No earthly good

21 April 2010
The Rage Against God Peter Hitchens

Continuum, pp.256, 16.99

Peter Hitchens writes a stern column most weeks in the Mail on Sunday. It expresses disdain not only for today’s politicians but also for those of us who vote for… Read more


Unholy warriors

14 April 2010
Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents Ian Buruma

Princeton, pp.142, 13.95

Taming the Gods is an extended essay about the secular state, something which would until recently have been regarded as a non-issue by English-speaking readers. The separation of Church and… Read more


The greatest puzzle of all

31 March 2010
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ Philip Pullman

Canongate, pp.245, 14.99

Philip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, is one the best works written in English in my lifetime. Philip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, is one the best works written in… Read more

Faith under fire

24 March 2010
Souls in Torment Giles St Aubyn

New European Publications, pp.590, 25

Giles St Aubyn, in this long, scholarly book, sets out to chronicle the shifts in the Christian churches from the scientific revolution of the 17th century, and the Enlightenment of… Read more


Addle-pated modernist

6 January 2010
How To Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Answers Sarah Bakewell

Chatto, pp.9780701178925, 16.99

In 1564 a book was published calculating that there were 7,409,127 demons at work in the world, under the administrative control of 79 demon-princes. Eight years later, Michel Eyquem de… Read more

Parsons’ displeasure

14 December 2009
The Old Rectory: The History of the English Parsonage Anthony Jennings

Continuum, pp.296, 25

Despite its prosaic title, this is a humdinging page-turner of a book, revealing in livid detail the scandal of how the Church of England jettisoned onto the market what the… Read more

Playing the opportunist

30 September 2009
A Gambling Man Jenny Uglow

Faber, pp.580, 25

In historical writing the Restoration era has been the poor relation of the Puritan one before it. It is true that we all have graphic images, many of them supplied… Read more

Too much information

23 September 2009
The Lost Symbol Dan Brown

Transworld, pp.448, 18.99

Freemasons have been getting steadily less glamorous since their apotheosis in The Magic Flute. Nowadays, one thinks of them in connection with short-sleeved, polyester shirt-and-tie sets, pens in the top… Read more

Liobams lying with rakunks

16 September 2009
The Year of the Flood Margaret Atwood

Bloomsbury, pp.448, 18.99

Set in the future, The Year of the Flood tells the story of the build-up to and aftermath of a pandemic known as the Waterless Flood, which all but eradicates… Read more

Dangerous liaisons

24 June 2009
Surviving Allan Massie

Vagabond Voices, pp.224, 10

The Death of a Pope Piers Paul Read

Ignatius Press, pp.215, 19.95

Coward at the Bridge James Delingpole

Simon & Schuster, 12.99

Surviving, by Allan Massie The Death of a Pope, by Piers Paul Read Coward at the Bridge, by James Delingpole Alcoholism, with its lonely inner conflict between escapism and conscience,… Read more

Ways of escape

20 May 2009

At a time in modern, secular Britain when religion is seen not as the saviour but as the cause of many of society’s problems, we have become skilled not so… Read more

You can go home again

20 May 2009
Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey Through Islamic Lands Aatish Taseer

Canongate, pp.323, 14.99

Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey Through Islamic Lands, by Aatish Taseer The publication of Stranger to History is likely to be turned into a fiery political event in Pakistan.… Read more

Instead of the poem

13 May 2009
The Canterbury Tales Geoffrey Chaucer, retold by Peter Ackroyd

Penguin Classics, pp.437, 25

On this book’s title page its publishers enlarge on Peter Ackroyd’s ‘retelling’: his book, they declare, is at once a translation and — wait for it — an ‘adaptation’ of… Read more


Henry’s VIII’s Psalter

15 April 2009

In this illumination from Henry’s VIII’s Psalter, the young David prepares to confront Goliath. In this illumination from Henry’s VIII’s Psalter, the young David prepares to confront Goliath. Dressed in… Read more

Doomed to despotism

7 April 2009
Khomeini’s Ghost Con Coughlin

Macmillan, pp.367, 25

The Life and Death of the Shah Gholam Reza Afkhami

Con Coughlin Gholam Reza Afkhami University of California Press, pp.713, 24.95

Khomeini’s Ghost, by Con Coughlin The Life and Death of the Shah, by Gholam Reza Afkhami The fall of the Shah of Iran at the beginning of 1979 took the… Read more

A balancing act

12 December 2008
English Catholic Heroes John Jolliffe (editor)

Gracewing, pp.242, 9.99

If anyone should wince at a hint of aggression in the title of this book — and some Catholics might — let him or her remember or read Charles Kingsley’s… Read more

All or nothing

12 December 2008
A Book of Silence Sara Maitland

Granta, pp.309, 17.99

A Book of Silence, by Sara Maitland The BBC sound archive has a range of different silences: ‘night silence in an urban street’; ‘morning silence, dawn, the South Downs’; ‘morning… Read more

Dirty diggers

3 December 2008
The Buddha & Dr Fuhrer Charles Allen

Haus Publishing, pp.276, 17.99

The Buddha & Dr Fuhrer, by Charles Allen Charles Allen’s latest book on India has a suitably exotic, occasionally improb- able, cast of characters. Centre stage is Dr Anton Führer,… Read more