Books

Did a vodka ban precipitate the Russian Revolution?

16 December 2017 9:00 am

It’s one of the more mysterious features of human history that people of every era and in almost every place…

The vibrant tradition of English folk song

16 December 2017 9:00 am

After hundreds of densely packed pages on folk song in England — a subject for which I share Steve Roud’s…

The making of a happy home: cold milk for tea. A 1930s advertisement for General Electric

How cool is your fridge?

9 December 2017 9:00 am

The fridge may have saved us from food poisoning, but is it now poisoning the planet, wonders Stephen Bayley

Reinventing Baku: one of the three Flame Towers, comprising apartments, offices and a hotel, which dominate the old town. The project, costing an estimated US$350 million, was completed in 2012

Reading Norman Davies’s global history is like wading through porridge

2 December 2017 9:00 am

Following Norman Davies’s explorations is like travelling, mildly jet-lagged, from one air-conditioned lounge to another, says Philip Hensher

From blissful dawn to bleak despair: the end of the revolutionary dream

4 November 2017 9:00 am

Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey were undergraduates when they met in June 1794, Coleridge at Cambridge university and Southey…

Cross-dressing in the Met. Policemen don women’s clothes to catch the Whitechapel murderer. Charles West (far right) leads the search in Jack the Ripper, 1974

What do Robin Hood, Jack the Ripper and Winston Churchill have in common?

21 October 2017 9:00 am

Houdini, Antarctica, a maternity ward, the electric chair – they’re all subjects of failed musicals. But it’s impossible to predict what will work, says Roger Lewis

The Normansfield Theatre in Teddington, a beautiful ‘lost’ Victorian playhouse, is still used for concerts and music-hall evenings, and by small opera companies

Capital dramas on and off the stage

9 September 2017 9:00 am

Theatre buildings are seriously interesting – as I ought to have appreciated sooner in the course of 25 years writing…

Finger counting from 1 to 20,000. From De Numeris by Rabanus Maurus. (Carolingian school, 9th century)

Centuries of calculation – from tally sticks to computers

9 September 2017 9:00 am

It’s odd, when you think about it, that mathematics ever got going. We have no innate genius for numbers. Drop…

The source of Mozart’s inspiration - a great musical whodunnit

2 September 2017 9:00 am

If you were to compare Mozart to a bird it wouldn’t be the starling. Possibly the wood thrush or nightingale,…

Sheep being milked in a pen. (From the Luttrell Psalter, English School, 14th century)

Wolves, wheat and wool: in search of old England

12 August 2017 9:00 am

Englishness is big business in the nation of shopkeepers, and not just in politics and tourism. In literature, the gypsy…

Aubrey Beardsley’s ‘The Climax’ — an illustration for Oscar Wilde’s play Salome

From anchorites to zeppelins: the giddy range of Levitation

12 August 2017 9:00 am

Levitation. We all know what it is: the ‘disregard for gravity’, as Peter Adey puts it in his new book,…

Michael Kidson — in a class of his own

5 August 2017 9:00 am

The Enigma of Kidson is a quintessentially Etonian book: narcissistic, complacent, a bit silly and ultimately beguiling. It is the…

Hanna Reitsch — a committed Nazi and idol of German aviation.

Hitler’s glamorous high flyers

1 July 2017 9:00 am

Keith Lowe on Nazi Germany’s two remarkable female pilots, both holders of the Iron Cross, First Class

Is London’s Green Belt responsible for its housing crisis?

17 June 2017 9:00 am

‘The area’s isolation has given it a strong sense of community and independence,’ runs the Wikipedia entry on New Addington.…

The romance and drama of the night train is captured in Charles d’Albert’s illustration

Time to wake up to the benefits of the sleeper

25 February 2017 9:00 am

As a child, I used to travel with my mother from London to Cannes, a journey that took slightly under…

Maipure Indians, inhabitants of the Upper Orinoco, grill the limbs of a dead enemy (Italian engraving, 1781)

Eating people is rare (and very unhealthy)

4 February 2017 9:00 am

The subject has been popularised from Homer to the Brothers Grimm, but, mercifully, human cannibalism has always been rare, says Philip Hensher

‘Snow scene in the Garden of a Daimyo’. Triptych by Hiroshige and Uagawa Kunisada

The terrible beauty of snow

10 December 2016 9:00 am

Here is William Diaper in 1722, translating Oppian’s Halieuticks (a Greek epic poem on the loves of the fishes): As…

Sketch of Dr James Barry

Doctor in disguise: the secret life of James Barry

27 August 2016 9:00 am

On 25 July 1865, during a heatwave, Dr James Barry died of dysentery in his London lodgings. A charwoman came…

Sir Walter Scott and some of his most famous creations, by E.F. Skinner

Scottish literature’s long and splendid history

30 July 2016 9:00 am

There is an immediate problem for anyone producing a guide to places in Scotland with literary connections: as Walter Scott…

Is there no such thing as new science?

30 July 2016 9:00 am

Rupert Sheldrake had it coming. In A New Science of Life (1981), he argued that animals and plants have inherited…

St Mark’s Gospel is as good as EastEnders

30 July 2016 9:00 am

More brides in Britain go down the aisle to Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ than to any other tune, Simon…

The clock is ticking: women paint luminous dials in 1932

The Radium Girls — still glowing in their coffins

11 June 2016 9:00 am

On the morning of 15 October 1927, a dim, autumn day, a group of men foregathered at the Rosedale cemetery…

Benjamin Franklin in London, with the bust of Isaac Newton on his desk

Benjamin Franklin: from man about town to man on the run

27 February 2016 9:00 am

Just who was Benjamin Franklin? Apart, that is, from journalist, statesman, diplomat, founding father of the United States, inventor of…

Small comfort: a mother, whose only son was killed in a car accident at the age of 23, holds a picture of him as a child. Many such bereaved parents, unable to conceive again and struggling to support themselves in later life, say they have nothing left to live for

China’s brutal one-child policy will be catastrophic for us all

16 January 2016 9:00 am

China’s brutal one-child policy was not only inhuman; it will profoundly damage the rest of the world, says Hilary Spurling

The top loo books of 2015

21 November 2015 9:00 am

There is not, sadly, a dedicated Trivia Books section in your local Waterstones, although at this time of year there…