Lead book review

Detail of a fresco from the House of the Golden Bracelet, Pompeii

The sacred chickens that ruled the roost in ancient Rome

26 May 2018 9:00 am

The art and literature of ancient Greece and Rome is rich in birds. Mark Cocker explores the myths and folklore surrounding them

William Trevor, photographed in 1993

The wilder shores of excess in William Trevor’s fiction

19 May 2018 9:00 am

Many of William Trevor’s best characters defy social conventions. Breaking the rules of behaviour is a recurring theme in his superbly crafted short stories, says Philip Hensher

The Psychedelic Guide to Preparation of the Eucharist was a book produced in 1968 by the Neo-American Church, explaining how to manufacture and cultivate marijuana, peyote, mushrooms, morning glory, LSD and STP ‘for religious purposes’. Taken from Altered States: The Library of Julio Santo Domingo by Peter Watts (Anthology Editions, available at www.anthology.net)

Might LSD be good for you?

12 May 2018 9:00 am

Many hallucinogenic drugs are non-addictive, carry little or no physiological risk and might even be good for you, says Sam Leith

Rao Pingru and his siblings make a lion lantern with their mother

Enduring life under Chairman Mao

5 May 2018 9:00 am

Hilary Spurling is enchanted by depictions of simple family pleasures throughout years of famine and persecution

Above: The Spangled Cotinga of the Amazon Rainforest is one of the seven species known to fly-tiers as the Blue Chatterer. Left: The Resplendent Quetzal, found from Chipias, Mexico to Western Panama

The most bizarre museum heist ever

28 April 2018 9:00 am

Maggie Fergusson discovers a strange fraternity for whom exotic plumage is a criminal passion

Texas: the myriad contradictions of the Lone Star state

21 April 2018 9:00 am

Texas is beautiful, barren, corrupt, honourable, a red state with a blue majority. Michael Moorcock enjoys the startling contradictions

With Leonardo, improbable speculations are never-ending, The Da Vinci Code enthusiasts see the figure of St John (on the right in this detail of ‘The Last Supper’) as Mary Magdalene, hiding in plain sight

The codes and codswallop surrounding Leonardo da Vinci

14 April 2018 9:00 am

Leonardo da Vinci has suffered more than most artists from fake history and misinterpretation. But it doesn’t make him any less fascinating, says Martin Gayford

A barricade of paving stones in the Latin Quarter of Paris, May 1968

How radical was 1968's summer of discontent?

7 April 2018 9:00 am

Philip Hensher examines the many disparate protest movements in the West sparked by the événements in Paris in 1968

Detail from the Ghent altarpiece by Hubert Eyck, 1423

How Christianity saw off its rivals and became the universal church

31 March 2018 8:00 am

It wasn’t crusading zeal that made Christianity a universal religion but its appeal to the poor and vulnerable, argues Tom Holland

Ragged spectres, half sunk in mud, half lost in shadow: Joseph Gray’s unnerving ‘A Ration Party’

The disappearing acts of Joseph Gray, master of military camouflage

24 March 2018 9:00 am

Frances Wilson goes in search of Joseph Gray, whose experiments in camouflage changed the landscape of the second world war

The Bob Baker trails the Thunder through six-metre swells

Today’s pirate gold is the Patagonian toothfish

17 March 2018 9:00 am

Philip Hoare describes a thrilling game of cat and mouse through the storms and drift ice of the high seas off Antarctica

Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz by François Gérard

Napoleon’s dazzling victories invited a devastating backlash

10 March 2018 9:00 am

For five years after Austerlitz, Napoleon seemed invincible. But his relentless victories risked an inevitable backlash, says David Crane

Saul Bellow (centre): ‘He said he felt like Valjean, pursued by Inspector Javert through the sewers of Paris,’ says James Atlas. Above and left: Graham Greene and Anthony Powell were both better biographers than biographees

Biography is a thoroughly reprehensible genre

3 March 2018 9:00 am

Why do biographers insist on making neat patterns of their subjects’ lives? Roger Lewis finds it rigid, invasive and wrong

Debussy appears to have had no real sympathy for, or interest in, other people

Debussy: the musical genius who erupted out of nowhere

24 February 2018 9:00 am

That was Debussy’s guiding principle – and his music has been a lifelong pleasure for Philip Hensher, too

The Nazis had a genius for staging, inventing the procession of the Olympic torch from Athens to the host city

Hitler’s charm offensive at the Berlin Olympics was a sinister cover for his main offensive

17 February 2018 9:00 am

At the Berlin Olympics, Hitler set out to seduce the world. But his main purpose was to buy time for war preparations, says Simon Kuper

Emmeline Pankhurst is carried bodily from a demonstration outside Buckingham Palace in 1914

When persuasion failed, force seemed the only option for women to get the vote

10 February 2018 9:00 am

Jane Ridley describes how campaigners for female suffrage in Britain tried every tactic in vain. It took a world war to secure even a limited number of women the vote

Aerial view of the ‘Salt Pit’, the CIA’s clandestine detention centre north of Kabul, which opened in September 2002. Detainees were kept chained in total darkness, with loud music playing constantly

Do the Americans know who they’re fighting in Afghanistan — or why?

3 February 2018 9:00 am

For the past 16 years, America’s war in Afghanistan has been a dismal tale of ignorance, atrocity and error, says Jason Burke

The neglected house on Downshire Hill had been Allan Chappelow’s home from childhood

The murder of a harmless Hampstead eccentric remains shrouded in mystery

27 January 2018 9:00 am

For weeks the battered body of an elderly eccentric lay undiscovered in the heart of Hampstead. Philip Hensher believes the wrong man was charged with murder

Eva Braun dieted obsessively, but didn’t hold back on the pilfered champagne

Culinary cold war at the White House

20 January 2018 9:00 am

The women whose ‘food stories’ Laura Shapiro chooses to tell are an odd bunch. Rose Prince wouldn’t want all six round her own table

Bligh and crew are set adrift from the Bounty, in a painting by Robert Dodd

Australia was ruined the moment Europeans set foot there

13 January 2018 9:00 am

William Bligh’s was not the only astonishing open-boat voyage in the Pacific in the late 18th century. There were others just as desperate, says Nicholas Shakespeare

Laura Ingalls Wilder, aged 20

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s little house of horrors on the prairies

6 January 2018 9:00 am

Laura Ingalls Wilder helped mythologise the life of the heroic American pioneer. But there was nothing remotely romantic about her upbringing, says Sarah Churchwell

Portrait of Ulysses Grant by Ole Peter Hansen Balling

It’s time to rehabilitate Ulysses S. Grant — scorned hero of the Civil War

16 December 2017 9:00 am

Amanda Foreman is in no doubt that Ulysses S. Grant, for all his faults, is one of the great men of history

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

The Marx Brothers owed their vaudeville success to sharp wits, slapstick and a willingness to trade on the pervasive humour of ethnic stereotypes

Is Jewish humour the greatest defence mechanism ever created?

25 November 2017 9:00 am

Jewish humour has always been a defence mechanism against pain and persecution, says Keiron Pim