Death online

The brave thing now: don’t write about your death

25 July 2015

Not content with Facebooking our every foible, Instagramming the births of our children and live-tweeting our daily lives, more and more of us are now making a public spectacle of… Read more

French mathematician Cedric Villani Photo: Getty

How could anyone enjoy Cédric Villani’s ‘Birth of a Theorem’? I think I’ve worked it out

28 February 2015
Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure Cédric Villani (translated by Malcolm DeBevoise)

The Bodley Head, pp.250, £18.99, ISBN: 9781847922526

I’ve got a mathematical problem. Birth of a Theorem is by one of the great geniuses of today, a cosmopolitan, liberal-minded man who helps his wife look after their children,… Read more

An unholy cross between Big Ben and Las Vegas, the Makkah Royal Clock Tower stands on an estimated 400 sites of cultural and historical importance

Mecca: the greatest paradox of the Islamic world

6 December 2014
Mecca: The Sacred City Ziauddin Sardar

Bloom, pp.448, £25, ISBN: 9781408809204

Mecca is the greatest paradox of the Islamic world. Home to the Kaaba, a pagan-era cube of black granite said to have been built by Abraham and his son Ishmael,… Read more

Even Cilla’s biographer admits that critics were justified in knocking the ‘prurience ‘of Blind Date

The tat-world of dystopia that celebrities construct for themselves: five of the year’s top biographies

6 December 2014

Cilla Black has become a strange creature during her 50 years in showbiz. When her husband Bobby was in hospital she found to her dismay that she didn’t now how… Read more


The unbearable vanity of Kevin Pietersen

11 October 2014

Seven years ago Kevin Pietersen produced his first attempt at autobiography, Crossing the Boundary: The Early Years in My Cricketing Life. Atrociously written, it demonstrated no awareness of the world… Read more

Frank Keating with cricketer Ian Botham Photo: Getty

When Geoff Boycott was a DJ in a Sydney nightclub

21 June 2014
The Highlights Frank Keating

Guardian Faber Publishing, pp.336, £17.99, ISBN: 9781783350193

Sport isn’t about putting a ball into a net or over a bar or into a hole. It’s about the people who are trying to do those things. Frank Keating,… Read more

Mary and Papa, Downing Street, July 1942

‘Papa told us everything’: Winston Churchill and the remarkable Mary Soames

7 June 2014

By any standards Mary Soames was one of the most remarkable women of her era: close confidante (possibly the closest) to Winston Churchill throughout the second world war, dedicated political… Read more

Meadow pipit

Read this book and you’ll see why our meadows are so precious

7 June 2014
Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Meadow John Lewis-Stempel

Doubelday, pp.304, £14.99, ISBN: 9780857521453

This book is a portrait of one man’s meadow. Our now almost vanished meadowland, with its tapestry of wildflowers, abundant wildlife and rich human history, has long attracted English writers.… Read more

Scarlett O’Hara runs through the streets of burning Atlanta

'Where are the happy fictional spinsters?'

18 January 2014
How to be a Heroine, or What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much Samantha Ellis

Chatto, pp.250, £16.99, ISBN: 9780701187514

This book arose from an argument. Lifelong bookworm Samantha Ellis and her best friend had gone to Brontë country and were tramping about on the Yorkshire moors when they began… Read more

W H Auden (Photo: H V Drees/Getty Images)

What would Auden have deemed evil in our time? European jingoism

9 November 2013
What Auden Can Do For You Alexander McCall Smith

Princeton, pp.137, £13.95, ISBN: 9780691144733

‘Goodbye to the Mezzogiorno’ was the first Auden poem that Alexander McCall Smith read in his youth. He discovered it in an anthology, and it puzzled him because he had… Read more


'If I can barely speak, then I shall surely sing'

26 October 2013
Autobiography Morrissey

Penguin Classics, pp.457, £8.99, ISBN: 97801411194817

A few weeks ago, I was wandering with a friend around West London when our conversation turned to the reliable and inexhaustible topic of Morrissey. We were discussing his gestures,… Read more


How to get old without getting boring

19 October 2013
Ammonites & Leaping Fish: A Life in Time Penelope Lively

Penguin, pp.234, £14.99, ISBN: 9780241146385

When one notices the first symptoms of senile dementia (forgetting names, trying to remember the purpose of moving from one room to another, and so on), books can be wonderfully… Read more

Lucian Freud in his bedroom in Notting Hill, May 2011

Breakfast with Lucian, by Geordie Greig - review

12 October 2013
Breakfast with Lucian Geordie Greig

Cape, pp.272, £25, ISBN: 9780224096850

According to the medical historian Professor Sonu Shamdasani, Sigmund Freud was not the best, nor actually the most interesting, psychoanalyst in early 20th-century Vienna.  Rather, Freud’s genius lay in creating… Read more

