Rogues’ gallery: 
Georgiana was ‘a liar, cheat and exploiter of her friends’; her husband, the fifth Duke, was ‘an insensitive and autocratic brute’; while her son was ‘manically self-absorbed’

The Devonshires, by Roy Hattersley - review

4 May 2013
The Devonshires: The Story of a Family and a Nation Roy Hattersley

Chatto, pp.466, £25, ISBN: 9780701186241

Recalling being taken as a teenager on repeated outings to see Chatsworth, Roy Hattersley disarmingly confesses that in those days ‘I was impressed by neither the pictures nor the furniture’.… Read more

The symbolism of the cemetery: the draped urn, popular among the Victorians, is usually taken to mean that the soul has departed the shrouded body for its journey to heaven

How to Read a Graveyard, by Peter Stanford - review

4 May 2013
How to Read a Graveyard Peter Stanford

Bloomsbury, pp.263, £16.99, ISBN: 9781441174777

Peter Stanford likes cemeteries. Daily walks with his dog around a London graveyard acclimatised him, while the deaths of his parents set him wondering about customs of mourning and places… Read more

The armoured cars of Leclerc’s division arrive at the Rue Guynemer on 25 August

Eleven Days in August, by Matthew Cobb - review

4 May 2013
Eleven Days in August: The Liberation of Paris in 1944 Matthew Cobb

Simon and Schuster, pp.525, £25, ISBN: 9780857203175

It is fair to assume that Professor Matthew Cobb has often been asked if he is related to Professor Richard Cobb since he begins the acknowledgements of his new book… Read more

Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography, by Charles Moore, and Not for Turning, by Robin Harris - review

4 May 2013
Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography, Volume One Not for Turning Charles Moore

Allen Lane, pp.859, £30, ISBN: 978071399282

Not for Turning: The Life of Margaret Thatcher Robin Harris

Bantam, pp.493, £20, ISBN: 9780593058916

It is a measure of Lady Thatcher’s standing that her death has been followed not only by the mealy-mouthed compliments from political opponents which are normally forthcoming on such occasions… Read more


What it's like to escape from Colditz

27 April 2013

Colditz: Here I am, stuck in the same ventilation shaft that Pat Reid used to escape through just over 70 years ago. It’s a tiny letterbox-shaped hole, about three feet in… Read more

9 March 2013

Gove’s history lessons Sir: ‘The idea that there is a canonical body of knowledge that must be mastered,’ says Professor Jackie Eales, ‘but not questioned, is inconsistent with high standards… Read more

Fanny (left) and Stella —‘the more presentable of the two’

'Fanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England', by Neil McKenna - review

9 March 2013
Fanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England Neil McKenna

Faber, pp.396, £16.99, ISBN: 9780571231904

Mick Jagger, the Danny La Rue of rock, impersonates a woman on the cover of the 1978 Stones album Some Girls. Vaudeville performers in the Jagger mould love to put… Read more

A patrol of allied forces in Northern Burma in 1944. Image: Getty

Griff Rhys Jones

2 March 2013

Burma, My Father and the Forgotten Army, with Griff Rhys Jones, is on BBC2 at 9pm on Sunday, 7th July. I have spent a week with old, old men, interviewing… Read more

2 March 2013

Healing the world Sir: We most warmly commend the courage of Professor Meirion Thomas (‘The next NHS scandal’, 23 February) in lifting the lid on the appalling abuse of the… Read more

Tokens of love, loss and hope, from top left, clockwise: 
James II shilling token, 1756; copper token, 1759; mid-18th-century thimble token and child’s ring token, mid-18th century © Foundling Museum, London

Foundling Hospital tokens

2 March 2013
Fate, Hope & Charity — revealed: the hidden stories of the Foundling Hospital Tokens Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1

‘Dear Sir, I am the unfortunate woman that lies under sentens of Death in Newgatt…’  So begins a letter of 1757 addressed to the powers that be at the Foundling… Read more


What did he see in her?

