review

31 August 2013
The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood David R. Montgomery

Norton, pp.320, £17.99, ISBN: 9780393346244

This is a book about the clash of faith and reason over the truth or otherwise of a catastrophic, world-shaping flood — and it doesn’t once mention climate change. The… Read more

Russian Roulette, by Giles Milton - review

31 August 2013
Russian Roulette: A Deadly Game Giles Milton

Sceptre, pp.375, £20, ISBN: 9781444737028

Had Onan not spilled his seed upon the ground, he might have invented invisible ink. The possibility had not occurred to me until I read this account of the start… Read more

A scene from the French Wars of Religion, engraved  by Franz Hogenberg

The Huguenots, by Geoffrey Treasure - review

24 August 2013
The Huguenots Geoffrey Treasure

Yale, pp.468, £25, ISBN: 9780300193886

France’s early 21st-century Protestants are eco-friendly, gender-sensitised and respectful of the Fifth Republic’s laïcité. But their ancestors were a less accommodating lot. La réforme in the France of the 16th… Read more

Geri Halliwell of the Spice Girls, at the height of Brit Pop

A Classless Society, by Alwyn W. Turner - review

24 August 2013
A Classless Society: Britain in the 1990s Alwyn W. Turner

Aurum, pp.615, £25, ISBN: 9781781310687

The title of Alwyn W. Turner’s book could deter readers. Even the Hollywood film The Secret Lives of Dentists promised more excitement. John Major sought the creation of a classless… Read more

The Good Nurse, by Charles Graeber - review

24 August 2013
The Good Nurse Charles Graeber

Atlantic Books, pp.320, £12.99, ISBN: 9781782393474

Charles Cullen, an American nurse, murdered several hundred patients by the administration in overdose of restricted drugs. Hospitals should be safe places but they are actually rather dangerous: mistakes are… Read more

William Rainborowe senior’s fleet stationed at the mouth of the Bou Regreg in Western Morocco, blockading the pirate stronghold of New Sally (the modern-day Salé)

The Rainborowes, by Adrian Tinniswood - review

24 August 2013
The Rainborowes: Pirates, Puritans and a Family’s Quest for the Promised Land Adrian Tinniswood

Cape, pp.432, £25, ISBN: 9780224091480

Adrian Tinniswood, so gifted and spirited a communicator of serious history to a wide readership, here brings a number of themes from his previous books together. The Verneys recounted the… Read more