Mayonnaise: a key component of Soviet cooking

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, by Anya von Bremzen - review

12 October 2013
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing Anya von Bremzen

Transworld, pp.335, £16.99, ISBN: 9780857520234

The early 1990s in Russia were hungry years. At the time, I was a student, too idle to barter and hustle for food, and the collapse of the planned economy… 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

‘I don’t mind being a monster, but there are limits’

The World According to Karl, edited by Jean-Christophe Napias - review

14 September 2013
The World According to Karl: The Wit and Wisdom of Karl Lagerfeld Jean-Christophe Napias and Sandrine Gulbenkian

Thames and Hudson, pp.176, £18.95, ISBN: 9782080201706

Every fashion era has its monster and in ours it’s Karl Lagerfeld, a man who has so emptied himself on to the outside that there is no longer any membrane… Read more

Romanian peasant uses an old plough pull

The Broken Road, by Patrick Leigh Fermor - review

7 September 2013
The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos Patrick Leigh Fermor

John Murray, pp.349, £25, ISBN: 9781848547520

Sound the trumpets. Let rip the Byzantine chorus of clattering bells and gongs, the thunder of cannons, drums and flashing Greek fire. Raid cellars and let champagne corks fly. Eighty… Read more

A Rogues’ Gallery, by Peter Lewis - review

24 August 2013
A Rogues’ Gallery: Off-the-record Encounters with Figures of Fame, Folly and Fun, 1950–2000 Peter Lewis

Quartet, pp.298, £25, ISBN: 97800704373174

Like Mel Brooks’s character the Two Thousand-Year-Old Man, Peter Lewis has met everyone of consequence. Though he doesn’t mention being an eyewitness at the Crucifixion, he was told by T.S.… Read more

Bitter Experience Has Taught Me, by Nicholas Lezard - review

17 August 2013
Bitter Experience Has Taught Me: Adventures in Love, Loss and Penury Nicholas Lezard

Faber, pp.286, £9.99, ISBN: 9780571299164

What, really, is a literary education for? What’s the point of it? How, precisely, does it help when you’re another day older and deeper in debt? These are questions that… Read more

A Corner of Paradise, by Brian Thompson - review

10 August 2013
A Corner of Paradise Brian Thompson

Chatto, pp.224, £16.99, ISBN: 9780701188023

Author has late-blossoming romance with authoress, both divorcees, and they live together in a cramped house in Harrogate full of stepchildren and then buy a derelict summer house surrounded by… Read more

Violet Powell’s sketches on a tour of the Nile, ‘Dendra,  a Ptolemaic site [which] has a supposed portrait of Cleopatra and her son Caesarion.’

A Stone in the Shade, by Violet Powell - review

10 August 2013
A Stone in the Shade: Last Memoirs Violet Powell

Stone Trough Books, pp.147, £24, ISBN: 9780954454289

Evelyn Waugh once recalled the anguish with which he greeted Edith Sitwell’s announcement that ‘Mr Waugh, you may call me Edith.’ I experienced similar misgivings on the occasion, some years… Read more

Death by Dior, by Terry Cooper - review

10 August 2013
Death by Dior Terry Cooper

Dynasty Press, pp.264, £10.99, ISBN: 9780956803863

This book may sound like it’s going to be about high fashion, but it’s actually about Nazism, satanism, incest and murder. Françoise Dior decided that her uncle Christian had been… Read more

‘Horace reading his Satires to Maecenas’ by Fedor Andreevich Bronnikera

Horace and Me, by Harry Eyres - review

6 July 2013
Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet Harry Eyres

Bloomsbury, pp.239, £16.99, ISBN: 9781408814581

After Zorba the Greek, here comes Horace the Roman. The peasant Zorba, you’ll remember from the film, releases uptight, genteel Alan Bates from his cage of repressed Englishness. Now it’s… Read more

The Girl from Station X, by Elisa Segrave - review

29 June 2013
The Girl from Station X Elisa Segrave

Union Books, pp.354, £18.99, ISBN: 9781908526120

On her seventh birthday, Elisa Segrave’s five-year-old brother Raymond drowned in their grandmother’s swimming pool. From that day onwards, her mother Anne was emotionally detached and alcoholic. ‘My mother was… Read more

Song Without Words, by Gerald Shea - review

22 June 2013
Song Without Words: Discovering My Deafness Halfway through Life Gerald Shea

Da Capo Press, pp.320, £17.99, ISBN: 9780306821936

At the age of six, Gerald Shea had scarlet fever. The sounds of birds passed into memory to be replaced by the sound of locusts. Not only had Shea developed… Read more