2 June 2012
The King’s Mistress: The True and Scandalous Story of the Woman Who Stole the Heart of George I Claudia Gold

Quercus, pp.353, £20

When King George I came over from Hanover in 1714 to claim the crown he had inherited from his distant cousin Queen Anne, he was accompanied by his mistress of… Read more

Love conquers all

2 June 2012
Just Send Me Word Orlando Figes

Allen Lane, pp.333, £20

Anyone who has ever written a history book will feel a twinge of envy on reading the preface to Just Send Me Word: We opened up the largest of the… Read more

And thereby hangs a tale

2 June 2012
The Dream of the Celt Mario Vargas Llosa

Faber, pp.401, £18.99

The heart sinks when news breaks that an already distinguished novelist is trying his or her hand at the Irish revolution. The track record is uninspiring. Anthony Trollope lived many… Read more

… while others fade

26 May 2012
Leak Max Holland

Kansas University Press, pp.285, £25.95

For Watergate junkies, another raking of the old coals is irresistible. For those underage younger persons who never understood what all the fuss was about, here is the chance to… Read more

Some legends flourish …

26 May 2012
Dam Busters James Holland

Bantam Press, pp.437, 20

Confronted by the dead Athenian heroes of the Peloponnesian War, Pericles gave voice in his funeral oration to an idea that explains better than any other why we are so… Read more

Back to the Dreyfus Affair

26 May 2012
Notes on a Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian Bernard Lewis, with Buntzie Ellis Churchill

Weidenfeld, pp.386, 20

Not bad, this life. Now 95, Bernard Lewis, is recognised everywhere as a leading historian of the Middle East.He is the author of 32 books, translated into 29 languages, able… Read more


Forever waging wars

19 May 2012
The Plantagenets Dan Jones

Harper Press, pp.632, 25

Death by buggery. Death by castration. Even death by being scared to death. Or so we are led to believe for the Plantagenets’ world. They had a lighter side, too:… Read more

An elusive father

14 April 2012
Luck and Circumstance: A Coming of Age in Hollywood, New York and Points Beyond Michael Lindsay-Hogg

Knopf, pp.288, 17.99

In a large upstairs room of the YWCA building behind Tottenham Court Road, a group of actors were nervously waiting for the arrival of the director. There was the powerful… Read more

On the way to the forum

7 April 2012
A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome Alberto Angela, translated by Gregor Conti

Europa Editions UK, pp.384, 11.99

In 150 BC, Cato the Elder arrived in the Senate House in Rome with an eye-catching basket of figs. This redoubtable statesman — often referred to as ‘censorius’, an epithet… Read more


Figures in a landscape

7 April 2012
As They Really Were Keith Middlemas

Frances Lincoln, pp.176, 25

As you cross the Trent, you are very much aware that you have moved from the south to the north country. The next great divide is the Tyne, with the… Read more


Death comes for the archbishop

7 April 2012
Thomas Becket John Guy

Viking, pp.420, 25

Posterity has always embellished Thomas Becket. After his death in Canterbury Cathedral in December 1170 the Church idealised and canonised him; his tomb inspired miracles and became the most famous… Read more


Not quite cricket

7 April 2012
Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies Ben MacIntyre

Bloomsbury, pp.417, 16.99

To the French, Albion’s expertise in perfidy will come as no surprise. But centuries of warfare have given them time to learn. With their experience only dating back to 1914,… Read more


Prophetic times

31 March 2012
In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World Tom Holland

Little, Brown, pp.523, 25

The subject here is colossal, covering a substantial stretch of the later Roman empire, the last years of the Persian empire, the conversion of the Arabs, the spread of Christianity… Read more


A gruesome sort

31 March 2012
Circulation Thomas Wright

Chatto, pp.248, 16.99

Everybody knows that the heart pumps blood around the body, and that a man called William Harvey somehow discovered this fact. Before Harvey, people thought that blood moved around the… Read more

Special providence …

31 March 2012
Luck Ed Smith

Bloomsbury, pp.244, 16.99

When Ed Smith became a full-time professional cricketer for Kent in 1999 the county side was preparing for the new millennium by shedding anything that smacked of old-fashioned amateurism. Professionalism… Read more